Long, worn curls of salt-and-pepper hair suggest that Matt Mabis is a free spirit who has collected a rich history of story and adventure. The wrinkles on his face, set aglow by the twinkle in his eye, leave no doubt that he walks the earth sharing kindness and nurturing the lives of those he meets. He is a man who rides the wave and lets the current of life push him in new directions.
Nudged by fate, Mabis ended up working as an instructor on the teaching staff at the University of Saint Francis School of Creative Arts. Interestingly, he attends the same school as a full-time student working to earn his Bachelors of Fine Art in sculpture.
The path that Mabis followed to this point could be compared to that of an Escher labyrinth, with zigs and zags that lead to dead ends and suddenly flip course, escorting Mabis to interesting opportunity.
Like most artists, Mabis followed his creative spirit at a young age. He had a deep interest in Native American culture and remembers building small figures out of clay harvested from a nearby pond, then wrapping them in foil before tucking them into the fire stoked by his woodworking father. He learned about craftsmanship from his parents and followed his own muse to blaze a new trail. He put in years toward his BFA, but as a self-proclaimed wild student the money ran out before the degree was earned.
Without a plan, he stepped into the working world. As a young adult, Mabis seemed to be up for just about anything that could add to his skill set and bring him new knowledge. He worked 13 years in a glass factory which, because it required “no thinking,” allowed his mind to wander and dream about the possibilities that his future might hold. Mabis spent 15 years building sets and costumes for a community theater and even tried his hand at landscaping and cabinet making.
The twists and turns of life eventually led Mabis to fiber arts. He learned about the cycle of wool and with his revered life partner, Jamie Stark, began operating the fiber processing company, The Wooly Knob Fiber Mill in Laotto
Stark and Mabis worked their fingers raw building their business. “People sent us their animal fiber. We washed and carded it, then sent it back.”
Sounds simple enough, until you hear the details. Raw animal fiber is filled with mud, grass, bugs and clumps of manure and needs to be meticulously cleaned by hand – “monkey picked,” as Stark and Mabis like to say. To keep the tedious and exhausting work lighthearted, they named the fleeces after Hollywood notables: next up for monkey picking, Lola Fa Lama.
The process at the mill is as natural as it gets. Commercial processing involves scouring the fiber in sulfuric acid “to remove all the yuck,” said Mabis. “For us, we don’t want to deal with the acid. We hand pick and send it through the machines to knock it out.”
At one point Mabis and Stark found themselves collecting fiber from artists at 12 fiber festivals each season. Working at full capacity, they pumped out 13 tons of fiber a year. Additionally, they conceptualized and organized the now popular, annual Salomon Farms Fiber Arts Festival and absorbed every bit of information they could about the fiber process. The workload became overwhelming and now the mill only works with cleaned wool on a limited capacity.
The experience and reputation Mabis earned at the mill led to an unexpected opportunity. One day, out of the blue, an email arrived from Saint Francis University asking if he would be interested in teaching.
“I thought it was a joke,” said Mabis. “I called them and they asked if I could come in the next day and bring some of my stuff. I didn’t really have much to show, but I grabbed what I had, a few small rugs and some fiber, and went in at 4 [o’clock] the next day.”
During the meeting, Saint Francis School of Creative Arts Dean Rick Cartwright explained he needed a new fiber arts instructor.
“I was very apprehensive. I had never taught a full curriculum,” said Mabis. At the end of the meeting, he was offered the job and asked to report back by noon the next day with an answer.
“I was scared to death,” said Mabis, “but I said yes because I knew students needed the class.” He had one weekend to develop a full curriculum and course syllabus. On Monday he went in to establish his classroom; the following day, students arrived.
“After two weeks in I realized the classroom was my element,” a now cool and comfortable Mabis explained, thinking back to the early days that seemed so overwhelming. That was 2004, he’s been teaching ever since.
For Mabis, collecting new experience never ends. Last year he decided to take the daring step back into the classroom as an undergraduate. He put together a portfolio and entered the review session alongside a mass of high school seniors.
“I was an old man surrounded by high school students. My colleagues from the art department didn’t know I would be there, and the whole situation was pretty awkward.”
Now fully immersed as a student, Mabis has just one more semester to complete a goal he set out to achieve long ago: to earn his BFA in sculpture. Inside the Mimi and Ian Rolland Center for Art and Visual Communication, which currently hosts the annual student show, Mabis explained the thought process behind the pieces representing his work. Clay relief tiles and a figurative sculpture sum up his learning experiences from the past school year and provide insight as to how his mind pulls him through life.
“I am an over-thinker. I got into this thing to work fast to override the brain and let the gut do the talking.”
As his life story shows, Mabis is turned on by the process of exploration. He enjoys learning how his mind will respond to different artistic challenges.
“Drawing and I are not friends,” he explained. “My hands aren’t in it.”
One day in a figure drawing class, he faced the easel loaded with a large pad of newsprint, and a rush of anxiety flooded his mind.
