Monday, December 28, 2015

Today in the studio

You know how some days, going to the studio and getting started on artwork just feels like a slog?  You drag your feet.  You have trouble getting started and keep finding reasons to procrastinate--the shelves in the refrigerator need to be wiped down!  I need to dust the bookshelves! 

Today was not one of those days.  I got started at 8:00 and enjoyed the rare feeling of creative flow as I moved from one project to the next.  This was the kind of day that reminds me why I stick with this fiber art stuff.

First, I wove today's segment of my new tapestry diary of the liturgical year.  We are in the third day of the twelve days of Christmas, a season whose color is white.  It's hard to make out, but I have added a line of metallic silver that appears here and there in the white sections.  The unwoven sections of empty warps represent days I was away from the loom, either out of town or, embarrassingly, just forgot my new daily practice. 

Then I turned to winding a warp for my next wearable project, a commissioned infinity wrap for a friend.  She has chosen gorgeous navy and dusky blue alpaca-silk.  Two closely related hues add a depth of color that a single solid color just doesn't have. I'm putting on a warp of almost 8 yards so I'll have enough for two additional wraps as well. 

 I love the feeling of this yarn flowing through my fingers!

Then I thought, Before I put this new warp on the loom I'd better be sure the cloth I'd just woven for another commissioned wrap was actually going to make an acceptable piece.  So I sewed the three lengths of cloth I'd woven into infinity wraps.  So simple--two seams and you're done. 

Sewing the label into the back seam is the final step
I had fun with this warp, varying the treadling for different weave structures and also using different variegated tencel yarns.  Lots of variety from one warp! 

These three wraps were all woven on the same solid-colored sienna tencel warp
The commissioned piece is on the far left; the center and right one are the first pieces in next year's inventory.

Then I turned to my Turkish-inspired bed quilt.  I have appliqued the blue trees with their red and orange teardrop shapes.  Yesterday I made some real headway on designing and preparing the applique flowers for the bottom panel and was eager to see what more I could do today.  I need some hand-applique to do in front of the TV in the evening!  One more set of flowers will be added below the tree on the far left.   

Oh, and since it was Monday, there was laundry to be done.

Chores intervene even on the best studio days. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

May your days be merry and bright. . .

My wish for you this holiday season, whatever your tradition,  is peace, light, stillness. . . and laughter, love, and joy with those you love. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Amateurs and pros, part 2

Last week I wrote about THIS article in American Craft magazine, considering the distinctions between hobbyists and professional craft artists.  I described how art historian Carolyn Fowler proposes that the key distinction revolves around whether the craftsperson "engage[s] questions in their work that interest the world of art and craft."  Fowler goes on to say that hobbyists may engage different, but equally valid and interesting questions. 

What does it mean to "engage questions in [craft] work that interest the world of art and craft" though?  That is truly the issue, I believe, and perhaps the clearest distinction between those who can be called serious craftspeople and those who may simply enjoy keeping their hands busy while they watch TV.

Not that there's anything wrong with that!  Lest you think I am an anti-hobbyist snob, let me point out that the bed quilt I am currently making is reserved for stitching on in front of the TV.  While I designed it myself (not in front of the TV!), I have adapted the motifs from other sources (Turkish tiles), and it follows all the rules of a conventional quilt:  made to be used on a bed, comprised of three layers stitched together, made of commercially produced printed cottons and constructed by conventional applique and piecing.  It is not innovative; there is nothing at all about it that would "interest the world of art and craft" but this project offers pleasure in the making, personal meaning and utility for me. And for this project, that is enough.

sketch for Iznik tile-inspired bed quilt
And yet I consider myself a serious, professional crafts maker as well.  I was flabbergasted that I sold nearly all of my fall/winter inventory of handwoven wearables this year!   Perhaps a person can be both a hobbyist, on certain occasions or for certain projects,  and a professional craft artist, in other contexts or mediums, at the same time?  Perhaps one distinction between hobby work and professional work is that the aim of the former is personal pleasure, utility, and meaning, while the aim of the latter may incorporate all those but also seek to engage a wider audience.  For the hobbyist, the point is to experience the joy of working with one's hands, with materials one enjoys, to hone one's skills and to make something useful and meaningful for one's home or for gifts for friends and family--all valid and satisfying intentions.  The professional does all those things but is making work designed for a wider audience, in full awareness of other work, past and present, that has been done in her medium.

