BY CARROL KRAUSE
Rowland Ricketts and his wife, Chinami, weren’t singing the blues after the winner in the craft category of Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards was announced. The Bloomington couple won, and the $10,000 that accompanied the honor will help them further explore the qualities of indigo dye, which imparts a spectrum of blues ranging from deep navy all the way to a delicate pale-sky color.
Ricketts is an assistant professor of textiles at Indiana University’s Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts. Using the traditional Japanese folk method of extracting the dye by fermenting the leaves of the indigo plant, he and Chinami grow and harvest indigo, dye with it, spin thread, and weave textiles with it. Over the past three years their volunteer-powered project at Hilltop Garden & Nature Center, IndiGrowing Blue, examined the dynamic intersection between art, farming, and society.
The Martha Stewart American Made Award celebrates what it calls America’s new generation of “entrepreneurs, artisans, and small-business owners who are creating beautiful, inspiring, useful products; pioneering new industries; improving local communities; and changing the way we eat, shop, work, and live.”
The Bloomington couple applied for the award knowing that they would be up against more than 3,000 other applicants. Martha Stewart’s judges narrowed down the pool to approximately 1,000 finalists.
“We never thought we’d win,” Ricketts says. “We simply thought it’d be a neat way to spread the word about what we’re doing. Winning was a complete shock! The news swamped my website.”
Ricketts’ dream is to build a local mini-economy based on indigo extraction, fiber dyeing, and cloth weaving. He also envisions a new generation of cottage industries in which workers are paid a fair wage. Recently, Ricketts found himself in the odd position of insisting upon paying the local farmers who grow his indigo more money than he was originally billed. “I want them to be paid well enough that they will decide to do it again,” he explains.
Martha Stewart Living magazine sent a videographer and photographer to document Ricketts and Chinami at work in their studio. Look for the photographs in the magazine and on Martha Stewart’s website this summer.
“It’s very heartening to receive this kind of recognition and to see that people value what we’re doing,” Ricketts says.