Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Is it good?

In my last post I described my plan to launch online Feedback Groups, small groups of five or six tapestry weavers who would share their work, troubleshoot problems, and give and receive feedback.  These are not formal classes; I'm just facilitating discussion and providing pointers.  I am thrilled to say that I have two full groups scheduled to meet starting in January 2022, and I'm taking names for a third group that I will form a bit later.  Contact me if you'd like to be on that list.  

One of the first things we will try is a method for looking at, understanding and evaluating art that I learned years ago when I did some work in museum education.  It's a four-step process that I have talked about in my classes and in local tapestry groups and I've seen the lightbulbs go off above people's heads many times!  It really does work to help you understand and appreciate professional works of art you might see in a museum . . .  and pieces your fellow weavers do . . .  and your own work.  

So here are the steps, as they might play out in response to one of my own pieces.  Since I wove this tapestry over three years ago, I hope I have enough distance on it to be somewhat objective.  

1:  Describe what you see, in neutral (not judgmental) terms.  To do this, you first have to slow down (stop scrolling on Instagram, or if you're in a museum or gallery, stop walking) and really look at the work.  Then, instead of jumping to the conclusion that you like or don't like the work (as we so often do), instead, describe to yourself or your companion what you see.  What is happening?  How would you describe the figures, shapes, objects, textures, colors etc.?   Again, the point is simply to describe, not to express approval or disapproval at this point.

Molly Elkind, Red Letter Night, 35" x 26", cotton, wool, silk, blends, 2018

When I look at the tapestry, I see a dark background composed of stripes woven in wedge weave.  Some stripes are in a lighter, pinkish color.  On this background are four shapes of different colors and sizes.  The largest shape is a pink trapezoid with dark red parallel lines in it.  There is also an urn shape in blue, a patterned yellow-green shape, and an irregular, square-ish red shape.  Three of the shapes are layered on top of each other.  As I look more closely, I notice that the blue urn and the red square-ish shape have more sheen than the rest of the tapestry.  They are woven in regular plain weave, not in wedge weave like the background.  The top and bottom edges of the tapestry are slightly scalloped. 

2:  Analyze.  How do the things you see and describe relate to each other in the work?  

The mostly dark background is enlivened by the lighter pink stripes and the diagonal lines create a feeling of movement behind the large stationary shapes.  The lighter stripes relate to the color of the largest shape.  The curvilinear pattern in the yellow-green rectangle seems unrelated to other patterns in the piece. The urn shape also feels different, because it is not touching any other shapes and is mostly curved.   

3.  Interpret.  How do the things you see create a mood, feeling or idea in you, the viewer?  What impact does the piece have on you?  Why do you think the artist chose these materials and techniques?  

The dark red parallel lines in that shape remind me of lines of text.  The way three of the shapes are layered suggests a collage of separate shapes.  They form an area of pattern that stands out against the quieter pattern of the background.  The urn shape balances out the composition but it's unclear what its purpose is.  The entire piece remains mysterious in its meaning.   

4.  Evaluate.  Does the piece succeed in what you think it's aiming to do?  Do you like it?  Would you like to see more work by this artist?  

I think this piece is partly successful.  One of my technical goals was to see if I could successfully combine wedge weave and plain weave in the same tapestry, and that seemed to work pretty well.  I also wanted to translate a small paper collage into a large woven piece, and I think that translation was successful.  I struggled with how to render the swirling parallel lines of the collage background in tapestry, finally deciding to "paraphrase" them into wedge weave rather than try to literally reproduce them.  I used silk for the blue shape and some stainless steel yarn in the small red shape, and they provided some interesting contrast in terms of sheen. 

Molly Elkind, paper collage, 12" x 9", commercial and handmade, hand-printed papers, 2018

At the time I was working on a series inspired by medieval illuminated manuscripts, interested in how  brightly colored and densely patterned areas in the center of the "page" contrasted with plainer backgrounds.  I had also just been to Istanbul and was enthralled with arabesque lines and shapes, hence the blue urn shape.  The piece was planned as a companion to a tapestry of the same size called Red Letter Day.  

