Wednesday, December 14, 2022

What do your photos tell you about 2022?

At this time of year, I like to spend some time looking back at what I made, what I learned, and how much progress I made on the goals I set myself for the year.  I putter around and declutter the studio and hope that helps to declutter my mind for the new year. Maybe you do something similar? 

This year I added a new approach:  scrolling back through all the photos on my phone, to see what struck me enough that I took a photo (or several).  Perhaps there are clues there too for the way into 2023.  If this sounds like something that might be useful, read on . . .

I found lots of process photos of pieces I worked on. I'm especially pleased with the pieces below as they seem to point in the direction I want to go.  I'm noticing a shift toward black/white/gray and neutral tones.  (Perhaps living with a black-and-white photographer for 30+ years is finally rubbing off?)  As you look back at your work, what are you proudest of?  What would you like to do more of in 2023?  


Ashfall, (c) Molly Elkind 2022, linen warp, paper, grasses, ashes, matte medium.
Weaving 18" x 7" including fringe; shadowbox 18.5" x 12" x 3". 

Dark Sky, (c) Molly Elkind 2022, linen warp, paper weft.
Weaving 7" x 6" including fringe, farmed to 13". 13" 

Woven Grasses Study, (c) Molly Elkind 2022.  
Weaving 18" x 6.25" including grasses and fringe.  Framed to 21" x 17".

I've completed the SkyGrass series with several small pieces, all but one of which sold.  In retrospect I see that these pieces paved the way for me to weave with actual grass instead of depicting it with yarn, something I plan to do more of.  But they were worth doing in themselves, too, and I’m proud of them.  

Blue Grama 4, (c) Molly Elkind 2022, linen warp, wool, linen, Japanese ramie bark, cotton floss.
Weaving 5" x 5", framed to 13" x 13".  Sold. 

MountainGramaGrass, (c) Molly Elkind 2022.  Linen warp; wool, silk, linen, Japanese ramie bark, cotton Weaving 9.75" x 7", framed to 21" x 17". Sold. 

I saw a number of exhibits of art in various mediums.  These have continued to reverberate in my mind, months later: 

Alma Thomas at the Frist Museum in Nashville.  Thomas was an important African-American abstract painter whose work was mostly founded on a love of pattern inspired by the natural world. 

Alma Thomas, Babbling Brook and Whistling Poplar Trees Symphony,
acrylic on canvas, 1976. 

Susan Iverson, the Color of No at the Surratt Gallery at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.   See my blogpost about this exhibit here.  I was struck by the cumulative power of one concept, explored in depth, investigating particularly the power of color to change meaning.  

Susan Iverson, The Color of No, installed at the Surratt Gallery, Nashville,  TN.

John Paul Morabito,  The Immaculate Collection:  A Queer Tangent in Tapestry at Indianapolis Art Center.  John Paul had me right away with their focus on images of the Virgin Mary, specifically re-conceived images drawn from paintings by Raphael.  They have souped up the colors and used Jacquard technology to transform the surface into beautifully complex mixes of pattern.  I found the work disturbing, fascinating, mysterious and unforgettable.  

John Paul Morabito, Left: Madonna di San Sisto, 2020, cotton, wool, glass beads 
Right:  Madonna del Cardellino, 2019, cotton, wool, glass beads, gilded masonry nails

At Convergence in July, I was intrigued most of all by the power of baskets in HGA's juried exhibit of basketry, Dogwood to Kudzu.  The strong object-hood (I don’t know how else to describe it) of 3D pieces using natural materials is continuing to cast a spell over my current explorations.  Read my blogpost here

Judy Zugish, Daughter on the Mountaintop.  

I saw some intriguing Northwestern native baskets in the Chihuly Museum in Seattle and fell in love with the fine patterns and intricate workmanship, again appreciating the power of the empty vessel form and the exquisite workmanship.  

Apologies; no further information available

At the ATA Members' Retreat and Workshop with Jennifer Sargent in July, I was intrigued by Jennifer's use of varied setts and open, balanced weave in her work.  I am continuing to explore this in my own work. 

Jennifer Sargent, woven sample

Finally, there were several books that have led me to  think more deeply about the practice of tapestry and weaving.  I suspect one or two of these might be on your own list of such impactful books, too.  What other books influenced your thinking this year? 


Silvia Heyden, Movement in Tapestry.  Her approach is very different from  traditional tapestry but equally powerful and destined to become more and more influential, I suspect.  Read my review here.  

