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Visiting artist encourages girls to say yes to new opportunities

Visiting artist encourages girls to say yes to new opportunities
Visiting artist encourages girls to say yes to new opportunities

Beautiful fiber art surrounded Lexie Millikan when she was a young girl. Quilts lovingly made by her grandmothers covered her bed, and rugs made by her father, who wove wool scraps into functional textiles, covered the floors of her family’s home. 

The sentimental and stunning pieces inspired her artistic vision and sent her on a cross-country journey that took her from South Dakota to Kansas City, Missouri, in search of her dream.

She found it embedded in the fibers of one piece of fabric.

With a plan to enroll in the Kansas City Art Institute, she worked for a few years to save money and started taking classes at a nearby community college to build up her art portfolio. 

It was there, during an Intro to Fibers course, that a project she completed opened her eyes to the vibrant possibilities of her future. When she saw the results of her dye work, she knew she had to pursue textiles. When she finally got into the Kansas City Art Institute, Ms. Millikan felt she was right where she was meant to be.

“I had two paths laid in front of me, and I chose the ‘yes’ path, the one that would lead me to a life in the arts,” said Ms. Millikan, a guest instructor and speaker at this year’s Winterim. 

She said “yes” to every opportunity she could throughout her time at the Kansas City Art Institute. She took on residencies, worked in other artists’ studios, completed internships, and collaborated with her classmates on large-scale experimental textile installations, all to expand her knowledge, build a network of connections, and establish her voice as an artist. As she prepared to graduate, she accepted scholarship opportunities to attend classes at craft school.

“I always said ‘yes’ to these opportunities,” Ms. Millikan told 9th and 10th grade Winterim students. “Because I had always been focused on textiles during my time in college, these shorter and lower pressure classes gave me the chance to explore other mediums.”

After saying “yes” to yet another opportunity, this time to attend an experimental book-making class, Ms. Millikan met Harpeth Hall visual arts teachers Carmen Noel and Joan Curry, who introduced her to Winterim Director Jacquie Watlington.

“When Ms. Watlington invited me to Harpeth Hall for the first time, I again chose ‘yes,’” Ms. Millikan said. That was seven years ago.

Every January since, Ms. Millikan has journeyed to Nashville to teach 9th and 10th grade students as a part of Harpeth Hall’s Winterim program. Her classes cover a range of topics, including textiles from around the world, creating eco-friendly fashion with unconventional materials, and fundamental sewing skills and garment creation. Through her Winterim classes, she instills in students an appreciation for the art, history, and culture woven into the fabrics they encounter daily. Ms. Millikan has even used textiles made by Harpeth Hall students to create quilts for display in museums and galleries.

“I find value and energy in all of the different things that I do,” Ms. Millikan said. “When I talk about coming here to Harpeth Hall, it takes a lot of work and effort to make it happen, but it is really worth it. It helps me grow, and it gives me the feeling that I am helping other young people who are going to go out into the world.” 

When Ms. Millikan and her husband moved from Kansas City to a small town in Kentucky, she was not sure how she would be able to pursue her artistic career. She immersed herself in the town’s artistic community with every visit and built a network. Through her dedication to her craft and willingness to say ‘yes’ whenever possible, she began to serve on the board of directors for the community arts foundation for her town, allowing her to help enrich her community through festivals, art activities, and plays. 

Ms. Millikan became the fiber artist in residence at the Paducah School of Art & Design and executive director of the Yeiser Art Center. Paducah, Kentucky, is one of nine UNESCO Creative Cities, so named for its craft and folk art. Often called "Quilt City," Paducah houses the National Quilt Museum of the United States, the world's largest museum dedicated to quilts. Paducah’s rich history of fiber arts has opened the doors for Ms. Millikan to travel across the globe. She traveled to Mexico, South Korea, Guatemala, Spain, and Italy to participate in exhibitions with the UNESCO Creative Cities.

With each “yes,” Ms. Millikan has shined a light on Paducah’s heritage of fiber arts to a global audience. She has built collaborations with artists working in visual and performing mediums, growing her skill sets as a community leader, creative force, and advocate for fiber arts.

In addition to her new role as the artistic director of Yeiser Art Center, Ms. Millikan recently stepped into the position of executive director at Quilts of Valor, a national nonprofit organization that gifts handmade quilts to service members and veterans to give them a warm hug and welcome home.

“It is not always the right thing to say ‘yes’ to everything. That’s not what I want to tell you,” Ms. Millikan said. “What I want to tell you is this: I am giving you the option of not just saying ‘yes,’ but to choose to say ‘yes.’ Weigh your options, follow your heart, and when it makes sense to choose ‘yes,’ you will see what can unfold.”