Molly Elkind, Red Letter Day, 35.5" x 26", cotton, wool, synthetic, 2016

However, Red Letter Night remains opaque in its intention. The reference to illuminated manuscripts is not obvious to most.  Looking at it now, the large pink trapezoid seems arbitrary and rather clumsy to me.  If I were to do it over, I might adjust that shape instead of following the original collage so closely.  

I hope this exercise in looking and evaluating has been useful for you.  For me, the key parts of this process are at the beginning and at the end.  First, you withhold judgment in an attempt simply to spend time looking, really looking at the work.  Then, when you finally do allow yourself to make an evaluation at the end, you know you're basing it on a careful effort to understand the work on its own terms.  This is critical:  just as we ourselves don't like to be judged by standards that we don't agree with, so we shouldn't judge artwork by standards that are irrelevant to the work at hand.  

The question is not, "is this work of art good or bad?"; the question is, "does it succeed on its own terms?" This is a hugely different question!  

Monday, November 15, 2021

Busy times!

The pandemic is not over, but lately it feels as if life has picked back up to a pre-pandemic pace.  There's lots of news to share with you:  I've currently got work in four (!) shows, I did my first in-person teaching in almost two years, and I'm launching a new online educational offering for tapestry weavers.  And I sold eight tapestries in October!  When it rains, it pours.  As a desert-dweller, I am grateful for every drop.  These are two recent pieces that sold.  Several pieces remain available on my website.  

Molly Elkind, Monsoon 3, 13" x 13" (weaving 5" x 5"), cotton, wool, metallic

Molly Elkind, Monsoon 1, 13" x 13" (weaving 5" x 5"), cotton, wool 

About the new online offering:  I've found that in my online Zoom classes one of the most valuable parts of the class for students is the mutual sharing of work and offering of feedback, troubleshooting and creative brainstorming.  So often it is hard for us weavers to find that in our nearby community.  Friends and family are well-meaning but often can't give us the specific feedback we need.  It can be hard to gather in person with groups of weavers, for all sorts of reasons.  So . . .  I'm launching an online Feedback Group where a small group of 5-6 weavers can gather via Zoom for two hours of sharing, conversation and feedback, facilitated by me.  My rate would be $200 for 2 hours, to be shared equally by each member of the group (with five, that's $40/person per session).  Together we would decide in advance on dates, times, frequency of meeting and any other parameters that seem important.  We could meet every month, every two weeks, whatever the group decides, for as long as it seems helpful.  I am taking names!  I have three weavers already signed and need two to three more to get started.  Please contact me if you're interested or would like more info. 

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking and teaching at the Kansas Alliance of Weavers and Spinners conference (KAWS) near Wichita, KS.  It was a small gathering, and everyone was masked, so it felt safe.  I got to meet a bunch of lovely weavers including two I'd only met online before.  I learned way more about soumak in 2 hours from Kennita Tully than I had known before.  And it was great to be in the live in-person classroom again and to shop in a vendor mall.  I taught a one-day class in weaving tapestry improvisationally.  Here's some of the work students did: 

Ginny Wallace, Geodesert4.5" wide x 12" high including fringe. Linen warp, linen, ribbon and blended weft, geode. 

Terry Harrison, improv weaving in progress

Kandys Bliel, improv weaving in progress

In my last post I shared some wonderful work from the New Mexico Light show in Albuquerque, where my SkyGrass piece is among those on view.  That show is up through December 18, 2021.  Another, much smaller piece on the same theme is currently included in the Tapestry Touring International show online HERE.  I am honored to be in this company.  All work for the TTI show "New Directions" had to be under 10" on any side and 100" square total.  It was fun to work at that scale with the sky/grass theme.  

Molly Elkind, SkyGrass Textures,
wool warp, wool & linen wefts, 10 epi,  10" x 5"

I'm thrilled that my piece Falling is featured on the website for the exhibit More Impact:  Climate Change, featuring tapestries by members of Tapestry Weavers West.  This exhibit is up through January 2, 2022.  Tapestries by a number of weavers powerfully address the impact of global warming.

Finally, my piece Fold is currently on view at the Australian Tapestry Workshop's Kate Derum Award exhibition for small work. My first international exhibit!  You can read more about this exhibit and award HERE.  They are posting each work on their Instagram as well, @austapestry.  