Archie Brennan, Tapestry as Modern Art, as told to Brenda Osborn.  Every tapestry weaver working today  can learn from this master and be stimulated by his thoughts on our art form, on fiber art and their connection to contemporary art.   Read my review here.  

Alice Fox, Wild Textiles.  A gorgeous book that deepens my excitement about foraging for and using natural materials in textile techniques and 3D forms. 

Solveig Aalberg, Continuum.  A powerful example of the cumulative impact of a series of small textiles woven to a system.  Read my post here.  

Howard Risatti, A Theory of Craft:  Function and Aesthetic Expression.  An academic work of art/craft theory.  Risatti carefully and logically builds an argument that craft and art are not the same and should not be collapsed into the same category.  For a long time I had thought that only by arguing that there was no fundamental difference between the two could craft take its place equal to art in the minds of the public, curators, etc.  Risatti explicates the real and important differences between the art and craft  (and demonstrates that they are not tied to function or to materials as is commonly thought), and ultimately argues for a special category called "critical objects of craft."  These are the works based in craft materials and/or techniques that innovate, question and push the boundaries of their medium.  If theory is your jam, check out this book.  

Let’s hope there’s plenty of time in the new year for us all to do more of this:  weave!  Thanks for reading, and my best wishes to you and yours this holiday season and into 2023.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Impressions of Italy

 If you've been following me on Instagram (@mollyelkind) or Facebook you have already seen a few posts about our recent trip to Italy.  If you are tired of hearing about it, feel free to skip this post!  However, as the saying goes, wait. . . there's more!  I've just uploaded the photos from my actual camera (not my phone), and I've had some more time to digest what we saw and did, so I thought I'd share some further thoughts.  

We spent four days in Florence, where we were fully immersed in late medieval and Renaissance art, as one is in Florence.  One theme that struck me almost right away was the varied depictions of women in art, so here's a few of those that I didn't share on social media.  It should come as no surprise that the depiction of women in art is varied to say the least, perhaps even more so than that of men (generally depicted as heroes of some kind).  Women are varied.  A woman can be the mother of God, or the personification of poetry, music, and art, or any number of allegorical virtues, or the victim of rape, or the avenger of rape.  She can be the redeemed prostitute (in an outmoded conception of Mary Magdalen) or an idealized goddess.  In Renaissance painting she is most often a symbol, rarely an individual (with the exception of portraits of duchesses and so on). 

Botticelli, Madonna of the Pomegranate (detail), tempera on wood, c. 1487

Fra Angelico, Annunciation (detail), fresco, 15th c. 

Giorgio Vasari, allegorical personification of Art, Casa Vasari, fresco, 16th  c.

Botticelli, Fortitude, tempera on wood, 1470 

Titian, La Maddalena (the Magdalen), detail, 15th c. 

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes (detail),  oil on canvas, 1620-21. 

After our time in Florence we joined a Road Scholar tour group on a tour of "hidden villages of Tuscany and Umbria."*  In those places the vibe was definitely medieval, if not Roman and Etruscan.  The tiny walled towns with their towers, castles, and steep narrow streets were incredibly picturesque and fun to explore.  But after having guided tours of Anghiari, Cortona, Arezzo, Gubbio, Spoleto, Perugia, and Orvieto, it became clear that these beautiful towns are the relics of a time of constant war, among competing tribes and dukedoms, the Pope(s) and foreign powers.  Hence the defensive walls, towers and castles.  

Wall in Anghiari 


The towns also contain awe-inspiring churches and cathedrals and stunning art. The art is entirely on religious and classical themes.  Even I, with my long-standing interest in depictions of the Virgin Mary, found my eyes glazing over after seeing so many Madonnas.  So I started noticing other things--the evocative fragmentary frescoes, the play of light through stained glass, the layers of patterns everywhere.  After a time I found that I enjoyed the austere, heavy Romanesque churches with limited decoration as a refreshing counterpoint to the lavish Gothic cathedrals.  

My thoughts turned to how we experience the sacred, specifically where, when and in whom (or in what) it is embodied for us, beyond theological doctrine.  Even more, how do we attempt to capture and hold on to that experience?  We make paintings, churches, cathedrals, and pilgrimage sites.  And we make our own small gestures of devotion in public places, even today.  We try to link the numinous sacred to the visible and tangible, so that we can touch that experience again and again.  Pilgrims at La Verna, a site sacred to St. Francis, used what was at hand to fashion crosses.

