The Element of Time In Tapestry

Time is a huge, invisible component in tapestry-making, in addition to skillful hands, technical virtuosity, artistic vision, and the universal, non-verbal language of the loom. The long haul of 1200 hours over many months involved in weaving large format tapestries can be a daunting commitment, requiring additional courage, dedication, belief in oneself and the idea that needs to be articulated. 

The Veils of Time  tapestry in process on the loom. ©2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley

The Veils of Time tapestry in process on the loom. ©2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Interruptions are a fact of life for all of us weaving tapestry.  I work seven days a week.  I juggle studio time with the schedule of an itinerate art teacher and the necessary advance preparation of materials for each workshop and powerpoint lecture, plus write articles, proposals, and blog posts, produce videos, share on social media and other marketing activities, in addition to dealing with the surprises and necessities of daily living.

 Over the years, I developed strategies to help me to sustain connection with the work in-process over the days, weeks and months, whether it be a small or large format tapestry:

— Weave every day whether it is for thirty minutes, four hours or all day. This helps the connection with the work in progress to be vibrant and energized.

— Keep a notepad at the loom, and end each weaving session with a sentence, phrases or a diagram of what to do next.  I find this especially helpful when I am away from the studio teaching workshops.  When I return, reviewing my notes helps me to re-orient myself and more easily pick up where I left off.

 — Go to sleep each night thinking about what needs to be woven next on the tapestry.  This is especially helpful if I need to problem-solve which techniques or color mixtures to use in order to achieve the desired effect.  Usually I awaken in the morning with a clear sense of how to proceed.

 — When the weaving gets sluggish, take a break.  Usually the tapestry is telling me something, and I need to pay attention, look at the area with a fresh eye to see more clearly what needs to happen next.  Maybe it is a different color or value in the weft bundle.  Maybe I forgot to put in a detail I had intended to include. 

 — Get up from the loom frequently, to change body positions, stretch, roll shoulders, shift from close-up to far way focus for the eyes.  Often I do this when I need to wind a bobbin, change the music CD, etc.

Notepad at loom ©2019 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Notepad at loom ©2019 Elizabeth J. Buckley

 I track my time spent on each phase of creating tapestries so that I have a more realistic sense of just how long it does take me to create new work around my salaried teaching schedule and everyday living.  This is especially important when doing commissions, as well as when large ideas need to become large format tapestries.  I know that a realistic estimate for works measuring 60” x 60” is about 1,200 hours spread out over 18 – 24 months.  Unless this is a commission piece, this is unpaid time until the tapestry sells.

Yet the documented hours tell only part of the story of tapestry-making.  What goes unmeasured is gestation time for ideas to brew, the mulling over time when taking a walk or driving, the problem-solving time until the solution comes.  All of this emerges out of a lifetime of our experiences, unique to each of us.

 Carol K. Russell aptly puts it in her introduction to Contemporary International Tapestry, p. 21

Never ask a tapestry artist, ‘How long did it take to weave this tapestry?’  He or she will respond quite correctly, ‘It took my entire life up to the point at which this tapestry was cut from the loom, and the same for the next tapestry and the ones after that.’

The Heading as Foundation for Well-Woven Tapestry

Two components go into establishing the foundation for well-woven tapestry cloth:  an evenly tensioned warp and equal spacing between each warp thread. Once you tie the warp onto the front beam, next comes the task of adjusting the tension so that each warp thread is equally tight. Then, comes weaving the heading to equalize the spaces between the warps.  Different tapestry traditions have various approaches to weaving the heading. Here is how I do it on my low-warp, basse-lice (or basse-lice), Aubusson loom:

Tools for weaving the heading on the  basse-lice  loom. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Tools for weaving the heading on the basse-lice loom. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