Sometimes a long period of quiet work in the studio is followed by a burst of public activity.  I'm so grateful for the chance to share my work.  And then the cycle begins again with a retreat to the loom and the studio.  

Thursday, October 7, 2021

"New Mexico Light": a joint tapestry exhibit of the High Desert Tapestry Alliance and the Tapestry Artists of Los Arañas

I have the great good fortune to be able to participate in two local tapestry study groups, the High Desert Tapestry Alliance, loosely based in Santa Fe and northern New Mexico, and a group called the Tapestry Artists of Las Arañas, based in Albuquerque, that is a subset of the fiber guild.  We have been working toward a joint show since BC (Before Covid) and it finally opened last weekend.  The theme is New Mexico Light and it was thrilling to see so many varied and sensitive interpretations of that elusive quality in tapestry.  The exhibit is up at the Open Space Visitors Center in Albuquerque through Dec. 18.  Read more about the tapestry show here.

Participating artists are:  Ann Blankenship, Suzie Bley, Elizabeth Buckley, Evelyn Campbell, Mary Colton, Mary Cost, Karen Cox, Cindy Dworzak, Molly Elkind, Heather Gallegos-Rex, Barbara Hitzemann, Naomi Julian, LuAnn Kilday, Nancy Lane, Judy McCarthy, Mary Moore, Kathy Perkins, Janice Peters, Naya Raines, Robin Reider, Carol Seeds, Lavonne Slusher, and Nancy Wohlenberg.  Kudos and deep thanks to Nancy Wohlenberg and Cindy Dworzak for coordinating and helping hang the show.  

I'd like to share some of the tapestries that seemed to me on opening day to be especially apt interpretations of the theme.  Many thanks to the artists for allowing me to reproduce their work, and apologies that space constraints don't allow me to feature every wonderful piece!  All images are copyright the artist.  All photos by me unless noted. 

Nancy Wohlenberg, Morning Mountain, 23" x 24" 
Nancy is inspired by dawn breaking over the mountains in the high desert of Albuquerque. 

detail, Nancy Wohlenberg, Morning Mountain

Elizabeth Buckley, November Light, 28 x 28" Photo courtesy the artist.  
Elizabeth captures the magic of migrating Sandhill Cranes who winter in the Rio Grande Bosque and forage in the grasses. 

detail, Elizabeth Buckley, November Light  

Robin Reider, One World Revisited, 34" x 46" 
Robin says the houses could be African huts or adobe homes in New Mexico, under skies criss-crossed by jet trails. 

detail, Robin Reider, One World Revisited

Heather Gallegos-Rex, Clearing Up, 27" x 18" 
Heather's work is inspired by the color, light and natural and architectural forms of her environment.

Mary Rawcliffe Colton, New Mexico Light, 23" x 12" 
Mary is inspired by the changing skies  as marked by the phases of the moon and changing weather and time of day.  Dusty, dry air reflects the rich colors of the landscape. 

Mary Cost, Garden Wall II, 38" x 21" 
Mary is inspired by the play of light on Santa Fe's adobe walls. 

Karen Cox, Sunset on la Mesa, 40" x 28"
Karen has woven the mountains she sees from her home and is inspired by spinning and dyeing her own wool.  

Carol Seeds, New Mexico Sky, 16" x 10"
Carol wove four views of the changing colors of the sky in a single sunset.

Cindy Dworzak, Indian Summer at Ghost Ranch, 9" x 9"
Cindy is conveying the mysterious beauty of late summer at Ghost Ranch

Evelyn Campbell, White Sands National Monument. 23" x 33"
Photo courtesy the artist. The National Monument, made of 98% gypsum,
is unique in the world and now a National Park. 

I thought my piece SkyGrass (top, 26 x 45") and Evelyn Campbell's
White Sands National Monument (bottom) looked great together. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Studio Life

My studio life tends to ebb and flow between a focus on teaching and a focus on weaving; one dominates my time and attention for a time while the other takes a back seat.  While my teaching will be revving up again later this month, lately I've been enjoying the chance to focus on weaving.  I've been developing some of the ideas I came up with while designing the big SkyGrass piece I finished a bit ago.  It seems I might have a whole SkyGrass series in the works. 

