Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A great summer read--and not just for tapestry artists! Hidden Tapestry by Debra Dean

This book is making the rounds in tapestry circles, and it's easy to see why.  It is a compulsively readable account of a fascinating man and his impact on his family, friends and the world of tapestry, through World War II and into the mid-century New York art world.  While tapestry artists will find it especially interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at Jan Yoors's life, even readers with no particular interest in tapestry will find the story compelling.

Debra Dean's book is available HERE.   
The book traces the lives of Jan Yoors and the two women, childhood friends, who later became his wives and the principal weavers in his studio, Annabert van Wettum and Marianne Citroen.  Before taking up the story of their unusual polyamorous relationship, however, Debra Dean recounts how all three weathered World War II as children in Europe.  While the girls certainly underwent frightening and unsettling experiences, Jan Yoors's war story rightfully takes center stage.  As a child and teenager before the war, Yoors periodically left home and wandered for extensive periods with a group of Roma, or Gypsies, coming to consider them as much his family as his own birth family.  During the war, he fought in the Resistance and recruited his Roma friends to fight with him.   Yoors's incredible capacity for sheer invention--which had captivated Annabert since they met as children--well equipped him to work as a saboteur and a smuggler behind German lines.  The story of his Resistance work and his eventual capture and torture make enthralling reading.

Since this is a blog about art, craft, and tapestry, I will not dwell here on Yoors's unconventional family life.  Suffice it to say that all three saw themselves and their three-way marriage as ahead of their time, and that both women later invited still other women into the household.  The women's  personal lives were entirely subordinated to their desire to support Jan Yoors's work in every way possible.  For years they all scraped by in straitened circumstances, plowing every bit of cash back into the tapestry workshop. 

Jan Yoors, Tantra III tapestry, no date or dimensions given
See more work HERE
For now I'd like to share some passages from Hidden Tapestry that struck me as a tapestry weaver.  Dean gets exactly right the incredible risk the Yoors workshop took, weaving huge tapestries on spec:

"an uncommissioned tapestry represented a high-stakes gamble.  It was probably no mystery why the Yoors were among the very few practitioners and were unique in opting to work on such a large scale:  weaving monumentally sized tapestries hadn't made any kid of economic sense since the days of feudal princes and peasants.  Nowadays it was hard to come by artisans like Marianne and Annabert, who were willing to work for nothing or next to it.  On the other side of the equation, there were precious few patrons left who had both the wherewithal and the independent judgment to shell out large sums for something that couldn't readily be quantified."  (pp. 184-85)
Well.  The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

While Yoors's early work was figurative, the tapestries for which he is best known are mural sized graphic abstractions like the one pictured above. In a discussion of the prominence of Abstract Expressionism in 1950s New York, Dean shares Robert Motherwell's definition of what Ab Ex is not:
"'I allow no nostalgia, no sentimentalism, no propaganda, no selling out the vulgar, no autobiography, no violation of the nature of the canvas as a flat surface, no cliches, no illusionism, no description, no seduction, no charm, no relaxation, no mere taste, no obviousness, no coldness.'" (p. 166)
Yes, Motherwell is rebelling here against the artists and movements who came before him.  But it strikes me that this could be a bracing description of what contemporary tapestry, and my own work, should strive for.  This quotation may have to go up on my studio wall.  I do wonder, if art should exclude all these things, what should it include

Tapestry artist Elizabeth Buckley has written a thoughtful review of Dean's book and I urge you to read it.  She helpfully places the Yoors workshop in the wider historical context of the twentieth-century revival of tapestry weaving.  Buckley does call Dean out for upholding the old prejudice against "low-warp" tapestry, woven on a horizontal loom.  I will not belabor the point but I do agree with Elizabeth's discussion of the issue. 

Near the end of the book,  Dean gets exactly right, in my view, what constitutes success in the arts:
"This is the compact the artist makes with the universe:  to create with no guarantee of remuneration, and yet to live always in expectation and hope.  It requires nerve, faith, perseverance, and above all the ability to survive disappointment.  . . . 
Success, ultimately, is staying in the game." (pp. 234-35). 
I do urge you to get your hands on a copy of Hidden Tapestry.  It's a great read, and if you are a weaver, it is thought-provoking and informative.  Now, I'm back to the game. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Recall-Recapture-Remember fiber exhibit at Tansey Contemporary

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the above-named exhibit the other day in Santa Fe.  An important family celebration kept me away from the opening last weekend, timed to kick off the 2018 New Mexico Fiber Crawl, but I hear it was a hoot.  The show remains up in Santa Fe through June 17, when it will travel to Tansey's Denver gallery for July 7 - August 5.