On this loom, you will notice that the tie-on rod sits in a groove on the front beam, and the warp threads are in tie-on groups of 4 warp threads.  To spread out the groups of threads, I weave the heading in a process that gradually shifts and equalizes the spacing. The tools I use are:  a flat shuttle, a gratoir, an awl, an Aubusson bobbin, as well as my fingers.  (awls, gratioir and bobbins available here)

In the video, you will see that the first step is to weave four rows (or two full passes) with doubled warp threads,. I am using 12/12 cotton seine twine for my warp. The doubled warp threads start the process of gradually spreading the warps. For a 60” width, I will wrap these doubled warp threads around a flat shuttle, for ease of passing through the shed as I weave. At each edge, I leave about a one-inch loop of extra warp. To place and pack each row, or half-passe,  I use the gratoir.

The second step is to weave four rows, (or two full passes), of single warp, that I have wound onto an Aubusson bobbin (also known as la flute)..  I use my fingers to pack it in. Again, I leave about 1” extra slack in the loop at each selvedge.  Each half-passe, or row, of single warp continues the process of spreading the warps out further. 

The third step involves looking closely at the spaces between the warps. Jean Pierre Larochette calls this “reading the spaces between the warps.”

Warp is now ready for adjusting the spacing with the awl. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Warp is now ready for adjusting the spacing with the awl. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

I use the awl to begin shifting the warps, often poking the tip into the double warp woven area below the fell line.  It is best to start in the middle and work your way out to the edges. I push the threads that are further apart closer together, and the threads that are too close, further apart.  As I move and shift the warp threads, I use the tip of the awl to poke the upper area of single-warp weaving down, to hold the revised spacing in place. 

Warp is now evenly spaced. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Warp is now evenly spaced. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

I want to make sure that the bottom edge and the side warp thread are square.  I use a very large, clear triangle (available at Dick Blick or any good art supply store) and place it on the warp.  Since it is hard to see the clear triangle in the photo, I added the smaller darker triangle to make it easier to see.

 

Making sure the edge of the warp and the bottom (or fell edge) are perpendicular, or squared. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Making sure the edge of the warp and the bottom (or fell edge) are perpendicular, or squared. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Now I am ready to twine across the warp, to hold the spacing in place, and to prevent unraveling of the completed woven tapestry, once it is cut off of the loom.  I measure a length of warp thread that is 3 times the width of the warp.  Since this warp is  60” wide, I will need a length that is 180” wide. Because the thread is so long, I wind each end onto a bobbin, placing the midpoint around the second warp thread, The warp at the very edge will be my guide thread, which will not be woven.  The guide thread helps me to see to notice, as I weave, when my selvedge is beginning to either draw in or expand.  I can then immediately make any necessary adjustments as I weave.

Twined heading, now ready to weave! 12/12 cotton seine twine sette at 10 epi. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Twined heading, now ready to weave! 12/12 cotton seine twine sette at 10 epi. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Once I have completed one row of twining across the width of the warp, I am ready to begin weaving the hem of the tapestry: a moment so many of us eagerly anticipate!

I find that this process of weaving the heading to be good practice to do on my other looms—such as the Hagen or Mirrix—as well.

Where Science and Art Meet

“Picturing the Past: Paleoart 2018,” at the The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, opened this past weekend. A juried international exhibition in a variety of media, mine is the only tapestry in the exhibit. Other media include: two quilts, colored pencil drawings, acrylic paintings, cut paper and several small sculptures. About half of the 89 artworks are digital prints. A principle criteria for all work in this show is scientific accuracy, within artistic interpretations of our prehistoric past.

“The Veils of Time” tapestry fell into the category of “Prehistoric Panoramas.”

View of first room, two partial walls.

View of first room, two partial walls.

Exhibit Narrative on Prehistoric Panoramas

Exhibit Narrative on Prehistoric Panoramas

Artist statement displayed beside “The Veils of Time” tapestry

Artist statement displayed beside “The Veils of Time” tapestry

The Veils of Time  tapestry beside digital art.

The Veils of Time tapestry beside digital art.

