Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"Switchbacking up the warp"* at Intermountain Weaving Conference

Last weekend I spent three days immersed in wedge weave, in a class led by Deborah Corsini at the Intermountain Weavers Conference at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.  It will be hard to capture all that we saw and did in that time in a brief post but I'll try.

Wedge weave is a particular type of eccentric weaving that was done for just a couple decades by Navajo weavers in the late 19th century.  In wedge weave, you weave diagonal lines at an oblique angle to the warp, first in a band of diagonals slanting in one direction that goes across the width of the warp, then in a band of diagonals slanting in the other direction.   This approach pushes the warps out of their vertical alignment and creates the distinctive scalloped edges that characterize wedge weave.

Deborah Corsini with her piece Rip Tide

Deborah holding her piece "Trail of Tears" that was included in the exhibit of work by leaders and IWC board members.
Notice the use of slits as design elements. 
One of the biggest treats of the workshop was the chance to see up close two Navajo wedge weave rugs held at the collection of the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College.  Museum staff invited us behind the scenes to examine and photograph two historic rugs.  It was thrilling to see how differently each weaver used the wedge weave technique.

While at first glance the design might seem simple, the more we looked, the more we found to see.
The second rug featured bands of plain (regular, perpendicular weave) between the bands of wedge weave.  We also noticed that the dyes had faded and/or bled, but felt this did not hinder the appeal of the rug at all.  In fact, in this second rug especially, the churro wool was incredibly lustrous (and hard to capture in the photograph.)

On the workshop's second day, Deborah shared an extensive PowerPoint lecture featuring the work of contemporary artists using wedge weave.  It was exciting to see that what might appear at first to be a fairly straightforward technique has almost endless possibilities. Many artists, including Deborah herself, have truly found their own unique voices in this approach.

Before the workshop, I had done a few pieces in wedge weave, but there were some stubborn technical questions I couldn't resolve, and I sensed that there was more I could learn.  Deborah immediately solved the technical issues and in one-on-one conversations pointed me toward several possible directions to explore.  For me wedge weave is a capacious and friendly format that can be abstract or representational (or both at once).  It can be regular and geometric or delightfully irregular and organic, even nearly three-dimensional.  I have found that when I have a wedge weave on the loom, that is often the piece I turn to first when I have time to weave.  Hmmm. . .

Deborah shared that her teacher, Martha Stanley, said that "I now know that a technique in a sense chooses me, not the reverse."  I have felt this too; I never expected to be a wedge weaver, but I find that I keep returning to it, for the handy structure it imposes and the improvisation that it encourages within the constraints of that structure.  Right now I am seeing the world through a zig-zaggy lens!

Here are some of the samplers we wove in the workshop (apologies to those I was unable to get good photos of):

Nancy's piece

Kristi's work

Cindy's piece
Carol's work

Evelyn's work

Toni's work
Lyn's work
Lyn Hart also had a piece in the art exhibit that incorporated wedge and eccentric weaving.  Here is her piece Polen Verde, a rendition of a desert tree that blooms in yellow and scatters pollen abundantly in her part of Arizona.  The three green trees are done in wedge weave.

Lyn Hart, Polen Verde
detail, Lyn Hart, Polen Verde

My work, still in progress.  I will end it with a couple bands of zigzags similar to those at the bottom of the piece.
This piece, Color Field, by Deborah Corsini inspired me to experiment with feathers.
Thank you, everyone at IWC that made this conference happen, and thank you, Deborah Corsini, for inspiring us to begin to explore the possibilities of wedge weave.

* This was Deborah's phrase as she summed up our workshop and I just loved the way it described the course of our journey up the warp.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

"Beyond Punch Cards" at Santa Fe's Form & Concept gallery

We've all heard, probably more than once, that the punch cards that programmed the first computers were based on the punch cards used to create intricate weaving structures on the original Jacquard looms.  Both technologies, weaving and computing, rely on binary systems.  Recently I visited an exhibit at Form & Concept Gallery in Santa Fe that explores this connection more deeply, showing "innovative ways old and new technologies interlace each other."  Curators Renata Gaui and Francesca Rodriguez Sawaya selected works from around the world that investigate how both technologies might "converge and evolve to resist obsolescence."  Though the show has closed, you can read about it and see the work here.  Click on each work for artists' statements and more.

