A day in the life: Nigerian colors, memories inspire textile artist – Dayton Daily News

Credit: Knack Video + Photo
Credit: Knack Video + Photo
Editor’s note: “A Day in the Life” is a bi-monthly feature profiling a innovative Daytonian’s daily routine from start to finish.
Yetunde Rodriguez (pronounced “yay-toon-day”) has loved creating since she was a kid. Growing up in Nigeria, Rodriguez was born into a culture of DIY. “Everyone sewed, knit, cooked,” she says of the women in her family. “I lived there until I was 13. My dad had been coming to the States since the ’70s for university. He would go back and forth. We finally moved here when he got his PhD in West Virginia.”
Rodriguez did not always pursue art professionally. After college she joined the U.S. Navy, where she worked as a dental assistant. “The military is like a town,” she explains. “Everything you find in a town is in the military. Every job has a military parallel.” The Navy took her to California, Rhode Island and Virginia. In Norfolk, Va., she met her husband, Danny, and they started a family. They moved to Dayton in 2007 and now have three children ages 16, 18 and 20. In Dayton, Rodriguez developed her art practice and started producing small-batch textile designs. Her work is inspired by the color combinations of Nigerian art, as well as personal memory and research into African designs.
Typically, Rodriguez’s day starts early as she prepares to get her youngest child to school. She makes coffee and drops her son off, then zips downtown and gets to her studio around 8:30. Rodriguez approaches the studio like she would any work day. She starts at her computer, answering emails. She tweaks the templates she is working on for a mural project at West Dayton’s cooperative grocery store, Gem City Market. This won’t be the first work she has done for Gem City Market, which opened its doors in 2019. The facade of the building has a geometric design created by Rodriguez. The new mural is a collaboration between Rodriguez, fellow Dayton artists James Pate and Glenna Jennings, and Shayna McConville, who oversees Kettering’s Rosewood Arts Center and brings public art to the Dayton area. Later in the day, .Rodriguez will meet with her mural collaborators at either the Gem City Market or Pate’s gallery.

Rodriguez has been in this particular studio on West First Street for a year. She moved studios from down the hall in search of good light. The studio is well-organized with tall wooden bookshelves full of materials and fabric samples. Along one window-lined wall sit three tidy stations set up for workshops that Rodriguez leads under the moniker StudioYay. The most recent workshop, designing a decorative mirror with a DIY printed border, took place at the end of June. Despite her prolific output, she has self-doubt, just as any committed artist does. “If I do something that’s not art, will people get turned off? If it’s craft? I love DIY. When I hear ‘artist’ with a capital ‘A,’ it can be intimidating.”
As the morning progresses, the desk work required to run a small business needs to wait because Rodriguez has the urge to jump into a project. “Sometimes I need to execute on an idea I have,” she says. She is re-upholstering an old chair in her own fabric design. “I love refinishing something that already exists, like the chair, rather than putting out more stuff.” She is trying to phase out of markets where she sells her own products like pillows and totes. “I didn’t set out to make a product line. I don’t want to lead with that,” she says. “I want it to be something someone wants. I want it to mean something to someone.”
To that end, Rodriguez is deep into collaborative community projects. Besides her contributions to Gem City Market, she also works with the nonprofit We Care Arts, an organization that provides an artistic outlet to individuals with varying disabilities and physical challenges. Rodriguez has been teaching the “Production” class at We Care Arts for the past year. Local businesses will request projects, and Rodriguez guides the artists, who are paid for their efforts, to produce the work. “This flower project has consumed my life.” She is speaking of an art installation she recently completed as a collaboration between downtown’s Dayton Arcade, the arts fund Culture Works, and We Care Arts. Rodriguez was commissioned to facilitate the production of a 24-foot wall of paper flowers with the help of her students. It debuted in June at Summer Market Day at the Arcade.
Rodriguez collaborates not only on community work but with individual artists. At 11 she greets Dayton-based artist Erin Smith, who has arrived to continue painting Rodriguez’s portrait. The two will work together by incorporating Rodriguez’s textiles onto the canvas, and today is the day that Smith makes her selection of fabric. Rodriguez will sit for the portrait until it’s time to break for lunch.
Rodriguez lives about five minutes from her studio, and often zips back and forth, stopping home for lunch. She loves to cook and enjoys shopping at independent, international grocery stores for ingredients, including the Hillel market on Wayne Avenue and La Michoacana on Troy Street in Dayton. Around 3, Rodriguez wraps up what she is working on and leaves the studio to pick up one or more of her children. She is often joined back at the studio by her kids, including her son, an artist and recent graduate of Stivers School for the Arts. He will be pursuing industrial art in college and enjoys building his own canvas frames in his mother’s studio. Rodriguez’s daughter, who studies in upstate New York, is home for the summer and enjoys coming to the studio to sew.
Rodriguez and co. head home for dinner. She cooks a lot and enjoys making variations on Dominican fried rice, one of her husband’s favorites. She will use the ingredients she picked up at the local markets to recreate dishes at home, like falafel or Thai food. Sometimes, inspiration strikes again and Rodriguez heads back to the studio after dinner for one or two more hours, not heading home for the evening until 11.
You can reach this writer at hannah@hannahkasper.com.

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