I visited this exhibit at the Sneak Preview for the fundraising gala “Cretaceous Couture” fashion show and silent auction. I found myself drawn to the wall of trilobites, and in particular, the cut paper work on the far right.

Trilobites wall. Cut paper rendition on the far right

Trilobites wall. Cut paper rendition on the far right


I thought of my father, who would take our family on fossil-hunting expeditions, when I was very young, usually on occasional Sunday afternoons. We lived on the edge of the Flint Hills in the southeast corner of Kansas, where road cuts would reveal geologic strata. We would see a variety of invertebrate forms in the layers of limestone and shale, and if we were lucky, we would find a trilobite.

Thus I was introduced to the concept of time being so much larger than the clock face, the hours in a day and my own lifetime. As a child, I could not grasp the largeness of millennia so long ago when these invertebrate creatures were alive. As an adult artist, I keep returning to themes around geologic time in my tapestries, as though the huge number of hours spent at the loom weaving somehow can give me a glimpse into eternity.

“Visions of the Past: Paleoart 2108” is up through January 4th, 2018 at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, located at 1801 Mountain Road, NW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Phyllis Hoge Thompson and The Practice of Deep Listening

Letters from Jian Hui  by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

Letters from Jian Hui by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

The poet, Phyllis Hoge Thompson, died recently, after a long life filled with raising four children while pursuing her doctorate, teaching at the University of Hawai’i, writing volumes of poems, plus a memoir.  She relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico upon retirement “to experience the four seasons, among other things.”  She lived a year in China, teaching English.  She regularly went to Yaddo to work on manuscripts that subsequently got published. In 1995, she was awarded the Hawai’i Award for Literature by then Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano.

Words were her métier.

Phyllis also loved art, and supported many artists, like myself, by not only buying their work, but also by valuing what we, as artists, bring to the world.

Putting Up Art

As I hang up a painting, once again I know Why I need art. There are things words cannot say, Thoughts that the eyes can see.  My paintings show Ideas invisible any other way… 

Today, McCauley’s French window: the rose-fallen light Echoes a lost aubade, a way of being I lift the picture, position the wire just right, And drift off into the life I live by seeing.

—from Hello House, p.54

Hello House  by Phyllis Hoge illustrated by Maxine Hong Kingston

Hello House by Phyllis Hoge illustrated by Maxine Hong Kingston

Sunset Over Albuquerque  3” x 2” ©1996 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Sunset Over Albuquerque 3” x 2” ©1996 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Her home was a modest two-bedroom, with hardwood floors that were covered with worn oriental carpets.  Family furniture—mostly wood—crowded the rooms, and shelves filled with books lined most available walls.   Above and around them art:  paintings, two small tapestries, photographs, ikat weaving, sculptures, drawings, art quilts, turned wooden bowls, and cobalt blue glass balls of varying sizes. More books in a pile on the floor by her reading chair, as well as stacked on the living room coffee table and on the end table by her bed.  

Window and Grass  ©2000 Elizabeth J. Buckley Mixed media: Handwoven tapestry with couching

Window and Grass ©2000 Elizabeth J. Buckley Mixed media: Handwoven tapestry with couching

In 1987, shortly after I moved to Albuquerque, Phyllis initiated the Friendly Writers Groups, critique groups of four people that met once every week for two hours, to listen and respond to 4 or 5 pages of prose, either fiction or non-fiction, that each brought for review.  We took turns reading our work aloud and responding to each other’s.  The format was simple.  One person would read aloud what s/he brought, while the other three would listen.  When that person finished reading, the other three then would write down overall first impressions.  The same person would read aloud the same writing a second time, and the other three would listen as well as make further notes.  After the second reading, one-by-one, each of the three listeners would give feedback, such as:

“My overall first impressions were….”

“The place that really grabbed my attention was…. “

“I wanted to know more about …..”

“You shifted tense around the beginning of the second page.”

“You repeated the word… four times in three consecutive sentences.”