Here's what's on the floor loom at the moment.  It will be three panels hung side-by-side when it's done.  Two panels are underway right now; the third will be woven last, at the top. 

Untitled, work in progress
Molly Elkind

Maquette/collage of two panels of three-panel piece in progress
Molly Elkind

Here's the original SkyGrass piece:

SkyGrass, 26" x 45".  Linen warp, wool, linen and metallic weft.  8 epi.
(c) Molly Elkind 2021.  Photo by James Hart.

This is a small piece based on a collage of two painted and printed papers.  

SkyGrass Textures collage

SkyGrass Textures tapestry in progress

SkyGrass Textures, 10" x 4.5"  Cotton warp, wool weft.
(c) Molly Elkind 2021
I wove two parts separately, one from the bottom up and one from the side, and then collaged them together.  I like the dimensionality and the object-ness of the final tapestry.  

I'm also getting ready for the Eldorado Studio Tour next month, so I got out and hung all the work I might offer.  There's still some editing and re-arranging to be done, and I hope to add a few more small pieces.  

Here's one of those small pieces underway.  I hope to weave at least three of these and plan to mount them in white frames with mats.  

Monsoon collage, 5" x 5"

Monsoon tapestry in progress.  Not quite 5" x 5"!

This one may end up rather wonky in shape; weaving over two-under two has caused some serious draw-in.  Stay tuned!  

This all has me musing about whether I prefer weaving small or weaving large.  They both have their advantages.  Small pieces can be finished more quickly.  But the weaving and the finishing work can be fiddly.  Presentation is really important--usually you can't just hang them from a velcro strip on the wall.  Large pieces, on the other hand, do have an undeniable visual impact--size does matter.  And there's room to stretch out and really settle into weaving a large tapestry, a chance to live and grow with it that I find appealing.  I enjoy weaving at the floor loom and at a sett of 8 epi the weaving feels less fiddly than at the finer sett of smaller pieces.  

Do you prefer weaving small or weaving large--or, as with me, does it depend?  

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Thank you, Lida Gordon.

Last weekend, in Louisville, Kentucky, there was a memorial service for my fibers professor, Lida Gordon, Professor Emerita of the University of Louisville's Allan R. Hite Art Institute.  

Lida G. Gordon, 1949-2021

It is hard for me to overstate the impact Lida had on my life and my path in fiber art.  Back in the mid-1990s, I had heard from a fellow member of the quilt guild in Louisville that one could learn a lot in the fiber program at U of L, and with some apprehension I took the quilt I was proudest of to show Lida and see if she would allow me to join a class.  She said some kind things about the quilt and then asked, "Do you only use commercial fabric?"  This question stumped me--was there any other kind of fabric?  

Thus began my adventures in dyeing, printing, embroidery, collage and mixed media fiber work.  After taking a few surface design classes I was hooked and signed up for the MA program in Fibers.  You can read more about that here and here.  The fiber department at U of L had just acquired paper-making equipment, and Lida steered me away from quilts and toward paper-making as my focus for the degree.  It was a good thing too; I learned so much more from my explorations of texture, relief and three dimensions in handmade paper than I would have if I had stuck to quilts.  

Lida did a great job both challenging and encouraging a diverse community of fiber artists who ranged from young students to middle-aged second-career explorers to retirees.  Many of us took her classes over and over, to benefit from the community and the stimulus provided by deadlines and critiques.  I still believe some of my best work ever was done in those classes.  As students, we said more than once that "Darn it, Lida is always right" when it came to a suggestion about a direction to pursue or how to improve a piece.  For years when I wasn't sure how to proceed, I would ask myself, What would Lida say?  One thing she said often was "FOCUS!"  Choose one medium, one technique, and really dive deep into it, rather than running after every new gadget, material, or gimmick to appear on the scene. 

Lida taught me a method of approaching a project that involved research, multiple sketches, and multiple samples that I still use and teach in my classes today.  She conducted crits that provided thoughtful and valuable feedback without ever being harsh, as one so often hears about art school crits.  We all brought food, shared dinner, and spent hours looking at and carefully responding to each others' work.  I also learned from Lida how to apply to juried shows, where to go to get my work photographed, and how to promote it.  