For me, the piece below stole the show.  At the top, a beautifully woven image that showcases what Jacquard weaving can do slowly disintegrates toward the bottom of the piece, reflecting the disintegration of the neglected loom on which it was woven.   I'm including a photo of the full label text as it is so pertinent to the state of textiles and weaving instruction in higher art education today.

Gabrielle Dugan, Weaving2018

detail, Gabrielle Dugan, Weaving2018.  The woven text reads "I am past and future." 

I acquired my own floor loom when a university art department sold all the looms in the fiber area, on the assumption that weaving had been superseded by a focus on surface design and mixed media.

Another piece was striking in its merging of technology and weaving.   For this work, viewers are invited to use a tablet to activate the piece.  Code embedded in the weaving creates prismatic shapes on the screen of the tablet when the tablet is held in front of the panel.

C. Alex Clark, Aliased Quarry/Diffraction Query

detail, C. Alex Clark, Aliased Quarry/Diffraction Query

detail, C. Alex Clark, Aliased Quarry/Diffraction Query
"Gee whiz" is my response here.  The piece does go far "beyond punch cards" to illustrate the interlacement of weaving concepts with the mechanics of light and computing, reminding us perhaps that art and science are not as distinct as we may think.  For a full explanation of how this works, go here.

For me the following piece packed a more emotional punch.  What appears at first glance to be a traditional overshot coverlet is revealed, upon reading the label, to contain Kevlar, the bulletproof fiber.  The piece is part of a projected collection of "bulletproof home goods," inspired by the 2016 mass murder at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the resulting, unsurprising fact that many gay people report feeling safer at home than in public.  The artist says she wove the piece specifically to raise awareness about safety issues for LGBTQ people.

Erika Diamond, Overshot Safety Blanket (lapghan) from the Imminent Peril-Queer Collection

Finally, this piece made a trenchant point despite its small size (11" x 8.5").

Askanksha Aggarwal, Fragment-From the Women who Did Not Make History series.  

detail, Askanksha Aggarwal, Fragment-From the Women who Did Not Make History series.  Phrases alluding to the "hidden narratives" of the artist's female relatives are partially discernible in the laser-etched woven paper strips.

This is a show whose appeal is conceptual as well as optical. Every piece requires the viewer to read the label to fully appreciate what is going on.  Artists do not rely on vibrant color or traditional technical prowess to wow the viewer; the punch, as in much contemporary art, is in the concept.  It is the mission of Form & Concept gallery to blur and break down the false distinctions and outdated hierarchies that still separate art, craft, and design, and I can only applaud this. From the gallery's mission statement:  "We dispute the historic use of these terms to divide artists and rank material culture."  I look forward to more exhibits that show what is possible in media formerly known as "craft." 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

How Molly got her groove back* at MAFA

I'm a little tardy with this post reporting on the Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association conference (MAFA).  Here's the thing: the conference re-energized me so much that when I got back home I plunged back into studio work, eager to take advantage of the boost.  I'd been in a bit of a creative and motivational slump in my studio, unsure of what to weave next and full of self-doubt.  But then I went to MAFA  and I returned ready to tackle several half-finished projects on my looms.  Teaching at the conference, hanging with my fiber tribe, and talking tapestry with fellow weavers and instructors was just great.  The students in my Collage to Tapestry Cartoon workshop were smart, motivated, eager to share and learn from each other, and exceptionally hard-working.  I can only hope they came away with the same boost in energy and ideas as I did.

In the course of two-and-a-half very full days, students created several collages apiece and worked through the process of figuring out how to translate them into the language of tapestry. Nearly every student made a cartoon and also made good progress on the myriad decisions that precede even beginning to weave.  You can read an account of the class by student Michiele Elliott here.

Here are some highlights:

Jan working on one collage.
Fannie's collage in monochrome

Michiele shares her collage 

Nan's series of collages. A quick, colorful abstract piece helped her clarify the design for her bird. 

Fannie, Joanne and Michiele share feedback on their collages before working on cartoons.