The Painted Clock  by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

The Painted Clock by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

“I found myself fading out after …. and then returning when… “

“I am confused about where this is going.  Do you intend this to be…?”  Or do you mean..?

“I noticed the use of passive voice, which made the scene feel less immediate for me.  I would like to experience the action more directly.”

“I really liked the ending sentence, and I wondering how it would work at the very beginning as your opening line.”

Invariably the responses helped me to re-think passages, trim out excessive words, say more about specific areas, as well as to know what really worked well.  It felt like a gift, even when I needed to set aside a draft and start fresh again.

Over the months, we read articles for publication, chapters of books, and excerpts from our journals.  We listened carefully and deeply. We responded with honesty and tenderness. We grew to love each other.

I carry the spirit of the Friendly Writers Group into my teaching. I listen carefully to my students, to both the asked and unarticulated questions.  I encourage group feedback on designs, and make suggestions of options to think about.

I also bring deep listening into my own creative process, in the initial designing stage as well as when weaving on the tapestry in-progress on the loom.  Often I work in silence, allowing it to enter and expand through me into images flowing from the pencil in my hand onto the paper, as I sketch layers of shapes and textures, as I observe and study what is before me.  Early each morning before weaving, I will sit in silence and wait.  Invariably, ideas emerge about use of color mix choices in yarn bundles, and technical decisions for what needs to happen next at the loom.

 On occasion, Phyllis and I would talk about how the living silence, that we often experience during unprogrammed silent Quaker Meeting for Worship, also informs our creative process and ultimately our work.  She wrote the following:

“When I write, when I think a poem is ready to come, I sit still for hours waiting for it to gather slowly and speak to me.  After the waiting in silence comes the writing, which I love.  I love figuring out which words sound truest and best.  I love how they fit into a line or a sentence or a phrase.  I love their weight.  I love all they assemble of thought or feeling, what they remind me of apart from what I have chosen to say.  I love how they are spelled and where they came from. I love working out in lines their music, which is for me very securely based on the old fashioned metrics I learned before I grew up.  I love fitting everything together, and I love finding out what the poem says when at last it feels right.  Whatever my poems mean in particular, they begin and end as celebration of the world entrusted to me by my life.  Poetry—my own and that of others—helps me to understand how things are for me and to live more peaceably with what I have.  It is my common prayer.”

Phyllis Hoge Thompson November 15, 1926 – August 26, 2018


The Ghosts of Who We Were  by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

The Ghosts of Who We Were by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

Books by Phyllis Hoge Thompson:

Artichoke and Other Poems

The Creation Frame

The Serpent of the White Rose

What the Land Gave

The Ghosts of Who We Were

A Field of Poetry

Letters From Jian Hui and Other Poems

The Painted Clock:  A Memoir of a New Mexico Ghost Town Bride

Anthologies including Phyllis Hoge Thompson:

Only Morning in Her Shoes:  Poems About Old Women

Edited by Leatrice Lifshitz

The Spirit That Wants Me:  A New Mexico Anthology

            Edited by Dianne Duff, Jill Kiefer, Michelle Miller

PhyllisHoge_Book_OnlyMorningInHerShoes.jpg
PhyllisHoge_Book_TheSpiritThatWantsMe.jpg

 

Personal Reflections on Hidden Tapestry by Debra Dean

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I first learned about Debra Dean’s new book, Hidden Tapestry:  Jan Yoors, His Two Wives and the War That Made Them One when initially contacted by publicist, Jessica Jonap, about the possibility of reviewing it on my blog.  I found it to be an interesting read, well researched, and a good addition to the growing documentation about the Tapestry Art Movement beginnings here in the United States.  It is also quite a story of Jan Yoors life, his role in the Resistance of World War II, his wives, Annabert van Wettum and Marianne Citroen, and their lives together in Greenwich Village, New York City during the 1950’s - 1970’s.