As a mother of young children then, my day was bounded by my kids' school day, and Lida allowed me to come and go as a student and later as a graduate assistant for her as my schedule required.  My kids were welcomed at more than one critique when I didn't have child care (they had their first sushi at a crit).  

Lida and I stayed in touch after I completed my degree and moved away.  When she sold the fiber department's looms, she called me and I got a great deal on the 4-shaft loom I now use to weave tapestry.   She remained interested and encouraging about my work, giving it the same careful, thoughtful attention as always.  We had a great day when she visited Atlanta once with her husband, visiting galleries and talking art.  

Lida was a friend and an inspiration.  I am grateful to have studied with her, and I will miss her.  My hope is that in my teaching I pass on some of the enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and encouragement I received from Lida. 

You can read more about Lida here and here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Beautiful weaving in Santa Fe

Before I get to the juicy stuff in this post, I must take care of a bit of housekeeping. Beginning this month Blogger, the host of these blog posts, will not longer support email subscriptions to this blog.  If you are currently an email subscriber you have a couple options.  If you use Facebook or Instagram, follow me on one of those platforms and watch for my notice that a new post is up.  On Facebook I'm Molly Elkind or Molly Elkind Handwovens.  On Instagram I'm @mollyelkind.  If you're not on social media, please check for a new post the second week of each month.  I try to post on Wednesdays.  I apologize to email subscribers for this inconvenience!  I hope you'll continue to check in.  

Now to the fun part. . . last Friday night I had the pleasure of attending the opening of Polly Barton's new show of fiber work, Dare, Revel, Dive, at Chiaroscuro gallery in Santa Fe.   Today I returned to the gallery for a second look.  I stopped by in the middle of a series of errands I was doing around town, and the visit made for a quiet oasis in a busy day. 

The title Dare, Revel, Dive refers to the three distinct bodies of work that make up the show.  Dare describes four large ikat-dyed handwoven hangings. I have long admired Polly's ikat work and her mastery of the technique is evident. In these banners she pushes it by incorporating unusual materials (copper wire) and by explicitly referencing political themes in the red-white-and-blue color palettes of two of the banners. These are pieces whose strong graphic impact hits you across the room and whose exquisite details draw you closer.  In Polly's hands, the bound-resist threads of ikat become a gestural, expressive move that tests and expands the woven grid.  

Polly Barton, Live Wire, 2020.  64.5" x 31.5".
Silk warp ikat,  pigment, copper wire weft

Polly Barton, Thicket, 2018.  64.5" x 31.5". 
Silk double ikat with additional dye

The Dive pieces are most similar to the work of Polly's I have so enjoyed in the past--subtly dyed and blended ikat abstractions that glow.  This time, the glow comes from metal leaf applied to the back of the pieces, where it glints through the weave.  It can be tempting to overdo metallic effects in fiber art (I've been there!) but Polly deftly avoids that.  Another interesting thing about these pieces is that they are woven with fine linen paper thread; on the gallery site Polly refers to "weaving my own paper."  The mostly dark and deep tones with the flicker of silver or gold exert a mysterious and contemplative pull that reminds me of the paintings of Mark Rothko.  Polly describes in poetic detail on her own website the inspiration for the arced forms and layered color of these pieces--I urge you to go there and read about them in her own words. 

Polly Barton, Kaiwase Blue, 2021,
handwoven linen paper and mixed media, 18.25" x 16.25" 

The Revel pieces are three large grids of nine sheets of paper that is saturated with pastel pigments.  These pieces are joyous immersions in pure color.  A few hint at the landscape, perhaps, or at atmospheric effects in New Mexico skies, but I think that searching for a reference to the visible world is ultimately beside the point.  The point is to bask--revel--in gorgeous color.  

Polly Barton, Revel III, 2021, pastel on paper
54" x 34"

While these pieces of paper might stand on their own, they gain in impact by being set together in the 3 x 3 grid.  Narrow white margins between the papers accentuate the beautifully irregular edges of the paper and set off the purity of the pigments.  