Carol shared these pieces of her work with the class. 
Joanne shared these pieces, woven on a crochet cotton warp and using DMC embroidery floss as weft. 
Carol's collages.  She chose to develop one of her small index card pieces into a cartoon.  
Vicki's collage and her detailed cartoon 

Jan's completed collage and cartoon
Of course, the classroom workshop is just one facet of the fiber conference experience.  There were wonderful vendors (I splurged on some lustrous linen to play with).  A keynote address by Tom Knisely made us laugh and reminded us how we can, at our best, be truly "united in fiber" (the theme of the conference). There was for the first time at MAFA a small art exhibit, in which several extraordinary pieces showed what can be done in weaving. (Check out my Instagram for some images from that show.)  And for me, it was fun to meet, or see again, a number of weaving world rock stars.  MAFA organizers did a great job with the care and feeding of instructors, providing us with assistants, several opportunities to gather over food and drink to talk shop, and clear information at every step of the way.   A huge thank-you to the small army of smiling MAFA volunteers!

I am looking forward to teaching adding some new classes to the mix over the next year.  Here's the short list of what and where I'll be teaching:

Sept 21-22, 2019:  North Country Fiber Fair (several short classes in design elements and principles)

Jan. 11-12, 2020:  Southern California Guild of Handweavers:  Weave a Minime, Plan Your Tapestry Diary, and Your Tapestry Superpower:  Sampling

July 24-25, 2020:  HGA's Convergence, Knoxville:  The Contemporary Tapestry Scene (slide lecture), Weave a Minime, and Your Tapestry Superpower:  Sampling

More teaching engagements are in the works, so check here and on my website Workshops Schedule page to stay up to date.  You can sign up for my email newsletter at the bottom of my webpage here.

*Apologies to author Terry McMillan for cribbing the title of her best seller, How Stella Got Her Groove Back.

Friday, June 21, 2019

How does travel impact your work?

Summer is a season for travel, and it seems like a good time to raise a question with you, dear readers, that I've been mulling over.  How does your travel impact your creative work, in fiber or any other medium?  Do you try to take what you've seen and translate it into your own work?  Or is travel more inspiring in a general way, allowing you to step out of your daily life, refresh your mind and spirit, and broaden your visual horizons?  I, along with many weavers in the US and around the world, have recently enjoyed following the textile-oriented travels of Robbie LaFleur and Rebecca Mezoff, and I am excited to see how their travels and research impact their work.  Their generous sharing of images and insights has already been helpful for many of us in the weaving community.

My own recent journeys have not been quite as far afield or as intensely fiber-focused, but I've taken a couple of fun trips so far this year, one to Guatemala and the other just over a week ago to the Four Corners area of the U.S., encompassing Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and Monument Valley Tribal Park.  On each trip I took dozens, maybe hundreds, of photos, and my mind was whirring with ideas as to how I might take what I'd seen and use it in tapestry somehow.

In the Four Corners region I was awed by the scale and patterning of natural formations.  At Zion, desert varnish painted the cliff walls with shiny areas and with abstract expressionist drip patterns.  I learned that in geological terms the wedge weave pattern in the cliff faces is due to crossbedding of different layers of rock.

Rock walls at Zion
Rock wall with crossbedding (or wedge weave) at Zion
At Bryce Canyon I was intrigued by the weird and wildly detailed hoodoos formed by erosion.  Scores of spires and narrow fingers and canyons made cities of orange and white rock.  It was spectacular, and yet seemed impossible to try to weave, at least for me.  If you abstracted the detailed forms enough to weave them you'd lose the impact, I think.  (I'd love to see a tapestry inspired by Bryce that proves me wrong!)

"Fairyland" section of Bryce Canyon
 The formations of Monument Valley are truly monumental.  In movies and photographs the monuments are often pictured all together in the landscape, and thus they can look smaller than they really are.  In person the scale is immense; the tallest formation is 1000 feet high, the height of a 100-story building.

"Big Eye Hogan" at Monument Valley.  The same forces of erosion that shaped the monuments are at work carving the eye in the ceiling of this giant alcove. 
We love to look at the strange and unusual in the landscape--but does it make for good art?

In Guatemala, the landscape was gorgeous,  but I was most enchanted by the vibrant colors and the exuberant mixing of patterns in traditional Maya clothing.  I admired the incredible workmanship in the dyeing and weaving.   But since I returned, I've not found a way to directly translate any of that into my own work.  It could be that Mayan weaving is Mayan and not for me to emulate.   I have, though, continued to explore and research the ways in which color, culture and place intersect.  (If you have any books or articles to recommend, please share!)

Market in Antigua, Guatemala
Woven huipil, or blouse, from Guatemala
But the question remains--how do you take what you've seen on a wonderful trip and use it once you're back in your regular environment?  I know that there is no one answer that could work for all artists, all trips, and all ways of working.  And yet I want to somehow integrate these experiences into my work.  I want them not to be isolated experiences.  It could be that they are influencing me in subliminal ways I'm not even aware of, which would be great!