I was disappointed that there were no large, full color images of any of the Jan Yoors tapestries, which in turn lead me to search out where I could see more of his work.  The first version of Carol K. Russell’s Tapestry Handbook (Published by Lark Books, 1990) has one image of “New York Skyline" (p. 60).  A recently published catalog is available here,  plus a few links to some images:  Exhibitions  and  Collections.

Marianne and Annabert Yoors with tapestries in the Forty-seventh Street studio.          Photo courtesy of Debra Dean and Yoors Family Archives

Marianne and Annabert Yoors with tapestries in the Forty-seventh Street studio.          Photo courtesy of Debra Dean and Yoors Family Archives

I was especially interested to learn more about the beginnings of Paternayan yarn here in the States, with two brothers, Harry and Karinig Paternaya, who were sole survivors from their village in Turkey of the 1915 Armenian genocide. After walking to Palestine, they eventually ended up in New York City and started a business that utilized their knowledge of rugs: importing and dying quality Persian wool yarns. 

By the time I started working with the crewel weight version of these yarns in the 1989, JCA Corporation in Maine was producing both the Persian weight (three strands plied together) plus a crewel weight (thinner strands) with separate palette of over 250 colors. A mainstay yarn for many tapestry weavers in the United States, it was a devastating blow when JCA shut down all production of Paternayan yarn and closed their business in May of 2012. We were forced to find other yarns. Fleur de Paris began production of its new Anahera line.  In 2016 the Paternayan Persian weight became available again, but the crewel weight can only be found when weavers die and their studio inventory is sold.

Debra Dean wrote good descriptions of what was required in the production of Jan Yoors’ tapestries: the building of the 15-plus-foot vertical loom, the preparation of the cartoon, the warping of the loom, and the hundreds of hours required for sitting at the loom and weaving.  The fact that Jan, Annabert, and Marianne were all self-taught speaks volumes for how the act of weaving can be assessable to those who have the patience for it.  Jan Yoors ultimately did not, so relied on his wives to produce his tapestries, which at the beginning were woven in the spirit of collaboration, but less so in later years.

Marianne and Annabert Yoors weaving.  Photo courtesy of Debra Dean and the Yoors Family Archives.

Marianne and Annabert Yoors weaving.  Photo courtesy of Debra Dean and the Yoors Family Archives.

In Hidden Tapestry, however there are some unfortunate errors from the tapestry weaving perspective that need to be corrected, for the sake of accuracy. Jean Lurçat’s last name. the cédille accent below the c is missing.  Probably a typo, but this changes the pronunciation from what it should be --“Lursah”-- to “Lurkah.”  Referring to the number of “stitches” per inch is more appropriate for needlepoint or embroidery, not hand woven tapestry, where the coarseness or fineness of the weave is described in terms of warp ends per inch, the grain—or bead--of the fabric, or la portée in French tapestry.  Indeed, 3 ends per inch of the Yoors tapestries is quite coarse, giving a more textural and chunky quality to the woven surface, compared to French and Flemish tapestries from the Medieval and Renaissance periods averaging around 24 warp ends per inch, which makes for a smoother woven surface.

Most disturbing is the perpetuation of the myth that the terms “high warp” and “low warp” also refer to a “high” and “low” quality of weaving based on the use of the vertical or horizontal loom and the likelihood of making mistakes while weaving from the back vs. weaving from the front of the tapestry, as Debra Dean states on page 179.  This myth has been around for years, and its origins and veracity are very debatable. It is also debatable which style of loom is older, as the earliest found illustration dates around 5000 B.C. of a horizontal ground loom from Badari.  (A similar loom is still in use today by Bedoin nomads).

For the record, what does go into the “gold standard” for quality of a tapestry involves the coarseness and fineness of the weave, the integrity of the cloth (sound woven structure), types of yarns used (silk, cotton, wool, linen, strands of gold or metallic threads, etc.), the compatibility of the design to the language of the loom, the skills of the weaver(s) and the vision of the artist. All of this can be achieved on either the vertical or horizontal loom.