When I weave scarves, shawls and wraps for sale, I am thinking not of my own favorite colors, but of colors that are current, popular, and versatile with most women's wardrobes.  I am thinking of designs that women of varied body shapes and sizes can wear in daily life.  I am thinking of how my pieces can be unique, special luxury items that are nonetheless affordable.  I am thinking of what I can accomplish on my loom, with my skills, using materials that I can  easily obtain.  But this work still does not "engage questions that interest the world of art and craft," because it is responding to what is rather than what could be.  It is essentially practical, traditional and market-based.

tencel infinity wrap
Two weeks ago I visited the  Iris van Herpen exhibit currently at the High Museum.   It is a mind-boggling show of what is possible in fashion for someone who not only thinks outside the box, but doesn't seem to have ever encountered the box to begin with!  Iris van Herpen, a young Dutch designer, addresses the supreme question that engages the contemporary world of art and craft--how to make it new.  She makes work using materials, structures, and processes that to my knowledge have never been used in fashion before.  Her designs are inspired by new information gleaned from science and technology.  In my view her designs are sculptures that happen to hang on a woman's body, rather than clothes a woman can wear in daily life.  This is craft raised to the level of art because it engages a very old question--how to cover the body--in startlingly original ways that acknowledge the contemporary world of ideas.  Van Herpen's work makes fashion truly new.

<em>Chemical Crows, Skirt, Collar</em>, January 2008
Chemical Crows, Skirt, Collar, January 2008; Ribs of children's umbrella, industrial boat filament yarns, cow leather, and metal eyelets.  Image courtesy of High Museum website.

In my own studio, I do attempt to engage questions of interest to the wider world of art and craft when I design and weave tapestry.  I am attempting to make it new, not by innovations in tapestry technique or materials (yet), but by exploring very old themes and subject matter in a contemporary context.  One question I am engaging is "Can anything  meaningful to contemporary viewers possibly be said about the Virgin Mary in the medium of tapestry?"  It is too soon to say.   For me now, the attempt is utterly absorbing.

The important thing, I think, is to be aware of what you are about, what your intentions are, when you engage in making.  Whether you consider yourself a hobbyist or a professional, what questions are you engaging?  Do you see yourself moving fluidly between categories, or firmly in one camp or the other? How is your approach to your work influenced by how you define yourself?  Deep questions!  Feel free to share in the comments below. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Amateurs and Pros, part 1

American Craft magazine October/November 2015 issue cover

There was an interesting article in the October/November issue of American Craft, entitled "Who's Afraid of Amateurs?"  You can read the article HERE.   Writer Monica Moses interviews Cynthia Fowler, an art historian who chairs the art department at Emmanuel College in Boston and has been researching craft hobbyists.  Fowler had some thought-provoking observations for those of us interested in craft, whether we are professionals or hobbyists or something in-between.  It turns out I have so much to say in response to this article that I have split this post into two parts. 

Fowler considers whether training is what distinguishes professionals from amateurs, or the ability to sell one's work consistently, but she notes that many successful professional craft artists are self-taught, while formally trained ones may be unable to sell their work.  So formal training and the ability to sell one's work are not really helpful in making distinctions.

Fowler points out that professional studio craft artists (such as those featured in American Craft magazine or at the highly regarded ACC shows) are leery of being lumped together with hobbyists.  Fiber artists are particularly leery, given the ways in which their medium has long been marginalized by a critical and scholarly establishment that privileges art by (white, male, Western) painters and sculptors. Fowler invites us to question "what interests are being served by maintaining a highly regulated boundary between the two categories" of professional and hobbyist craft, and who is excluded when one category is considered worthy of art-world attention and the other is not.  This is an excellent point, closely related to the old debate about where to draw the line between art and craft, and while it's an important question, it's not what I'm most interested in today. 