This exhibit, sponsored by the Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center (EVFAC) in collaboration with Tansey Contemporary Gallery of Santa Fe and Denver, showcases invited and juried artists from the Southwest region.

Tansey Contemporary Gallery, 652 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, NM
The show's theme was expressed in this way:  "Does our past build us, or do we build our past?  Things remembered can be as sharp as the current moment or so blurred that only a feeling remains."

This dovetails nicely with the questions I've explored in my Mary series, questions about the ongoing impact of the image and myth of the Virgin Mary for women down the millenia.  I was thrilled when my piece Mary (Yes) was accepted.

Mary (Yes) by Molly Elkind back left;
In Mind by Amanda Speer back right 

There is much to see in this show, and work by other Tansey gallery artists is also on exhibit so the space is chock-full of cool stuff to look at.  I would love to share all the fiber pieces with you, but time and space do not permit.  And in fact there is a complete slideshow HERE and an online catalog with artists' bios and statements HERE , so you can browse to your heart's content.  I recommend taking the time to read the artists' statements.  Here I will focus on the work of those weavers whose work captivated me on this visit.  I plan to revisit the exhibit and imagine I will find more work that pulls me in then.

For me it was a thrill to see this piece by Elizabeth Buckley in person after having only seen it on a screen. 

Elizabeth Buckley, The Veils of Time, 60" x 50".
Elizabeth's mastery of values, hues, subtle color gradation and transparency in tapestry are breathtaking.  She fully exploits the techniques of the medium to serve her image without letting the techniques become an end in themselves.  And the image itself conveys a sense of layers of deep time in the landscape, alluding to the sea that used to cover much of New Mexico.

detail, Elizabeth Buckley, The Veils of Time, 60" x 50"

detail, Elizabeth Buckley, The Veils of Time, 60" x 50"
I could study and learn from this tapestry for a long time. 

I could say the same of Cindy Dworzak's piece Circles.

Cindy Dworzak, Circles, 39" x 37"

Again, my eye delighted in the subtle gradation of colors, the use of transparency, the masterful tapestry techniques employed . . . and all those overlapping circles!  Circles are probably the most difficult shape to weave in a medium based on the grid, and here Cindy has woven bunches. . .and made it look effortless.  I was interested to learn that for Cindy this piece recalls her mother's love of color and the complexity of her personality. 

detail, Cindy Dworzak, Circles, 39" x 37"

detail, Cindy Dworzak, Circles, 39" x 37"
Speaking of grids, a couple of artists explicitly acknowledged the woven grid while at the same time bending it to their own will.  These pieces prompted me to wonder "How did they do that?"  I do recognize various shadow-weave patterns in Amanda Speer's piece but in the brief time I had I couldn't tease out how she managed to blur their edges and transition between them.  A look at her statement disclosed that she works with ikat dyeing.  This piece, with its mosaic of color and complex pattern set off by a black border, is dedicated to the 36 young people who perished in the "Ghost Ship" warehouse fire in Oakland, CA in December 2016.

Amanda Speer, In Mind, 38" x 38"

Jennifer Moore is well-known for exploring the possibilities of doubleweave.  She writes that this piece's design revolves around fractals based on the golden proportion.  The central rectangle spins off smaller, proportional rectangles in multiple generations. . . much as the human family reproduces itself and its cultures.  I have a very general understanding of how Jennifer wove this but I marvel at the nuances of color gradation and luminescence she achieves.

Jennnifer Moore, Introspection, 40" x 30.5" 
I must include a look at two more tapestry artists before closing.  Navajo/Dine' weaver Titus Steiner Cody wove a piece that is rooted in Navajo methods and imagery and yet feels utterly contemporary.

Titus Seiner Cody, Somewhere Triptych, 37" x 68"
Cody credits the influence of his grandmothers, both in teaching him to weave and in handing down the creation stories of the Navajo, which are pictured in this piece. Again, there is much to see and to study here.

detail, Titus Seiner Cody, Somewhere Triptych, 37" x 68"

detail, Titus Seiner Cody, Somewhere Triptych, 37" x 68"
Finally, Irvin Trujillo included a piece informed by a number of influences:  his own multiple-generation heritage of Rio Grande weaving, the patterns in a Tunisian headscarf he observed in a Santa Fe museum, and the protests of the Arab Spring that occurred during the time he wove the piece.  Because he was limited to a small loom at the time, the piece was woven in two strips and seamed down the center.  The weaving is of course meticulous. 