I have woven on both haute lice (high warp or vertical) and basse lice (low warp or horizontal) looms. While some of the vertical looms I have used have had foot treadles for changing sheds. I prefer to use a basse lice loom for my larger format tapestries. It does entail weaving from the back of the tapestry, as well as from the side of the design (instead of bottom to top). The loom bench is angled for proper alignment of the back, and my feet can rest easily on the foot treadles, leaving my hands and my concentration totally focused on the weaving process. Weaving horizontally also is ergonomically better for my wrists. I occasionally use a mirror while I work, to check an area before moving on.  One can catch mistakes by simply paying attention, regardless of whether one is weaving from the front or the back. Each time I am ready to advance the warp, I will pull back the cartoon and crawl beneath the loom to look what I have just woven.  I now also use this as an opportunity to photograph the tapestry’s progress for later viewing on my computer screen.

Other reasons for working from the back of the tapestry entail keeping the face of the tapestry pristine and smooth, with no possibility of making the wool weft fuzzy from brushing against it while weaving.  Weaving from the back can be more efficient when ending and beginning new colors, and when using specific shading or interlocking techniques. When a tapestry is hung from the side, or by the wefts, the light reflects differently off of the grain of the fabric and the woven image.

Regardless of whether one weaves from the back or the front, when a mural-sized tapestry is hung sideways, by the weft, it can better support the tremendous weight of these works.  When such a tapestry is hung warp-wise, the weight and gravity over the decades and centuries will cause the weft to shift downwards and expose the warps, thus weakening the structure of the tapestry cloth.

Tapestry weaving does require paying close attention to detail, and hundreds of hours, as Debra Dean so aptly describes. My tapestry, The Veils of Time, woven at 10 ends per inch and measuring 50” x 60, ” took about 1,200 hours from the designing stage to the warping of the loom, through the weaving, finishing, and preparing it for mounting and hanging.  This was all done over the course of twenty-two months, around my teaching schedule and the demands of daily living.

The Veils of Time   Aubusson-style hand woven tapestry  50" x 60"                                         © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley     Photo Credit:   Elizabeth J. Buckley

The Veils of Time  Aubusson-style hand woven tapestry  50" x 60"                                       © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley     Photo Credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

The “high stakes gamble” (p.184) of time, money, and resources involved in weaving large-scale, un-commissioned tapestries that the Yoors experienced in the 1950’s continues to be true for tapestry artists today. Just as public expectations, means and misunderstanding around the pricing of a one-of-a-kind hand woven tapestry that the Yoors encountered over 60 years ago still remain, despite the more recent historical exhibitions mounted at venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, in addition to the contemporary, juried biennials by the American Tapestry Alliance, and numerous regional and national exhibitions showcasing the art form of tapestry.

Tapestry in the United States continues to grow as an art movement.  At the time of Jan Yoors death at the age of 55 in November of 1977, on the west coast Jean Pierre Larochette was setting up the San Francisco Tapestry workshop.  Coming from a family of Aubusson tapestry weavers who moved to Argentina in the 1930’s, Jean Pierre also had helped Jean Lurçat set up the atelier connected to the Nazareth, Israel Tapestry School after World War II ended.  There is where he met his future wife, Yael Lurie, and together they have worked collaboratively over the years, creating many tapestries, mostly for commissions.

Also during the 1970’s, New York based artist, Gloria F. Ross, was increasing her role as “tapestry éditeur” coordinating American painters and other visual artists, cartooniers (specialists in adapting images for tapestry weaving), dyers, weavers, galleries and their clients in the production of modern tapestries.  She worked with ateliers (tapestry workshops/studios) in Scotland, Aubusson and Feletin, France, and later with Navajo weavers here in the United States.

