Plan, Work, Wonder - Spinning Memories

The Academy sends four students to enjoy a two-month residency at the Leipzig International Art Programme in the historic Spinnerei in Leipzig. Holly Ann Sailors, Aleah Chapin, Nicolas Holiber and Alexander Barton blog with us while they're on residency in Germany.

By Holly Ann Sailors (MFA 2012)

Cliffside Cotton Mill, North Carolina
Four thousand five hundred and six miles away from Leipzig Germany there sits a sister town. A town that understands what it means to feel empty, abandoned, and overworked. This place once existed as a busting Mill town. Now the community looks back, nostalgic about the days of cotton spinning. I was raised in a Cotton Mill town in Cliffside North Carolina; and this place becomes reminiscent of home. Falling bricks, peeling paint, cracked cement, tufts of grass. Roots and earth pushing its way through cumbersome stone that once represented the livelihood of a town. I sit in a studio, a heavy expanse of brick, steel, and cement that contains my painting supplies and me. This place once filled hardworking Mill employees. I sit in this studio; brush in hand wondering “Does my labor of love compare to the unrelenting work of the cotton spinners? Am I filling a void in Leipzig?”

Loading cotton, Spinnerei, Leipzig Germany
During the 19th century, global demand for cotton had risen dramatically. Leipzig Germany and Cliffside North Carolina were busy spinning their way into the Second World War, clothing and employing communities with cotton, and putting food on tables across town. Generations pass, and times of war and cotton commerce soon fade. Towns sit, barely clinging to the economic culture they once had, moving forward to new ways of life.

Spinnerei workers, Leipzig Germany
The Century-old Cliffside Cotton mill closed its doors in 2003, leaving many of my own family members unemployed. In 1993 the Leipzig Spinnerei was sold. An age has ended. This giant Cotton Mill in Germany has been transformed and now exists as a Mecca of creative productivity for local and international artists. I have the pleasure of gracing this incredible space. Images of women toiling over their work linger in my mind as I push wet pigment onto cotton canvas. My studio fills with the passion and dedication of the past and present people who have called the Spinnerei home.
I shall plan and work and wonder,
When the days grow dark and somber,
As I slowly trudge the upgrade of the hills;
Oh, the good day that is coming,
I shall look so sweet and stunning
- Excerpt from Ida Watkins poem about her Cotton Mill Work; 1926


  1. beautiful thoughts, holly. i am going to print this for my grandparents so they can read it too.


  2. Nostalgia always pushes us forward

  3. i would have to agree about nostalgia.... thank you