Rachel Obenhaus weaves on a 60-inch AVL Technical Computer-Dobby loom in Northport, Maine. She wears headphones to protect her ears from the loud pressurized air that shoots the shuttles of yarn back and forth.
“I feel as though I totally hit the jackpot,” says Rachel Obenhaus, a fiber artist who landed her dream job after graduating from the University of Missouri in 2022. As a production weaver for a home furnishings company in Maine, Obenhaus is thriving in a career path she discovered while exploring the arts at Mizzou.
With its liberal arts and science foundation, the College of Arts & Science provides students with the perfect opportunity to explore a variety of subjects while pursuing their degree. Obenhaus knew she wanted to enrich her undergraduate experience by taking art classes in addition to her courses in international studies.
During an outing with the Art and Design FIG (freshman interest group), Obenhaus fell in love with the fiber studio inside the School of Visual Studies (SVS). Calling herself “obsessed,” Obenhaus began enrolling in weaving courses, guided by C. Pazia Mannella, an assistant professor and textile artist. “She encouraged me to think outside the box when designing and creating new pieces and allowed me to use the studio’s weaving equipment,” says Obenhaus. “Without her tutelage I would not have adopted so much passion for this creative form.”
In hindsight, it might appear that Obenhaus was destined to be an artist. The Dallas native always had a natural affinity for textile and fiber art. At a young age, Obenhaus learned how to basket weave, crochet, cross stitch, embroider, sew, and spin yarn. And while at Mizzou, she certainly had the drive to succeed, eventually taking all the weaving courses that were available in SVS, but the road to success wasn’t easy. Obenhaus found herself struggling with unique challenges, including the impact of COVID-19 on her studies. She also suffered from degenerative disc disease and needed two spine surgeries during her junior and senior years. She relied on self-perseverance to push herself beyond the pain, further than she ever had before.
“Throughout this struggle, weaving became an integral part of my own mental mending. Weaving granted me a way to give my mind a rest as well as sort through complex and triggering emotions in such a busy world,” says Obenhaus. “Creating a physical product through complicated twisting and twinning helped reduce my own anxiety and stress, improving my recovery process and quality of life.”
Obenhaus’ persistence and hard work paid off. One of her weavings, “Recall and Try Again,” was selected for the SVS Undergraduate Juried Exhibition. Her tapestry was purchased and will be displayed this fall in the A&S Student Success Center on the first floor of Lowry Hall.
Today, Obenhaus can’t believe how lucky she is to have found a career doing what she loves, weaving classic throws for Swans Island Company, a business committed to sustainable sourcing, traditional craft techniques, and American manufacturing. And while she still struggles with chronic pain, Obenhaus has learned how to listen to her body. “Knowing when to work hard and when to take it easy is a balancing game,” she says. “My life has taken a dramatic turn from where I thought I’d be heading, but I wouldn’t wish it to be any other way.”