Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Blowing the lid off the tapestry box (part 1 of 2)

I've recently been mulling over the familiar metaphor of working "inside (or outside) the box" with regards to tapestry.  Last month I had the great pleasure of taking a week-long workshop with tapestry artist and art professor Rowen Schussheim-Anderson at the American Tapestry Alliance's retreat in Reno, Nevada.  I was excited by the promise of learning to use mixed materials and techniques, including collage (already one of my favorite approaches to design) in tapestry.  I am still excited and still exploring the possibilities.

It was fun to be introduced to so many new-to-me techniques, including weaving a window in the surface of the tapestry, adding novelty yarns, adding on surface embellishments such as wrapped and coiled pipe cleaners and bits of clothesline, and twining, crochet and beadwork techniques as part of the woven surface. Rowen told us our workshop weaving would not be a coherent work of art, and she was right, at least in my case.  It's a funky little thing, but it will be a good reminder to me of some of the things we tried.

Molly Elkind, mixed media sample from Rowen Schussheim-Anderson workshop, 2018.
That's my painted paper in the window.  
Speaking of funky little experiments, another thing we did was add large stitched marks to previous tapestries we may have done that we were not happy with.  I really liked the energy and added texture that stitches added to this very early tapestry of mine.  I'm definitely keeping this in mind for future work.

Molly Elkind, Pedernal study
We also did a number of sketchbook exercises including an approach to collage that I haven't tried before.  For me this involved enlarging a section of a topo map and using it as a template for a cut and pasted paper design.  I had always built up my collaged compositions intuitively on a blank sheet of paper, so this was a more challenging method.

Molly Elkind, paper collage from Rowen Schussheim-Anderson workshop, 2018
While I'm not sure the overall composition quite succeeds, I think some of these cropped details could make interesting small experiments. (To find them I cut 4x6" and 6x8" rectangles out of the center of sheets of white paper, forming makeshift frames.)

The most eye-opening thing for me about Rowen's workshop was simply being given permission to think outside the box, to let go of traditional notions of pure tapestry:  warp faced, using mostly wool wefts, perfectly flat and straight-edged.  My tapestry teachers up to now have been incredibly gifted practitioners of this traditional approach, and so I have worked within those parameters.  But I love the idea that a tapestry can itself be a collage, with various disparate and surprising elements layered and juxtaposed.  I've been saying to friends that Rowen's workshop "blew the lid off my traditional tapestry box."

Tune in next week to find out how my thinking did a 180 when I heard Irvin Trujillo's comments on working inside the box.