In the American Craft article, Fowler goes on to point out that professionals and amateurs actually have a great deal in common, starting with a deep respect for their materials and processes and a desire to grow in their own creative skills.  Indeed, many (most?) craft professionals likely started as hobbyists.  I made quilts as a hobby for a few years before I decided to take the next step and go to graduate school for formal training--and I found out about that grad school program at my local guild meeting of "amateur" quilters!  My current guilds, the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild, Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance (SEFAA), and Tapestry Weavers South are a lively mix of professionals and amateurs, and we all are constantly learning from each other and supporting each others' efforts. Any line that might exist between hobbyists and professionals is a pretty porous one in the fellowship of these groups.

In fact, the classes I am currently offering through these guilds and, I'm excited to report, at next summer's national weaving conference, Convergence, are aimed at those makers who may straddle the line between hobbyist and professional.  My students are fiber crafters who want to go beyond simply acquiring new techniques to understand more fully and control more effectively the fundamental elements of the design process.  If you are a fiber artist who is hungry to learn concepts and approaches to design that you can apply to whatever medium or technique you may be exploring, look HERE for descriptions of my current classes and HERE for my 2016 schedule. 

So, to return to the article, if both hobbyists and professionals are committed to honing their skills and growing in their creative abilities, perhaps this distinction between hobbyist and serious craft artist is simply an academic issue after all?  A manufactured divide?  Fowler stopped me in my tracks, though, when she said this:
"Craftspeople who achieve the status of [Lino] Tagliapietra ['often called the world's greatest glassblower'] do so in part because they engage questions in their work that interest the world of art and craft."
Hmmm.  What does it mean exactly to "engage questions in [one's] work that interest the world of art and craft"? This is where I'd like to pick up the discussion next week.  If this topic interests you, go ahead and read the two-page article HERE.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tapestry diary for a new year

In recent years more and more tapestry weavers have taken up the practice of weaving a tapestry diary, a piece in which they weave a tiny section of a tapestry every day for a year.  It's similar to the "daily painting" practice many painters employ, only in this case it is cumulative.  At the end of the year you have one giant woven piece, or perhaps several pieces that hang together.  Click HERE to read an excellent article describing the practice and showing examples by gifted practitioners.

I have observed this practice with interest for a few years now.  It is brilliant, conceptually:  more than most art mediums, weaving tapestry really is all about time.  It is such a slow process that it makes the weaver acutely aware of the passage of time, and of the luxury of time that is necessary to complete any tapestry.  Committing to a tapestry diary is a way to ensure that no matter how busy life gets, at least you can--must--sit down for 10 minutes and weave a small piece to mark the day.  It can become a way to practice new techniques in tapestry, to hone one's skills.  And it becomes a challenge to one's creativity as well, to continue to find, each day, a way a to make the process interesting, meaningful, and visually pleasing.

I decided a few months ago to devote one of my small tapestry looms to a tapestry diary.  I wanted to explore the sense I have that when I sit down to weave, time slows and becomes sacred again.  Writer Wendell Berry famously said, "There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places."  I believe the same is true of time, of the precious minutes, hours and days we are each allotted.  Weaving tapestry allows me to become aware again of the sacred gift of time, to re-enchant and hallow the day.  So I decided my diary would begin with the first day of Advent, the start of the year in the Christian liturgical calendar, and it would use the colors of the seasons of the liturgical year

Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, began last Sunday, and its liturgical colors are dark purple and navy.  In contrast to the secular world's glitzy, frenetic, highly decorated approach to the season, in the church it is a dark season, full of apocalyptic readings and the sense that the world has grown especially dark just before the birth of Christ.  So I have begun weaving simple rectangles of dark purple and blue, seven across so that each row of weaving will represent one week.

Here's where it is today, on Wednesday of the first week.  Not much to look at yet, but a start. For those who are interested in the technical details, it's sett at 10 epi and I used 12/6 cotton seine twine as warp.

Tapestry diarists often begin with a set of intentions or rules in mind to govern the project.  In addition to the parameters I've mentioned above, I will:
  • use bits and pieces of leftover yarn, including (gasp) knitting yarns
  • possibly experiment with technique, but not turn the project into a sampler or worse yet, homework
  • show days away from the loom by leaving blank warps
  • determine the color and pattern of each day's weaving that day, and not before
  • not unweave.
It will be a bonus if I have any epiphanies or small realizations that seem true in this practice.  So far these thoughts have occurred to me:

Speed is not the point.