In the Midwest, Muriel Nezhnie Helfman was designing and weaving tapestries for public buildings in St. Louis, Missouri beginning in the mid-1960s.  In the Southwest, many generations of Pueblo and Navajo weavers had been creating tapestry rugs and chief’s blankets for trade since the 1700’s, in addition to the Saltillo-style blankets produced by Spanish weavers in the Rio Grande Valley from the 19th century forward.

Now in 2018, the Tapestry Art Movement in North America continues to gain momentum, as evidenced by over 870 members of the American Tapestry Alliance, the majority of whom both design and weave their works. We also now have the opportunity to know more about Jan Yoors’ part through Debra Dean’s book, Hidden Tapestry:  Jan Yoors, His Two Wives and the War That Made Them One.  Northwestern University Press, April 15, 2018.   ISBN-13: 978-0810136830

**********

References:

Eric Broudy, The Book of Looms:  A History of the Handloom from Ancient Times to the Present, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1979, p.14.

Ann Lane Hedlund, Gloria F. Ross and Modern Tapestry, Yale University Press, 2010.

Kate Peck Kent, Navajo Weaving: Three Centuries of Change, School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM, 1985.

Evelyn Bingham Prosser “Weaving in San Francisco Part I,” The Weavers’ Journal, Vol. VI, No. 2, Fall 1981, pp.44 – 47.

Evelyn Bingham Prosser, “Weaving in San Francisco Part II,” The Weavers’ Journal, Vol VI, No. 3, Winter 1981 – 82, pp.50 – 53.

Carol K. Russell, The Tapestry Handbook, Lark Books, 1990, p. 60.

Deborah Slater, “Tapestries of Muriel Nezhnie Helfman,” Handweaver & Craftsman, Vol. 23, No. 5, September/October 1972, pp.43 – 45.

Honoring Navajo Master Weavers

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This year during Women’s History month, I especially celebrate and give gratitude for the generations of master Navajo women weavers, who’s work is so eloquently featured in the book:

Navajo Textiles:  The Crane Collection at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  Authored by Laurie D. Webster, Louise I. Stiver, D.Y. Begay, and Lynda Teller Pete, plus Ann Lane Hedlund, who wrote the introduction. 

I first saw this book at the Albuquerque Public Library in their “New Arrivals” section.  The cover alone grabbed my attention and I had to pick it up.  As I spent time gazing at the pictures, reading different chapters, I came away profoundly moved.

The Preface begins with:

This book began as a simple invitation to write a catolog about the Navajo textile collection at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) and grew into a collaboration and friendship among Navajo and Anglo textile scholars.  The four of us share the love of Navajo textiles, and two of us grew up weaving them.  We each contributed different expertise and knowledge and learned from each other in the process.  We also had lots of fun.

In the Foreword Stephen E. Nash, Chip Colwell, and Melissa Bechhoefer describe the response upon first viewing of the works in person:

One by one, staff unrolled the 130 (out of 380) selected textiles.  Few had ever seen many of the weavings—some were so stunning as to leave even the experts momentarily speechless.  Then, each scholar began to share her viewpoint.  Each perspective enriched the others—weaving together the strands of technique, history, culture, place, and personal experience.

In addition to its many stunningly beautiful textiles, this book is also an eloquent glimpse into history, culture, and the multifaceted role of Navajo textiles across generations. Each author’s essays and narratives, as well as the commentary and descriptions accompanying each textile, is a full and generous sharing of personal, historical, and scholarly perspectives. The power of this collaboration speaks so well for how textiles can bring us together and connect us, transcending boundaries that often divide us. This is a must read and must have for one’s library.

 

 

 

The Tapestry Cartoon as Road Map

A tapestry cartoon becomes a “you are here” guide, a road map for the overall design that helps me to keep track of where I am while weaving.  This is especially helpful when I am working on a large format piece in the traditional manner of Aubusson tapestry, which entails weaving from the back as well as with the design turned sideways.

