Alexandra Milukhin

The place of my primary education was our Russian Orthodox Church in downtown Los Angeles. It was small and dark, illuminated by dozens of beeswax candles and the faint sunlight coming through the dusty stained glass windows high atop the vaulted ceiling. It was always cold in the one-room church. The hardwood floor was covered by a run of rugs overlapping one another - creating the illusion of one large rug. We stood and kneeled on these rugs becoming intimate with the deep rich reds and swirly patterns on the plush piled surfaces. The priest’s chanting in old Slavonic was the background drone while the skin on my knees became indented with the rug’s fibers.

My youth was spent growing up in a ghetto in East Los Angeles. I worked every day after school in a clothing factory. My family and culture emphasized hard work. I enjoyed my job ironing garments, snipping thread, and sweeping the fallen fragments of fabric off the floor. I often resurrected pieces from the dust bin and used the reclaimed remnants for mending my jeans and making patched fabric bags and blouses to wear. This is where I learned to sew.

Upon graduating from high school, I began working in children’s clothing manufacturing. I soon advanced from prototype seamstress to assisting the designer and overseeing production in five factories. Working closely with the designer, pattern drafters, cutters, and factory seamstresses, we successfully assembled pieces of a fabric puzzle making over ten thousand dresses yearly. This creative environment nourished my existence and encouraged me to research colleges and study textiles as an art form.

In school, I became exposed to the design and construction of wood furniture but it was not until I began my first weaving class that I discovered my passion for making textiles from skeins of yarn. Soon I was shredding and manipulating my weavings then shaping them into organic forms. I combined my fiber projects with performance as I demonstrated ironing creases and folds. I swept dust off our textile room floors and created oversized fuzz balls and other creatures. For one project, I made borscht and baptized my white weaving in an elaborate ceremony not unlike one of the church services I had attended in my youth.

Before my senior year in college, I dedicated a year to driving through the United States. The goal of this thirty-seven thousand mile journey was to visit all of the forty eight contiguous states, camp in every national park (and visit most national monuments), and see every art museum possible. I photographed over fourty thousand images and filled the pages of many journals.

While visiting established art centers and museums broadened my horizons, several back road experiences also had an influence on me. In Texas, I stayed a week at the Old Oaks Ranch Fiber Arts Center, where I learned how to shear sheep, spin wool, and make rugs. The rug making brought me back full circle to my childhood experience of viewing rugs up close and feeling the fibers of the rug burn into my knees.

What has influenced me to develop as an artist?

My growing up Russian in a poor neighborhood taught me how to creatively contribute to a community.

My seamstress background taught me technical skills.

My college years exposed me to libraries of books, the critique and influence of fellow student artists and professors, and the exploration of new artistic tools and techniques.

My travels taught me visual studies – on both the wide scale of nature, and the small scale of mankind.