In all these places I feel shrunk down to my right size, very very small in the grand scheme of things, and that is oddly comforting.  (Another way to say it is that I'm getting out of my studio and out of my own head!)  Perhaps this is the feeling that I can try to convey in my work, rather than a literal depiction of any of these places.  Hmm, how can I depict in visual terms the feeling of being small in a vast, diverse, and mysterious universe??  I recently read an article about British textile artist Claire Benn who is doing exciting work along these lines.

I did make sketches and notes of ideas after my trips; I will revisit these and see what "has legs" and is worth pursuing.  I'm curious about how you respond to travel once you're back in your studio.  Have you taken a trip where you've seen or done things that resulted in new work, perhaps even a new direction for you?  Or is it enough for travel to be a chance to rest and refresh your mind and spirit, to refill the well?  I'd love to hear from you, in the comments below or on Facebook or Instagram.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Alexander Girard: A Designer's Universe

Santa Fe is blessed with a number of fabulous museums showing a wide range of art.  Somewhat belatedly, I have just visited the Museum of International Folk Art for the first time in any depth, and I was blown away.  The core of the museum's holdings is a collection of over 100,000 objects (not a typo) collected by Alexander Girard and donated to the museum.  Ten thousand (yes, 10,000) of these objects are on permanent display in one giant room, the overwhelming and wonderful "Multiple Visions:  A Common Bond" permanent exhibit.  Girard was an avid collector of folk art objects from 100 countries and six continents, and these objects are carefully arranged in dioramas and wall displays.  You could wander for a week in there discovering delightful things.  When I spotted a wall of needlework samplers I told my companions that was where they could find me at the end of the day.

This sampler of elaborate darning stitches reminded me that today's "#visiblemending" is not so new after all!
But that's not what I'm writing about today.  This is just an extended introduction to the figure of Alexander Girard, a noted mid-20th-century designer of textiles, furniture and interiors.  Mid-century modern design has been enjoying a revival for some time now, and it is pure pleasure to see lots of objects from that time in the exhibit "Alexander Girard:  A Designer's Universe."  Perhaps the bright clear colors, clean design and upbeat mood of midcentury design appeals to us today for the same reason it did in the post-WWII, Cold War era.

Some of Girard's textiles on display.  The flat display case contains working designs for the fabrics as well as some of the inspirational textiles he collected on his travels.

What really made the exhibit fun for me was the peek into Girard's design process.  The Vitra Design Museum in Germany organized the exhibit, and they included sketches, collages, and maquettes of many of Girard's projects in addition to the final products.  Girard was not only a voracious collector of folk art, he was a prolific producer of ideas and designs.  It was fun to see how he used watercolor sketches, collages, and miniature pasted-up textiles to develop designs just as we do today.

Girard's sketches for blanket designs.  

Maquettes for various interior design projects. 

The two long striped maquettes were for a "fabric mural" for a bank.

Detail, fabric mural maquette

One of my favorite glimpses into Girard's creative process was this manifesto of sorts.  How many of us write notes to ourselves about the design principles we want to follow?

I know it's hard to read the text in this photo, so I'll pull out some of my favorite quotes:

"Space is our greatest luxury.  Bulk and weight kill space.  Lightness and economy make space."

"God made nature--don't spoil it.  Nature's inspiration is honesty.  Beauty can be simple too."

Girard's faith in "the modern" may seem quaint now:  "Modern has magic--of modern science, of new discoveries, of a new world, of a better way of life."  But he was adamant that there is no point in slavishly following traditional decor and designs that have outlived their  time:  "You don't wear a hooped skirt--why sit in a Victorian chair?"

"Don't look for a 'style' in modern--look for a way of living honestly. "

"Colors are yours to use--not for fashion to dictate."

"Respect the past--they believed in themselves.  In the greatest tradition--be yourself!"

Some advice never goes out of style.

Girard's gift for whimsy is apparent in his designs for wooden dolls.  I've never been a big fan of dolls, but these are totally charming to me.

Girard's sketches for wooden dolls.  I wonder if their names--Fraidy, Smarty, Gloomy, Prissy, Snotty, Goopy and Cozy--are a sly reference to Disney's seven dwarfs?

This exhibit runs through October 27.  I just may go back a third time.