Irvin Trujillo, Emergence in Tunisia, 80" x 48"
I was interested to note that this piece is woven in half silk, half merino wool, at a very fine sett.

detail, Irvin Trujillo, Emergence in Tunisia, 80" x 48"
There is so much more to see in this exhibit than I have presented here so briefly, fascinating and gorgeous works in stitch, sculpture, quilting, and mixed media.  If you are in Santa Fe or will be in Denver in June, I urge you to see the show.  Or at least curl up with the online catalog HERE

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tapestry Diary update

My take on the tapestry diary practice has always been that it should be flexible enough to accommodate one's life as it unfolds.  Certainly, you lay out certain ground rules or at least expectations for how you want to approach this period of daily weaving, but in my view those rules ought to be provisional.

For me, this year's diary entails weaving a horizontal stripe each morning, inspired by the color of the sky when I first see it that day.  If I get up really early, the stripe might be really dark and show the moon.  On days when I am away from the loom or simply can't get to it, I weave a half-pass of orange.  If there are several days away, that might become an orange stripe.  At the end of the each month I weave the abbreviation for that month (Jan, Feb, Mar, etc.).

My intention is that while my weaving of course climbs up the warp vertically, the finished diary will be displayed horizontally, like a long scroll.  The horizontal stripes will become verticals, and the names of the month will read vertically.  Somehow this feels more like a walk along a timeline to me.

Molly Elkind, Tapestry Diary 2018, January-March.  
Here's where I stopped before we packed up in Georgia and moved to New Mexico.  As luck would have it, I was just about out of warp on my Mirrix anyway. So it was a natural time to cut off in a couple respects.  (For those inquiring minds out there, I used 12/6 grey cotton seine twine, 10 epi, 5 inches wide.)

(Yes, the weaving draws in quite a bit over the course of those three months.  Might have something to do with putting up a solo show, planning my husband's retirement party, and downsizing/packing up to move in that time span.  I might have been a little . . .  tense.)

And then there were about three weeks during the move and the unpacking when I didn't weave at all.  When I started up again, I wove several passes in orange, to indicate those three weeks without weaving in April.  When I warped up the loom to resume the diary it seemed appropriate to warp it at 7" wide.  Because the sky is bigger here. Otherwise I'm using the same seine twine and sett as before.

I realize this size change will pose a small challenge when I go to join up the sections later--there will be a jump in height (in the horizontal orientation) and some extra warp ends to hide.  But that's OK.  The move was a big change in my life, and it seems right that the shape of the diary reflects that. 
So here's where it stands this morning.

Molly Elkind, Tapestry Diary 2018, April - mid-May.  
I continue to feel as if I learn and grow thanks to the tapestry diary practice.  If this sounds like something you'd like to explore, I'm teaching a 3-hour class at Convergence on Friday, July 6 called Plan Your Tapestry Diary.  This is a pencil-and-paper class with a very manageable supply list (um, pencil and paper) and supply fee ($2 for handouts).  It's not too late to register.  Click here.   Hope to see you in Reno!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A new studio, a new color palette

Finally, most of the boxes in our new home in Santa Fe are unpacked.  We're at the fun stage now of unwrapping artwork (what survived the Great Purge) and deciding where to hang it.  My studio is organized and Mira, my Leclerc counterbalance loom, has been re-assembled.  Welcome back, Mira!

I have worked here for a few days now and I can tell you, it is nice to be out of the basement!  Another thing I love about this space is the airflow--there are four sets of windows and a screen door.  I'm wondering how I can translate into tapestry the feeling the of high desert air flowing through the room.  Open warps??

I'm beginning to wonder, "What will I weave here?"  To be honest, other than my ongoing tapestry diary, I have no idea yet.  But I am starting to take note of the color palette of this part of New Mexico.  Here's what I've noticed on morning walks so far.

The palette here is subtle.  Lots of neutrals with the occasional small pop of contrast.  It's not true that there's "no green," as some say. . . it's just that the green here is subdued, the green of sage and pinon and juniper rather than the singing yellow-green of spring in the eastern South.

Meanwhile the sky is ever-changing, and ever-fascinating. 

 Look at that cloud pattern!  (and no, I wasn't at the wheel when I shot this.)

Stay tuned.