Polly Barton, detail Revel III, 2021, pastel on paper
54" x 34"

One leaves a show like this sighing with satisfaction that such refinement of dyeing and weaving technique, such expressive use of color and dedicated exploration of new possibilities over decades of studio practice, show what fiber art can be. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Summer Reading

Lately I've treated myself to a bunch of new books.  Yay!  Next to new yarn, new books are my favorite thing.  If you are looking for some fun art and fiber books to dive into, here are some suggestions.

101 Things to Learn in Art School by Kit White.  This was recommended to me a few years ago by Rowen Schussheim-Anderson, who was teaching an ATA workshop at Convergence.  Even though I did go to art school, I found a number of thought-provoking assertions here.  Some I agree with:  "5. A drawing (or a painting, photograph and so on) is first and foremost an expression of its medium."  Amen to that; a tapestry is first and foremost a tapestry.  Some of White's assertions seem self-evident:  "81.  Art is apprehended through the senses as well as the mind."  Well, yes. This is a great book to read if you're looking to discover your own submerged ideas and preconceptions about art and to deepen and challenge your thinking about what you make and what you see. 

from Kit White, 101 Things to Learn in Art School

The Language of Ornament by James Trilling.  Humans have been decorating themselves, their clothing, their homes and tools for, well, forever.  This book describes that ornamentation in broad strokes, illustrated with objects in many media and from many cultures, and teaches the reader to "rediscover long-neglected skills of visual recognition and analysis."  Ornament aims to give visual pleasure purely for its own sake (much like woven tapestry); emotion is translated into pattern through intense labor.  Trilling explains how decorative strategies across the world generally involve one or more of the following:  stylization, abstraction and elaboration. My favorite chapter was the last, about ornament in the modern and post-modern era.  In 1908, architect Adolf Loos famously wrote an essay entitled "Ornament and Crime," calling for the elimination of decoration from architecture and design.  Trilling shows how ornament never really died out; it just took new forms.  I took lots of notes on this book and expect to turn to it often to stimulate and refine my ideas.   If you enjoy art history, you'll enjoy this. 

from James Trilling, The Language of Ornament

A Field Guide to Color:  A Watercolor Workbook by Lisa Solomon.  I confess I haven't had a chance to delve into this yet, but it looks like lots of fun.  If you enjoy messing about watercolors, you can do it right in the book if you like, playing with liquid color while exploring color theory in a hands-on way.  I'm looking forward to it.  

Pattern Design with over 1500 illustrations, edited by Elizabeth Wilhide.  This book is pure eye candy.  It's a hefty compendium of textile and wallpaper designs, reproduced in full color and organized by theme and style.  Small capsule histories of influential designers and design firms are interspersed throughout.  I am not a surface designer exactly--much of what is here would be difficult or impossible to translate to tapestry--but for me it's been fun to poke through and notice what I like, to see what kinds of designs, colors, spatial arrangements, etc. keep grabbing me.  Maybe clues for my own work??   

from Elizabeth Wilhide, Pattern Design

The Intentional Thread:  A Guide to Drawing, Gesture, and Color in Stitch by Susan Brandeis.  The gorgeous photos in this book and the thoughtful,  experimental approach to stitching is really tempting me to pick up an embroidery needle again.  Dangerous!  I love that Brandeis has approached embroidery from the perspective of design principles such as line, density, composition, value and so on.  Her work and samples show how excitingly contemporary embroidery can be.  

from Susan Brandeis, The Intentional Thread

Mark Adams:  Catalog Raisonné of Tapestries.  More eye candy for tapestry weavers especially.  I love the bold, graphic botanical and garden-themed pieces Adams did, and how we used both flat and blended color in his pieces.  In some cases the tapestries are reproduced next to the in-process designs and cartoons, and it's fun to see how the weaving developed away from the cartoon in some cases.  Lots of food for thought here for practicing weavers.  (And aren't we all always practicing?)

from Mark Adams, Catalog Raisonné of Tapestries

Have you discovered any art or fiber books recently that you're excited to share?  Tell us about them in the comments.   

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Weaving in the lyrical mode

I've been deep in class preparation mode for the past few months, developing five new lectures and workshops for the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.  It's been fun and I'm learning a lot; I only propose classes on topics that I know will teach me something!  So I've been looking at lots of tapestries in books and online and thinking about all the widely varied approaches to the medium today.  It's an exciting time to be a weaver, with so much inspiring work, varied materials, and a wide range of looms from tiny to huge, available to choose from.  It can be overwhelming to have so much choice, so many options!