Each day, deal with that day's challenge or problem.

What would it be like to bring the same care I bring to weaving, to other parts of my life?  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


On my morning walk the other day I was struck by the last bits of brilliant autumn color in our suburban landscape.

The warmth of autumn is waning, and there's no denying that winter's chill is on the way, if not already here. 

That's OK.  Like many of you, I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends this week, gathering around the table, amazed and grateful for the bounty we enjoy.  Brilliant color, even against a gray sky, is just one of the things I'm thankful for right now. 

Coincidentally, last week I attended the opening of tapestry artist Tommye Scanlin's show at the University of North Georgia.  It was a real joy to see the paintings she has done on recent residencies at Hambidge Center and the Lillian E. Smith Center, many of them featuring larger-than-life renditions of leaves, and to examine in person the tapestries that have resulted from those paintings.  I studied for a long time the interesting variations in color and visual texture in the backgrounds and borders of these pieces.  These tapestries are more than simply translations of paintings into yarn--though in Tommye's hands that would be satisfying in itself.  In her most recent work Tommye is exploring and exploiting uniquely woven possibilities of expression.  The show is up through Dec. 11; I urge you to see it. 

Here on my own loom, I'm finally getting to work with saturated reds and oranges on the tapestry in progress.  Soon I will be weaving several brightly colored shapes all at once in this piece!  That's pretty exciting after all those acres of plain white. 

Here's hoping your Thanksgiving is warm, festive, and brightly colored! 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

News you can use: textile conservation part 2

I wrote recently about a workshop I attended at Brenau University on textile conservation.   I am hardly an expert, but I do want to share what I learned.  If you have additional information or corrections, I welcome your comments below.  The photos below were taken at the exhibit currently on view at Brenau, Behind the Seams:  Caring for Historic Clothing, about the University's ongoing efforts to research and preserve its textile collection.

First, what is conservation? Conservation aims to stabilize and preserve a textile,  not necessarily to improve its appearance or restore it to its original condition.  The idea is to stop any deterioration that may be occurring, not to reverse or repair it.  Just as for medical doctors, the first rule seems to be Do No Harm.

This means:
  • Handle textiles with clean, freshly washed hands (cotton gloves, formerly the standard, are now seen as unnecessary).  Natural oils in your skin, or lotions you've applied, can permanently stain textiles. And watch out for dangling bracelets, earrings, and even the prongs on rings which can catch and snag delicate fabrics.
  • Store textiles in the same temperature and humidity conditions that are comfortable for us human beings (how convenient!)  This means NOT in the attic, the basement, or the garage.  High humidity can cause mold and mildew to form; high temperatures can hasten the deterioration of fabric. Wide fluctuations in temperature and humidity cause fibers to expand and contract in ways that hasten their decline. 
  • Do not store textiles in plastic bags, which emit harmful gasses and can raise humidity levels.  In fact storage or mounting in any tightly sealed container can trap humidity. 
  • Do not store textiles in contact with acidic materials, such as non-acid-free cardboard boxes or even unfinished wooden dresser drawers.  Drawers can be lined with aluminum foil to form a barrier to the acidic wood.  Many suppliers (see below) offer a wide range of acid-free boxes, tissue, and other storage solutions.  
  • It is most preferable to store textiles flat whenever space allows.  Failing that, large items such as quilts should be rolled, not folded.  Many quilters today buy foam "noodles" that kids play with in the swimming pool, cover them with a clean muslin sleeve (you can use an old cotton sheet), and then roll their quilts around these.  If you must fold textiles, periodically open them up and refold them along different lines.  Over time fold lines can become permanent creases, then weak spots and eventually holes in the fabric.  
  • Garments, if folded, should have their layers protected from each other with acid-free tissue paper, as in the first photo below.  The "void" or open space of the hat in the second photo below is filled with tissue. 

