Thursday, November 21, 2019

New Mexico Fiber Arts Center. . . in Santa Fe!

Before I get to the main story today I want to let you know about a fun fiber event happening this weekend in Santa Fe.  Hop on over to the annual Fall Fiber Fiesta, Nov. 22-24, at the Scottish Rite Temple, 463 Paseo de Peralta in Santa Fe, 9-5.  It's a bonanza of hand-crafted fiber art and gifts--handwovens, hand-knitted, crocheted, spun, felted, and quilted items.  The event is free to the public.  The Artists' Reception 5-8 Friday night features live music, refreshments and a silent auction for a $10 charge.  I'm not exhibiting this year but I'm planning on doing some serious holiday gift shopping.

This event is sponsored by a mainstay of the New Mexico fiber arts world:  the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center (EVFAC).  EVFAC has offered classes, a shop full of tempting fiber, tools, and books, and sponsored fiber art exhibits and sales for over twenty years.  It is truly the hub of the fiber arts in Northern New Mexico.

Now EVFAC is expanding with an exciting new presence in Santa Fe.  The former Amores Yarns is now the New Mexico Fiber Arts Center, located at 328 S. Guadelupe Street in the Railyard district, home to many contemporary arts venues.  The Center will spotlight the work of a handful of artists periodically.  I am thrilled to report that my work is keeping company there with the amazing work of  tapestry artist Mary Cost through late January.  (And we have each sold a piece already!  Yay!)

Mary Cost's tapestries hang above a luscious assortment of yarns, some hand-dyed locally.
Store buyer/manager Leslie Zwail offers a warm welcome and deep knowledge of the artwork, yarns, and vintage textiles on offer.   Those are my pieces Mater Dolorosa, Red Letter Day, and Mary (Yes) on the wall. 

These pieces in my Fences series are available.  From top:  Barbed,  Falling, and Bruised.
I just finished Barbed this week.

Barbed.  That's actual barbed wire.  

The first Fence piece, Gate, has sold.  
The third artist featured at the moment is actually a collector, Diane Hanson.  Her treasure trove of rare vintage and folk textiles is available for purchase through New Mexico Fiber Arts Center for a limited time.  I unfolded and petted most of the pieces in this gorgeous collection when I was there for the opening.  Still mulling over what I can bring home with me. . . .

A few of the gorgeous indigo batik textiles available.

Handwoven linens
The Center also offers gorgeous handmade wearable art by local artists including Cynthia Boudreau (nuno felted work) and Julia Stephens (eco-printed suede and leather totes).

Shawl by Cynthia Boudreau
Felted coat and beret by Cynthia Boudreau

Eco-printed leather/suede tote by Julia Stephens

Concurrent with EVFAC's Santa Fe satellite is that the Española location is rededicating itself to serving the local community, with new programming for school children and people with disabilities. A full roster of events is available here. 

If you are planning to be in Santa Fe, be sure to add New Mexico Fiber Arts Center to your must-do list.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Sometimes when I hear a moving performance of choral music, or see a work of art, or an entire exhibit, that resonates powerfully with me, I feel encouraged, in the literal sense of "filled with courage."  I take heart.  I see (or hear) evidence that humans are still capable of making beauty, taking   precious time and infinite care to craft something that is rewarding to experience.  The artist decides that for now, in making this piece of music, or this work of art, concerns around  the efficient use of time, the production of a useful product, of marketing, branding, commerce and so on, are irrelevant.  The imperative to make this thing, to convey this emotion, in these hard-won colors and forms, is paramount.

I had this experience most recently at the New Mexico Museum of Art.  Sam and I went to see the show Agnes Pelton:  Desert Transcendentalist  (on view in Santa Fe through January 5, 2020.  See the last paragraph below for more info).

Agnes Pelton (1881-1961) worked a vein of spiritual abstraction informed by her interests in mysticism, numerology and yoga, and by the larger current of abstract painting of her time.  As I looked at her paintings, I wondered immediately, Why is Agnes Pelton not as well-known and well-regarded as Georgia O'Keeffe?  Pelton's paintings also demonstrate a fascination with the space and sky of the open desert, with the effects of light--of glow--and a conviction that the desert sky is a locus of mystical meaning.  One wall label says that Pelton's paintings in the late 1920s began to be "completely untethered from reality and move toward a surreal embodiment of light, space, and vibration that borders on science fiction."

Sam and I noticed that almost every painting contained some kind of horizon line, situating it in a kind of landscape.  And almost every painting followed the composition of an icon, with a strong central image serving as a focal point.  For these reasons alone, I suppose, I am predisposed to love her work!

These are a few of my favorite paintings from the exhibit.

Agnes Pelton, Ecstasy, oil on canvas, 1928
About this painting, the painter wrote a poem.  Here are the first and last lines:
A flower bursts open / in rush of ecstasy to meet the Day. . . the life force gathered, / and swift and free / it opened, to the light.