If you've read this blog for long you know that I am continually experimenting, trying to figure out what my voice is in tapestry, what is my own tapestry language.  For it is a language, a way of describing life using the grammar of the loom and of weft-faced weaving.  It takes time and practice to become fluent in a new language.  I have been at it for 13 years now and I'm just beginning to feel somewhat fluent.  Recently I came across an excellent blog post on this subject by master weaver Joan Baxter on the British Tapestry Group blog:  "Tapestry in its own words:  what is the native language of tapestry and how can we best design for it?"  So much of what Joan writes resonated with me.  Please, go read it!

It occurred to me during my class research that so many of the classical, traditional tapestries were in what I'd call the mythical mode:  they told grand stories of gods and creation, history and war and empire-building.  They explained societies and cultures to themselves by telling important stories.  These tapestries are the woven equivalents of the Iliad, the Odyssey, Paradise Lost and War and Peace in literature.  Or, more currently, Game of Thrones.  The classical works were large murals, but contemporary tapestry artists show it's possible to work in the mythical mode on a smaller scale.  I've seen work recently by Frances Crowe about Covid and the plight of refugees that qualifies.  You can also look up Murray Gibson, Elizabeth Buckley, Chrissie Freeth and Barbara Heller, among many others working in a contemporary mythical mode.   I worked in this mode myself when I made a series of work about the image and impact of the Virgin Mary. 

Molly Elkind, Mary (the anxiety of influence), 2017.  45" x 37"

Sticking with the literary metaphor, there is also the lyrical mode, the mode of poetry, the mode in which we express aspects of our own experience and emotions.  I suspect this is where most of us conceive of our work.   The lyrical mode allows us to respond with joy or grief or exhilaration or rage to what we see in nature and in the world around us.  Here a smaller format often feels right to me, though not always.  I went down a rabbit trail not long ago in which I read up on haiku, the 3-line Japanese poetic form, and I conceived of my recent small open warp experiments as woven haiku. 

Molly Elkind, Open Warp Vista:  Roots, Rain (c) 2020

The poetic, lyrical mode calls for the uniquely individual expression.  If you weave a tapestry diary, or make woven doodles ("woodles" as some call them), or delight in making endless samples (that would be me) you are experimenting with weaving in this mode.  You are pushing our tapestry language to speak as poetry does, in a fresh, insightful, emotional way.  When you dye your yarn to achieve just the right color or gradation--when you spin your own yarn or source yarns with unusual fibers and textures--when you exploit or disrupt the grid that the loom gives us--I would say you are weaving in the lyrical mode.  You are making work that is about your own response to what is given, whether in the loom or in the world.  There are too many artists working in this mode to name them all here, but check out ATA's Artist Pages for inspiration. 

The small studies I've called "minimes" are also in the lyrical mode, capturing a brief moment of perception, emotional response, or a deeply-felt engagement with the medium and materials. 

Molly Elkind, detail Snow (c) 2020

Molly Elkind, Fold (c) 2020

Molly Elkind, detail, Zion (c) 2020

At this moment the lyrical mode for me involves disrupting and varying the woven surface with varied textures, with open and eccentric weaves, with collaged elements.  It involves juxtaposition and fragmentation, and it involves the quest to make objects not pictures--to make something that can only be woven and cannot exist in another medium.  Joan Baxter writes, "A tapestry should only be woven if it cannot exist in another medium and the medium should somehow be intrinsic in the design from the start."  This is a tall order.  Most of us design our tapestries by drawing, painting or collage-ing, and then translate them into tapestry.  Like Joan, I am trying to be brave enough to work now without a fully resolved drawing or cartoon, but to trust the weaving process to tell me what I need to do.  I've noticed for a long time that my samples and experiments are often more exciting and appealing than tapestries woven from cartoons I have labored over.  Hmmm.  What does that tell me? 

Molly Elkind, Peachtree Boogie Woogie (c) 2021

I'm curious to hear your own thoughts on these ramblings.  What mode do you like to work in--mythical, lyrical, or something else?  Which artists do you admire who work in the mythical or the lyrical modes?