I don't think there will be any direct influence of what I saw in Italy on my own work, except perhaps to nudge me to explore again the impact of pattern.  The world has changed in 500 years, and what we expect art to be and do has changed with it.  My own work now is mostly about place and landscape, and that is virtually non-existent in Renaissance art.  But for me it was, in the end, inspiring and consoling to see that not only can we create works of art that embody our highest hopes for what humans can be and do, we continue to be moved by that art centuries later. 

Sunrise and fog over Anghiari

*If you hit this link to Road Scholar's site, you will find that the tour's title and itinerary have been tweaked slightly from the one we experienced.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Solveig Aalberg's Continuum

Like you, perhaps, I get tons of information in my inbox about textile organizations, lectures, online workshops, and so on.  It's a lot to take in sometimes, but sometimes--actually pretty often--I stumble upon pure gold. Recently someone linked to this blog post on the Textile Forum blog, about a body of work by Norwegian fiber artist, Solveig Aalberg.  

Aalberg has made a series of 100 small pieces that she calls "miniatures" which together form the series Continuum.  Each one measures about 20 x 24 cm, or roughly 7.75 x 9.5 inches.  Each features horizontal stripes in some form.  They are woven in tabby or double weave in a variety of fibers.  As she wove the series, Aalberg designed a book that reproduces every single piece, Continuum:  Woven Miniatures.  The book devotes a full page, or in some cases two pages, to each tapestry, and for each, the fibers and colors used are listed with a numerical notation that indicates the number of times each color is repeated.  

Solveig Aalberg, Continuum #020, 2018.  Linen, cotton, polyester.

As I began to look through the book, I realized that far from becoming repetitious the project allowed for almost infinite variation within Aalberg's parameters.  The idea that boundaries and limits actually free us up for greater creativity has been coming up in my tapestry feedback group discussions lately, and Aalberg's project is a perfect example of how that can work. 

Aalberg says in an interview included at the end of the book that her work is "all about reading the world around me by organizing structures and repetitions.  Tapestry's strict framework of horizontal and vertical lines provides a basis for working on my visual idiom.  It might seem restrictive, but it is a challenge that triggers me." (p. 260).  She goes on to say that systems and mathematics allow for rhythmic repetitions would not be possible otherwise:  ". . . structures build up contrasts and juxtapositions that you couldn't envision beforehand without using these systems." (p. 265). 

While Aalberg's work starts with weaving on the loom, she further develops each piece by adding stitching, sometimes subtle straight stitches that meld with the weft, other times wild loops and dangling threads that create a riot of texture on the back.  These pieces are pictured front and back on double-page spreads.  In all the pieces, a delight and curiosity about color is the driving force.  

Solveig Aalberg, Continuum #036 back, 2020.  
Linen, cotton, polyester and reflex.

Solveig Aalberg, Continuum #036 front, 2020.  
Linen, cotton, polyester and reflex.

Aalberg has worked on a very large scale many times, but for this project she chose a format that invites the viewer to "experience the work up close" in an "intimate and personal" way (p. 264).  Many of us are attracted to small format work not only because it is portable and more quickly accomplished than large work, but precisely because it speaks one-on-one to the viewer.  

Pieces from the Continuum series have been exhibited in various shows in Europe, and several have been sold.  Aalberg hopes that the works will be widely disseminated and that they can "thereby make a little statement about how everyday life is influenced by how we do the same thing again and again, but with either minor or major changes.  In that way, each miniature can be read as a metaphor for the days we live" (p. 267). 

Solveig Aalberg, selections from Continuum
at Haugesund Kunstforening og Billedgalleri, 2020. 
(Please excuse the book's center crease shadow through the near yellow piece.) 

Regarding her commitment to a long-term project over several years, Aalberg admits "It does cost something to bring this about--that is also part of the process.  Showing tenacity, holding on to your idea, not letting go.  If I had abandoned Continuum, it would be like going back on a promise.  It would feel like a betrayal" (p. 267). This struck me--how often do we as artists lose heart, have crises of confidence, or simply bow to the ongoing pressures of life and abandon our big ideas?  