  • When you display your textiles, try to keep them out of direct light, both natural and artificial.  Unless you live in a cave, this is hard to do.  Light is extremely damaging, fading colors and weakening fibers.  Best practices are to display textiles in low light situations and for short periods (a few months, not years), then store them.  I've found that after a piece has been hanging for several months (or, I confess, years) I have stopped really seeing it anyway.  It's good for the piece and fun for us to rotate what's on display!
  • When hanging heavy items such as large rugs, quilts or wall hangings, distribute the weight evenly across the piece.  Best practice is to sew a wide strip of Velcro (loop side) all the way across the top back of the piece, and to staple the matching hook side of an equally long strip of Velcro to a wooden slat (which has been coated in polyurethane) which is attached to the wall. 
  • Garments in good condition can be hung on a padded hanger. 
    Hanger padded with fiberfill and covered with clean muslin
  • Cleaning is a complex subject and I can only summarize the most basic points here.  The safest and simplest way to clean a textile is to use a soft, natural-bristle artist's brush and simply brush surface dust off of the textile.  You may sweep the dust into the nozzle of a handheld vacuum cleaner to avoid simply redistributing it across the textile.
Tools used in cleaning, including soft brushes and wire mesh for protecting the surface while vacuuming
  • If more thorough cleaning is needed, careful vacuuming is the preferred method for textiles in good condition.  Conservators use a hand-held vacuum with a variable suction control.  They place a piece of nylon mesh over the end of the suction attachment (to keep any fibers or decorations from detaching and being sucked into the vacuum), and they use a piece of soft nylon mesh about a foot square (covering the sharp edges with tape) to protect the surface of the textile, vacuuming carefully through the mesh.  Lift and lower the vacuum attachment from one place to another on the textile, rather than pushing it across the surface as if you are vacuuming a carpet.  Also be careful that your vacuum does not overheat; it could actually catch on fire.  (Don't ask how I know.) 
  • Washing or wet-cleaning textiles can actually damage them if done incorrectly or with fragile pieces.  If in doubt, consult a textile conservator before washing any special textile.  The most important principle here is to support the piece while it is weakened by being wet--the weight of a heavy wet quilt can actually break the stitches that hold it together.  You can lay a large quilt on a bedsheet to lower and raise it from the bathtub where you wash it. Orvus washing paste is recommended as the safest soap (not detergent) to use, and it can be had cheaply and in large quantities at a feed supply or equine supply shop.  Quilt shops sell small bottles.  
Garment resting on a mesh sheet for support while lifting during washing 
  • Insects can damage textiles.  If your piece has an active infestation of insects, it can be placed in the freezer for a period to kill the insects.  Three rounds of freezing and thawing are recommended to stop completely the reproductive life cycle of insects.  Wool moths can be deterred naturally with lavender essential oil.  Place a few drops on a cotton ball and place the ball in a mesh or fabric pouch in the vicinity (but not touching) your wool items.  
In sum, the enemies of textiles are light, extremes and fluctuations of temperature and humidity, dust, dirt and insects.  These are all things that with good housekeeping and intelligent handling, display, and storage, we can control to some extent.  Those priceless family heirlooms--possibly even our own textile work!-- can be passed down for years to come. 

For more information and to find a textile conservator, check with the American Institute for Conservation.

For archival storage materials, go to Gaylord Archival, Hollinger Metal Edge and Talas. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

4th annual Alpharetta Art & Fine Craft Show

This weekend, Nov. 13-15, we are holding our annual Alpharetta Art and Fine Craft Show and Sale at our home.  Seven other artists will join Sam and me, offering original pastel paintings, classic black and white photographs, unique handcrafted jewelry, handwoven items to wear, home-canned yummy produce, and beautiful hand-crafted pens.  There is truly is something for everyone and at every price point.  And it's always a bit of a house party, with friends, food, laughter and art talk flying around.  Consider this your invitation to just come and hang out!

Here's a sampling of the work you'll see:

Pendant by Lynn Edwards

Pastel painting by Marilyn Kleinhans

Byzantine necklace in gold and silver by Nancy Bruns

silver gelatin photograph by John Long
handwoven neck piece by Dinah Rose

Tsankewi Cliffs silver gelatin photo by Sam Elkind
pens from exotic woods and polymers by Jan Hughey
infinity scarf by Molly Elkind
Contact me if you need our address and you think you're not on my regular email mailing list.  Hope to see you soon!