Agnes Pelton, Voyaging, oil on canvas, 1931
As a fiber artist, of course my interest is piqued by anything that resembles the sinuous lines of thread.   But then what. . . what of these elegant loops and swirls, suspended above a seascape?  What of the bell in the upper right?  Each of us must make our own meaning in front of this painting, or be content to rest in a contemplative state of not-knowing.

Agnes Pelton, Mother of Silence, oil on canvas, 1933
According to the wall label, this painting is an abstract rendering of Pelton's mother, a huge influence on the artist, and the "Holy Mother Spirit."  Pelton used this painting as an icon, a focus for her own meditation.  A glowing, generative central figure floats above and between elongated orbs, radiating  elegant thread-like lines.  The jagged red line on the left reminds me a bit of the line traced on a EKG by the heartbeat. . . in any case it adds a jolt of angular energy, of movement in a painting that is otherwise about stillness.

Agnes Pelton, Fires in Space, oil on canvas, 1938
Unusually among the paintings in this show, Fires in Space does not contain a horizon line or have a central iconic image--it is overall pattern, perhaps born of time spent gazing at the dark desert sky and its countless stars and galaxies.

It was sobering to read, on the last text panel in the exhibit, that when Pelton died in 1961, one of the paintings she had given to the Santa Barbara Gallery was put in a White Elephant Sale and marked down to $15.  Pelton's work did not fit neatly into existing categories at the time, and so it was deemed disposable.

In the 1980s Pelton's work began to be studied, catalogued, and exhibited, and it seems that she is  finally taking her rightful place as an important modernist and abstract painter.  For me, it was en-courage-ing to see an artist so committed to her own original vision, whether or not it was in fashion or marketable or even categorizable.

If you want to know more, visit the Santa Fe museum's website here.  The exhibit was organized by the Phoenix Museum of Art and a 30-second video shows their installation. A 38-minute video lecture about Agnes Pelton by art historian Erika Doss is on YouTube here.  The exhibit will travel to the Whitney Museum in New York City in March 2020 and to the Palm Springs Art Museum in August 2020.  The catalog of the show is available from the New Mexico Museum of Art here,  the Phoenix museum here,  and on Amazon here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Exploring Design at the North Country Fiber Fair

I'm just back from the North Country Fiber Fair in Watertown, SD, where I was honored to be the "featured instructor."  I had never attended this event and I was pleased to meet so many friendly fiberists and to see the beautiful big sky country of that part of South Dakota.  (Hoping there's just a little bit less "big water" out there in the coming days and weeks--they've had some serious flooding.)  Attendees came from the Dakotas but also from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and even Canada.

I taught four three-hour classes about the design process that were intended to be useful for fiber artists of every stripe, not just tapestry artists.  Most of my students signed up for fall four sessions, and as the weekend wore on, this allowed our conversations about the elements and principles of design to go deeper.

In the first session, Design Starters:  Make Friends with Your Sketchbook, students did a series of activities designed to get past the terror of the blank white page and get comfortable with mark-making.  Students also worked with lines, linear patterns and "drawing with scissors" to generate cut-paper shapes and arrangements of shapes and lines.

Overview of the classroom for Design Starters
In the second session, Design Focus:  Color and Value, students endured listened to my favorite sermon about how value trumps color ("Value does the work but color gets all the credit") and did a number of exercises in which they practiced seeing and controlling value.  Here, they are working together to put these cones of yarn in value order.

The Mono filter on the iPhone shows that they were pretty near perfect in their value sequence!
Students also created monochromatic and complementary palettes of colors and were challenged to create a palette using colors they strongly dislike, and then making it more palatable (sorry) by changing the colors' proportions or adding an accent color.

In the third session we explored Composition, looking at various types of compositions (Landscape, Icon, Allover or Crystallographic, S-curve, and so on) and at ways of creating a focal point if that is what your piece calls for.  We discussed balance and various types of contrast (color, scale, line quality).

Working with contrast of scale
Exploring a composition based on a radial format
Finally, in Pattern and Rhythm we considered how repeating elements can create movement and feeling in compositions.

Here students were asked to create a plain pattern and then to disrupt it
With stamps we experimented with layering pattern over an existing image
In one of the last exercises, students created collages that juxtaposed various found patterns in an interesting way.

Generally students enjoy doing these kinds of exercises, just playing around in their sketchbooks, but they also ask, How does this translate into what happens when I'm making my own work?  Great question!  I have a few answers.  First, just knowing the terms and concepts of the elements of art and principles of design is useful when you're looking critically at your own work.  Knowing about value contrast can help you diagnose what might be not quite right in a piece you're making, for example.  Secondly, these kinds of exploratory exercises that are not focused on a particular outcome can be a great way to warm up for studio work, to make that shift from ordinary daily thinking into a creative frame of mind.  Third, sometimes you surprise yourself and something you generate in an exercise can turn out to be worth developing further.  Every artist finds out for herself how design concepts can be useful to her own work.

Thank you, fiber artists of the North Country for allowing me to explore design with you last weekend.  It was a pleasure to be with you!

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."