Regarding the book itself, in addition to the interview with the artist, an essay by writer Ole Robert Sunde is included, whose work Aalberg feels draws on similar themes.  All text, including captions for the tapestries, appears in Norwegian and English.  Several installation shots of the work show how it is mounted approximately 4.5" from the wall, so that it casts a shadow and attains a sculptural presence.  It is a beautifully photographed and produced hardcover book.  You can order it here for 380 Norwegian kroner, about $38 plus shipping.  For me this book is a wonderful counterpoint to Sheila Hicks's Weaving as Metaphor, which contains images of dozens of her experimental minimes.  Both artists work in small format, but their approaches and results are very different.  Food for thought. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Current and future work

I'm tempted to start by saying It's a time of transitions here at Molly Elkind Handwovens, but really, isn't every time a time of transition??  I suspect we're all transitioning so much recently we're dizzy. 

I've been putting up work on the walls in preparation for the 30th annual Eldorado Studio Tour.  In case you're in the neighborhood, there will be 80 artists in 60 studios--Sept. 24 and 25 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.--at Eldorado at Santa Fe, just outside the city of Santa Fe, NM.  Sam Elkind and I are Studio 8 this year.  It's always fun to meet folks, talk art and craft with them and share our work.  It's also good for me just to get all the work out at once, too, and see how it hangs (or doesn't hang) together. (These are quick snapshots.  Apologies for poor lighting and reflections in glass of Sam Elkind's photographs.  Sam has more work up, but this is my blog so I'm focusing on mine!  Also, de-cluttering of our own knicknackswill occur before the Tour!). Contact me for details and prices.  

Left to right:  SkyGrass, SkyGramaGrass (on table), SkyGrass Study, MountainGramaGrass.  
All work (c) Molly Elkind.  

Left to right:  Peachtree Boogie Boogie, Red Letter Day, Red Letter Night.  All work (c) Molly Elkind.
Faraway Nearby, (c) Molly Elkind

Top:  Dusty Sun.  Bottom:  Ashy Sun.  (c) Molly Elkind

Top:  Rancho de Taos Quartet, (c) Sam Elkind.  
On table:  Dark Sky, (c) Molly Elkind

As for the transition, I'm not ready to say much yet in words about it, so in this post I'm going to let the pictures do the talking.  In the famous words of Winnie the Pooh when faced with a jar of honey, "I don't want to eat it, I just want to taste it."  

Current and future reading.  Excited about all of it, especially the brand-new book mid-stack,
Wild Textiles by Alice Fox. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The genius of Silvia Heyden

The tapestry world is abuzz with talk about the just-released book of the work and writings of weaver Silvia Heyden (1927-2015):  Movement in Tapestry by Silvia Heyden.  Her family and friends worked hard to complete this book that Silvia began in 2014, and they have done a beautiful job.  It's not a book that you read once and then put away on a shelf.  You'll want to keep it out so that you can dip into it now and again, enjoying and studying the gorgeous full-page color photographs of her work and re-reading her words.  You can see by the fringe of post-its in my copy that I found much to ponder here.  

As I was reading this book, I must have said out loud to Sam at least five times, "Silvia Heyden was a [flipping] genius."  During her studies in the late 1940s with Bauhaus veterans Johannes Itten, Gunta Stözl and Elsi Giauque,  she absorbed Bauhaus principles of the unity of medium, methods, and design.  But upon her graduation, Heyden's mentors discouraged her from pursuing tapestry because it had mostly degenerated by that time into the slavish reproduction of paintings by non-weaving artists.  Silvia's careful study of medieval European weaving led her to realize that in those tapestries the weaving and the image had evolved together, organically, under the fingers and vision of the skilled artist-weaver.  She determined to discover a new language for tapestry that spoke in fresh, modern visual terms, that united, in true Bauhaus fashion, materials, technique, and image.  "This particular harmony of content and execution, of art and craft, of means and meaning could be achieved only in my persistent dialogue with the loom" (p. 64). 

Silvia Heyden, Through the Grass, 38" x 42," 1999.
(Apologies for the scanner cropping the right side of the image.  
The book is bigger than my scanner bed!) 