Next week I'll finish my two-part series on textile conservation.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why you should care about textile conservation, part 1

Do you have one of Grandma's old quilts in a closet or cedar chest somewhere?  A baby's christening gown that's been passed down through the generations?  A wedding gown carefully cleaned, boxed and saved for a future bride?

Most of us do hold on to and cherish the meaningful textiles that are passed down through our families.  We do our best to preserve them the best way we know how, but we may have misconceptions about what that entails.  In the area of textile conservation, as in any scientific field, knowledge and best practices are constantly evolving.   I know a little bit about conservation, but recently I had the chance to update and deepen my understanding by attending a workshop at Brenau University in Gainesville.

The workshop was presented by Lori Gann-Smith, Chair of the Department of Art and Design.  Lori has been trained in conservation principles and techniques in order to care for the Brenau Historic Clothing Collection, which numbers over 3000 items.  
Lori Gann-Smith, Chair, Dept of Art and Design, Brenau University
Lori taught us how and when to use the most commonly used stitches in stabilizing textiles:  running stitch, backstitch, and pick stitch.  We also learned how to stabilize tears or holes in fabric with mesh or net underlayments and overlayments.  And we practiced span stitch (also known as self-couching or "Frankenstein stitch") for slits or tears.  We used contrasting thread on our samplers for visibility, but in actual practice one would choose a color that blends with the piece.  Here's my sampler:

It's clear that the aim of these stabilizing treatments is simply preservation, not aesthetic enhancement of the textile.

The workshop was offered in conjunction with an exhibit, Behind the Seams:  Caring for Historic Clothing, about the University's ongoing efforts to research and preserve its textile collection.

Among the examples of "loss"--irreversible damage and deterioration--that researchers uncovered was this jacket discolored by mildew:

This jacket is an example of "inherent vice"--pre-existing conditions in an object's materials that will cause it to deteriorate.  Inherent vice can involve dyes or dye mordants that discolor and eventually damage the fabric.  Some fibers such as cotton or silk will by their nature deteriorate over time.  Here's a jacket lining whose silk has "shattered."

The research undertaken as part of the conservation process can turn up interesting information.  Brenau student researchers discovered that this opulent velvet gown had actually been remade several times and speculate that it may have been a theatrical costume.

The exhibit runs through Nov. 19, 2016 at the Simmons Visual Arts Center in Gainesville, GA.

The chief enemies of textiles aside from "inherent vice" are light, extremes and fluctuations of temperature and humidity, dust, dirt, and insects. In a future post I'll share some tips on how we can protect and preserve the textile objects in our care.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Denver Art Museum tapestry show

Recently I had the good fortune to see Creative Crossroads:  The Art of Tapestry, currently on exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.  My appetite had been whetted for the show by Rebecca Mezoff's posts and other publicity and discussion in the tapestry world--and I was not disappointed.  The show was spectacular.  Do check out Rebecca's post for a behind-the-scenes look at the conservation of one of the large old tapestries on view.  She also has links to more photos of the show, the artists, and to videos the Museum made about her teacher, the late artist James Koehler.

Rebecca writes:
Though I find these old tapestries fascinating, I fear we are in danger of thinking that tapestry is ONLY a historical practice and is irrelevant today. The tapestries in the rest of the show make us think about what tapestry has been over the last five centuries, how it has changed, and perhaps a little about what it means today.
I agree:  while Renaissance-era European tapestries are awe-inspiring, I am more interested, as a contemporary practitioner of the art, in what tapestry can be today.  For me, at this show, the work by weavers in non-European cultures, or work informed by other cultures, is exciting and inspiring. 

