Detroit artist Kayla Powers captures local colors in textiles in a mobile studio | Visual Art | Detroit

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  • Courtesy photo

  • Detroit artist Kayla Powers traveled the country in a mobile studio, making dyes from the plants and other items she collected.

Kayla Powers is a Detroit-based artist and weaver who explores the colors of the urban jungle in an innovative yet traditional way. For the past four years, she has used harvested and locally grown crops, many of which are gathered on vacant lots in eastern Detroit, to make dyes, pigments, and watercolors. Powers is able to create a surprisingly wide range of colors from the plants.

Her journey began more than 10 years ago with a weaving course at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art. “I think a lot of weavers will tell you that something just clicked on me,” she says. She already had a background in agriculture and horticulture and eventually began working at a school in Portland, Oregon, where she learned to collect plants and color them with natural materials.

She taught there and still gives workshops on foraging and the use of plants to make paints and dyes. She says she loves teaching and most of all loves that it attracts a wide range of people. “It’s a cross-generational experience,” she says. “And everyone comes from a different place and has different experiences.”

Powers moved back to Michigan four years ago and started their business, Salt Textile Studios, which sold hand-woven and hand-dyed housewares, but recently focused on creating works of art. “Not to say that these weren’t artistic,” she says. “Because it was them. You were beautiful. But it is different when you can use the thing than when it is really only intended to be valued for what it is. ”

About a year ago she started a public art project called “local color”. She hung up 12 tapestries, each about six feet long, and all colored with Detroit plants on the Dequindre Cut Greenway. “It was a really nice way for me to reach the wider township at large,” says Powers. “And to show this art form, which in my opinion is often hidden in a museum or as if hidden behind glass. Usually it’s like, ‘Don’t touch, the colors fade, the fibers start to fray.’ And so it was so much fun to put it outside and just be like that, it doesn’t matter; touch it, take a picture with it. ”

Recently, Powers turned its attention to something less local, but still decidedly local. She went on a three month road trip and decided to bring a mobile version of her studio. “What I’m really trying to do is work with the local flora wherever I am,” she says, “to highlight the local palette that would be in a given place and to tell stories about plants and a place through color. ”

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Local plants offer a surprisingly wide range.  - PHOTO WITH KINDNESS

  • Courtesy photo

  • Local plants offer a surprisingly wide range.

Her process is the same no matter where she works. First she gets to know the area by walking or hiking. “I go back a lot on foot or by bike and really get to know all the plants and what time of year they are – what they produce, how they are, whether they look healthy or not,” she says. “I just write down all of these things.”

On her travels, she was particularly happy about a stopover in New Mexico that enabled her to work with cochineal, a beetle that lives in prickly pear and is known for its striking red color. “I could use it to make paint and dye yarn, and it’s just an amazing color and so different from anything I have in Detroit,” says Powers. She also says she enjoyed using the abundant and iron-rich red clay from the Southwest for coloring.

She notes that it’s not just the dye material that makes the result of the process unique – whenever possible, she has used local water from rivers and streams on her trip, as the pH and minerals in the water are with them the dyes can interact and change how the end product looks.

Powers will showcase the work she did on her trip in an open studio and backyard art exhibit that’s free and open to the public on Saturday, September 4th from 1pm to 6pm. She calls the work “The Shape of Home”. . “For more information, visit their website at

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