“I felt over taxed. I couldn’t cognize the figure. I hit a huge wall.” Paralyzed by frustration he left class feeling defeated. “I wish this was clay and not drawing,” he thought. The creative wheels in the mind of this natural problem solver turned and clicked on a solution. He constructed a rig to hold a clay tile that could be perched on an easel, then brought a series of clay slabs to class in place of newsprint. Success and mental-block averted. He would draw in clay and develop relief tiles.
To this day, Mabis is hooked on “painting in clay”. He gives himself a 20-minute time limit to capture the main points of an image. The self-inflicted rule keeps Mabis from getting caught up in the detail and stuck in over-thinking. The method opened up a whole new realm of creativity for Mabis to explore, prompting him to set a personal goal for the summer: “I want to do two clay paintings a day and six every weekend. I can’t imagine where I’ll be by the end of the summer,” he said, thinking about the growth he has already witnessed in his work, work that sits in a gallery next to pieces created by his own students.
At a time in life when many make plans to slow down, Mabis is ramping up. After graduation he plans to continue to ride the current and let circumstances and experience lead the way.
“I have learned to trust the universe and realize I have always been exactly where I need to be.”
Friday, April 28
Click on the headings below for full calendars
Click header for complete Things To Do calendar
Concordia Comedy Festival — Concordia Lutheran High School presents a showing of comedy films from middle and high school students, 7 p.m. Friday, April 28, Room 101, Neff Hall, IPFW, Fort Wayne, free, 483-1102
Tapestry: A Day for You — Day of inspiration, renewal and education for women in all stages of life with keynote speaker Ann Curry, 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 28, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $75, 483-1111
Click header for complete On the Road calendar
Click header for complete Music & Comedy calendar
Blooze Faktor — Blues at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., cover, 483-1311
Chris Worth & Company — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 557-1563
Classic Voice — Variety at The Venice Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, (260) 482-1618
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at The Venue, Angola, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 665-3922
Expanding Man — Variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
G-Money Band — Blues at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Hubie Ashcraft & Travis Gow — Country at Billy's Downtown Zulu, Monroeville, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 623-3583
The Illegals — Rock at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 483-5526
IPFW Bands & Choirs w/Fort Wayne Children's Choir — Classical at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at American Legion Post 241, Waynedale, 8:30-11:30 p.m., no cover, 747-7851
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
Rebecca Rego — Americana/country at Two-EE's Winery, Huntington, 7:30-9:30 p.m., no cover, 672-2000
Secret Mezzanine — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 432-8966
String Theory — Acoustic variety at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 260-745-3369
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 422-5896
Trichotomous Hippopotamus w/Trackless, John Fishell — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., cover, 267-5303
The Why Store — Rock at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, (260) 387-5063
Click header for complete Karaoke & DJs calendar
Big Dawg Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Bucca Karaoke w/Ashley — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Dance Party w/DJ Rich — Variety at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., cover, 422-5055
DJ dance party — at Rum Runners, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., ,
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Tap Haus, New Haven, 9 p.m., no cover, 493-6622
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Jay — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Scott — Variety at JR's Pub, Leo, 9 p.m., no cover, 627-2500
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., ,
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke w/DJ Chuck — Variety at DW Bar & Grill, Churubusco, 10 p.m., no cover, 693-8172
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at Portside Pizza, Columbia City, 9 p.m., no cover, 691-3333
Karaoke — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Karaoke — Variety at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m., no cover, 488-3344
Karaoke — Variety at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Karaoke — Karaoke at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Rockstar Karaoke & DJ w/Scotty — Karaoke at Backway Lounge, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 665-5081
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at 4 Crowns, Auburn, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 925-9805
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ w/Kevin — Variety at Danny's Italian Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 484-4444
SureShot Karaoke w/David — Variety at The Green Frog Inn, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 426-1088
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Bottle and Bottega, Fort Wayne, 8:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 494-1020
Click header for complete Stage & Dance calendar
Funny Little Thing Called Love — Romantic comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Home and Jamie Wooten, 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and May 5-6 and May 12-13, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
The Little Mermaid — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre musical based on the Disney movie, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $17-$29, 424-5220
Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
Next to Normal — Tony Award- and Pulitzer-winning musical about coping with mental illness, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Three Rivers Music Theatre, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 498-2270
The Taming of the Shrew — William Shakespeare’s now somewhat controversial comedy about the battle between the sexes, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 12-13, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
A Wrinkle in Time — all for One productions’ adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s young adult science fiction novel, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, PPG ArtsLab, Auer Center for Arts & Culture, Fort Wayne, $11-20, 422-4226
Click header for complete Movie times
Click header for complete Art calendar
37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Juxtapoz Magazine: 25 Years Under the Influence — A chronicle of the iconic magazine’s evolution into one of the most influential magazines of art of the counterculture, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Norman Bradley and Friends — Exhibition of works by friends and colleagues of the late Fort Wayne artist, Tuesday-Saturday thru May 20 , Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Perspectives Live Butterfly Display — Up close and personal perspectives of the Conservatory’s newest collection of live butterflies, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 25, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Robert Williams: SLANG Aesthetics! — An exhibition of new work by the artist considered the godfather of the lowbrow, pop surrealist and colloquial realism art movements, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 23, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3, Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru May 20 (Cinco de Mayo Fiesta featuring mariachi music by Mark Meussling 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 5), Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568