Peruvian Table Cover, mid-18th century
This table cover is believed to have been worked by Peruvians under Spanish direction, and it combines European motifs (such as the double-headed eagle in the center) with Peruvian creatures real and imaginary (fire-breathing dragons in the corner, a rodent called a viscacha).  I love the density and energy of the imagery, how it fills every bit of space.  I also love how there are very few sharp angles--it's nearly all sinous, rounded curves.  There are lots of diagonal lines and shapes.  Altogether, the dense imagery,  the curves and the diagonals create a vibrant sense of movement.  Conventional tapestry weaving creates a gridded mesh; to make such smooth curved lines and shapes on a grid takes special skill.  In addition,  the piece was woven in two halves and stitched together up the middle.  The join is nearly flawless: another neat technical feat!

detail, Peruvian Table Cover, mid-18th century

Next to the Peruvian piece hangs a prayer rug from Turkey:

Turkish prayer rug, mid-18th century
In this piece too, the rich profusion of pattern conveys delight in the orderly beauty to be found in the natural world, even (especially?) if the elements of that world are abstracted, simplified, and stylized.

Navajo rug, Ason Yellowhair, 1983
Next to the Turkish prayer rug is this Navajo rug.   This is one of my favorite pieces in the show.  I love the variety within the strict repetition.  The strong border and orderly rows of flowering plants are enlivened by the unpredictable use of color in the flowers.  And as far as I could tell, each and every bird is uniquely colored.

detail, Navajo Rug by Ason Yellowhair
While the flowering plants are strictly geometric, the birds have a subtle roundedness that is a beautiful contrast.  The large scale and rich spots of color on a neutral ground again convey delight in the beauty and the underlying order of Nature.

detail, Navajo Rug by Ason Yellowhair
American weaver James Koehler's tapestry effectively combines motifs from Native American and Amish textiles:

Chief Blanket with Blocks by James Koehler, 1991/2002
The broad bands of the Navajo Chief's blanket are set off by the Amish diamond-in-a-square quilt block.  Looking closely, you can see a subtly darker purple square within each purple diamond.  Koehler was a master dyer who specialized in extremely subtle gradations of color, and here he pays homage to the surprising use of color often found in Pennsylvania Amish quilts.  (I have a special affection for this piece because it reminds me of how I got started on my life as a textile artist:   I stumbled across an Amish quilt--a purple diamond in a square!--in a magazine 25 years ago.)

detail, Chief Blanket with Blocks by James Koehler, 1991/2002

Of all the artists in the show, only one,  contemporary New Mexico weaver Irvin Trujillo, was represented by more than one piece.  The one I kept going back to recently won La Lana Weaving Award for Innovative Use of Color and Design in Rio Grande Weaving at Santa Fe's 104 Spanish Market.  This is Saltillo Shroud, purchased by the Denver Art Museum for this show:  

Saltillo Shroud, Irvin Trujillo, 2014
One could gaze at this piece for hours and still discover new details.  The intricacy of the weaving, the use of color transparency, the re-interpretation of traditional motifs from Spanish weaving . . .this is The Great American Novel written in the language of Southwestern weaving.  The piece radiates vibrant energy.  It is truly an eye-dazzler. 

detail, Saltillo Shroud by Irvin Trujillo, 2014
detail, Saltillo Shroud by Irvin Trujillo, 2014
There are two contemporary pieces in the show that break free of the strict rectilinear grid of traditional weaving and explore texture and three-dimensional space.  These pieces revel in weaving for its own sake, in the textures, lines and shapes that can only be made with weaving techniques. 

Parchment by Gayle Wimmer, 1981

Tapis Pobre, by Josep Grau-Garriga, 1973
I enjoy seeing how weaving can make sculptures with such powerful presence.  These pieces do not tell a story or serve any function but to entice the eye . . . and the hand.  But I know that to weave in this way is not my own direction.  For now at least I am driven to use traditional tapestry techniques to make pieces that speak with my own voice.  The work in this show was rich and satisfying food for the journey.  

If you find yourself in Denver anytime before March 6, 2016, go see the show!  And let us know what you think. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Work in progress

 I'm in the final two weeks' production push for work for two back-to-back shows/sales in November.  Here's what's coming off my loom these days.

Gold tencel weft on black alpaca-silk warp for shawl.  The photo does not capture the metallic iridescence. 
Long tencel striped twill scarves have been washed and are drying before trimming and finishing
And meanwhile, my tapestry is coming along.  I'm so excited to have finished this spiral, after many attempts! It looks slightly off at the top but that will be fixed when the white background coming up on the left finally reaches and covers the spiral.