Giving and Taking from Our Fiber Communities

Marcy Petrini


It is my honor to chair the committee planning the luncheon that the Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild is hosting to honor Marva Lee Goodman with a Life Membership. I actually nominated Marva for this honor because I think she is one of the unsung heroes of our fiber community. Here she is demonstrating in a photo just published in the CWSG March newsletter.

 It would take many, many pages to even list the contributions that Marva has made to all the organizations she belongs: the CWSG, the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, Inc. of which she is a juried member, her various sewing guilds, and the Handweavers’ Guild of America, Inc., of which she has been an indefatigable supporter and promoter.

Thinking about Marva Lee, her leadership and the organizations we share, has made me consider the role that we play in these fiber communities, their importance in our lives, and the different ways that people respond to leadership roles.

Members of an organization or community rise to a leadership position in a variety of ways; ideally, it would be the person best fitted for the job, but that’s not always the case; sometimes there is a void that gets filled, other times it’s a matter of longevity, other times still an opportunity presents itself.

But the path to the leadership position doesn’t define how the person responds to the role. Broadly speaking, in organizations and in life, I can identify three kinds of responses. In the middle, we have the well-meaning, but ineffective person who has great ideas, but is either incapable or unwilling to bring the ideas to fruition. In some cases, these leaders think that, having reached that position, somebody else should follow what they dictate. Not a good formula for the success of an organization. As one of my graduate advisors used to say: Ideas are cheap, it’s the work that goes to implement them that counts.

Even more worrisome, and in some cases the cause of the demise of an institution, is the leader who sees this as a platform for self-promotion and self-benefitting. Unfortunately we read a lot about this in the news of government and business, but it happens in our fiber communities as well. In some cases, the person is so self-centered that s/he doesn’t even realize that s/he doing it and is not even aware of what true leadership means.

And then, thankfully, we have the Marvas of the world. The leaders who see their role as that of benefitting the organization, promoting its causes, and making sure that there is a future for generations to come. Marva’s latest endeavor is to teach children to sew with a sewing machine. She has been instrumental over the years to teach children to weave, spin, dye (with safe food coloring or food stuff) and to sew. Indeed, if our crafts are to survive, it will be because we have been successful in passing them on.

If we substitute organization for country, the inspiring words “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” embody what Marva’s work entails. The old saying that “you don’t have to have a title to be a leader, it’s what you do” is the axiom she follows. She can be a role model for us all.

So, think: how do you contribute to the fiber organizations to which you belong? The CWSG is going to have an exhibit soon; I will have two pieces in it. That certainly falls squarely in “what the Guild can do for me” and not the other way around. Teaching and writing fall somewhere in between, depending on the circumstances: they can benefit the organization and its members, but they also may benefit the individual providing the service. Doing the nitty gritty work of committees when people don’t even know how long it took to get to the success: that’s “what you can do for the organization”, that’s Marva’s way.

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