Silvia recognized that she would need to develop her own vocabulary of woven forms to achieve this aim, and she spent ten years working on developing that personal vocabulary of triangles, half-rounds, stripes, chevrons and feathers.  Ten years.   For Silvia, a motif "is a weaving element that is not only repeated additively but that can in fact evolve into an entire composition" (p. 54).  This in fact became her primary means of developing her tapestry designs.  The motif IS the structure and image of the tapestry; not merely any repeated shape, it is a shape that organically grows from the weaving process.  Silvia also determined that the conventional rules of tapestry weaving--that it result in a rectangular, flat textile in which the wefts travel only horizontally and totally cover the warp--need not apply.  She favored colored linen warps that played an active visual role.  She usually wove eccentrically, and while she tried to more or less balance the weft forces pulling the warp out of plumb, she was not concerned with whether the tapestry lay totally flat.  

Silvia Heyden, Diagrams of Diagonal and Rounded wefts,
from Duke University exhibit catalog, 1972. 

Crucially, Silvia abandoned the traditional full-size cartoon attached to the weaving as a guide.  If the weaving were to develop organically rather than as a reproduction of a pre-existing image, she had to wing it.  "I must free myself from the dictates of the paper cartoon and rather depend on my inner eye and train my concentration."  One of my favorite things about this book is that her small preparatory sketches, usually not much larger than 4" x 6" or thereabouts, are often reproduced next to the tapestry they inspired.  We can see how the sketches, which are simply gestural indications of line direction and possibly value and color, often found expression in a new way in the course of the weaving.  To keep track of how she was scaling up such a small sketch to her full-size, often five-feet-square tapestries, Silvia would place tick marks along the margin of the sketch and corresponding knotted bits of yarn along the warps of the tapestry.  

Silvia Heyden, Red Rhythm, 60" x 60," 1976 and preparatory sketches, largest is 5" x 4.5"

For me, the prospect of weaving a large tapestry without a cartoon feels a bit like preparing to walk a tightrope over a river full of crocodiles.  I am comforted to learn that Silvia was only able to totally abandon the cartoon after making about 200 tapestries.  Her lifelong output was about 800 tapestries over 50 years.  Eight.  Hundred.  Tapestries.  If you are going to engage in a "persistent dialogue with the loom," you'd better, as Tommye Scanlin likes to say, "weave every darn day!"  Tapestry is a long game.  Learning basic techniques does not take long; learning to use those techniques in one's own voice is the work of a lifetime.  

Since my own interests lately have been moving toward relief and 3D work, I was delighted to discover that Silvia made a number of small studies along those lines.  She was always thinking "What if. . .," always exploring and pushing the limits of what tapestry can do.  

Silvia Heyden, Capriccios, approx. 21" x 21", 2006-2013

There is much to love about this book:  The gorgeous full-page reproductions of Silvia's work.  The inclusion of sketches, as mentioned above.  The inclusion of Silvia's own writings and interviews about tapestry in an appendix.  This is a definitive volume about Heyden's work and weaving philosophy; it completes in a most satisfying way the account in her previous book, The Making of Modern Tapestry:  My Journey of Discovery, published in 1998.

There are a few quirks about the book that I found occasionally frustrating:  No titles, dimensions or dates are given on the double-page spreads with the reproduced works; the reader must flip to the "Index of Paired Tapestries" to find that information.  This was a deliberate decision to present the images on a clean white page, so fair enough.  There is a long section at the end of the book, with small color reproductions of Silvia's tapestries, sketches and studies arranged chronologically--but again, these works are not identified by title.  Finally, the text can be repetitive; we hear four times (in the Introduction and chapters 1, 2, and 4) how the Renaissance was the ruination of tapestry weaving.  It's not clear to me who wrote most of the text of the book in which Silvia is spoken of in the third person, though Stephanie Hoppe is credited as the author of Chapter 3.  And it took me awhile to figure out that italicized text throughout is Silvia's own words.   

But these are minor quibbles.  This is a book that every serious tapestry weaver will enjoy and learn from. Don't just take my word for it; read Elizabeth Buckley's blog for her take.  I'm sure others in the tapestry community will be chiming in with their reviews as well.  If you're wondering how to get your hands on a copy, don't waste your time looking for it online.  It's available through Silvia's son, Daniel Heyden (email him to order).  

It's fitting to close with Silvia's words:  "When we no longer see a tapestry as a static image, but instead allow it to continue to beat in its progression, when this happens with purely woven means through the textile structure and the color of the thread, when detail and overall form are in such harmony that the outer form is the consequence of the inner transformations, then weaving, with its unique connection to craft and technique again becomes an independent art form." (p. 120) 

This is wisdom born of a lifetime's dedication to the art of tapestry.