I use Dura-lar Matte (comes in 25" x 40" sheets, 0.005 weight), a type of opaque velum that is strong enough to withstand sewing without tearing and works well with black permanent markers, in that their lines are clear and do not smear or bleed.  With my drawing flat on a table, I place the Dura-lar on top, and trace an outline of the curves and shapes in my design, using a combination of solid and dashed lines with fine and ultra fine point markers.

To ready the warp for weaving, I first weave a heading out of the warp thread, which is either 12/9 or 12/12 cotton seine twine. I then use my awl to even the spacing in the warps.  It is critical that the spacing between the warp threads is the same all across the width of the warp. This establishes the foundation of a consistently woven, sound cloth.  Next, I put in a row of twining to hold the spacing in place, as well as to insure that the weaving will not unravel when the tapestry is done and removed from the loom.

Now I am ready to weave the hem of about 3/4 - 1 inch for the tapestry itself.  Rather than use one bobbin and weave all the way across, I divide up the width into multiple sections--anywhere from 6 to 8, depending on if I am weaving the full 60-inch width.  This helps to maintain the full weaving width and prevents the hem from drawing in. 

Heading, hem, sewn cartoon on my  basse-lice  loom © 2015 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Heading, hem, sewn cartoon on my basse-lice loom © 2015 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Now, I am ready to sew on the cartoon.   I use clothes pins to clip and anchor the cartoon square to the warp, and a curved upholstery needle of quilting weight thread to sew large running, or basting, stitches across the entire width of the woven hem.

My basse-lice loom has a built in cartoon tray on which the upper part of the cartoon rests. 

Cartoon tray on  basse-lice  loom, with the already woven area of cartoon rolled up next to front beam. © 2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Cartoon tray on basse-lice loom, with the already woven area of cartoon rolled up next to front beam. © 2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

For my counter-balance rug loom, I make a support for the cartoon out of lease sticks, tied to the castle of the floor loom, and anchored to the front beam with a heavy chord.  For this, I need a hole in each lease stick at about the width of the front beam. (A power drill comes in handy for creating holes in the right place).  I do not use the loom's beater, as I weave by building shapes, rather than row-at-a-time.

Cartoon support with lease sticks on counter balance rug loom. Note how the cartoon is rolled near the front beam, as well as near the beater. © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Cartoon support with lease sticks on counter balance rug loom. Note how the cartoon is rolled near the front beam, as well as near the beater. © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

When advancing the warp, it is important that the cartoon does not roll around the front beam along with the completed weaving, as this will cause it creep and shift.  Before advancing, I stitch the cartoon to the weaving about an inch below the fell line, again using clothes pins to anchor the upper part of the cartoon square to the warp. After the new row of stitching isin place,  I remove the first stitching at the very beginning.   As I advance the woven area around the front beam, the beginning part of the cartoon separates away, which I later roll up and hold with clips.  It looks a bit like a scroll.

There are many sections of the cartoon where I am filling in the details of the design as I weave, without having drawn it out precisely before hand.  Usually I do not yet know all the details until I am weaving each area.  The tapestry talks to me a lot during the weaving process about what needs to happen next, which colors to transition to, which techniques to use for specific effects.  Since I tend to work in layers of images, I also am keeping track of which image layer is in front, and what is receding.  I find that I must engage in clear and attentive listening to what the tapestry is saying, while the cartoon guides me with the overall design. 

When the weaving gets sluggish, or I cannot figure out exactly what I need to do next, I know it is time to take a break, step away from the loom, so that I can return later and look with fresh eyes.  Then I can see what needs to happen next, and the weaving proceeds more smoothly once again.

 

Questioning Limits: Explorations in Tapestry

December 16, 2016 - January 6, 2017, featuring works by:  Ann Blankenship, Elizabeth Buckley, Mary Rawcliffe Colton, Cindy Dworzak, Linda Giesen, Naomi Julian, Dan Klinglesmith, Vivian Skadron, Jaye Whorton,  and Nancy Wohlenberg.

Opening Reception:  Friday, December 16th 5:00 - 8:00 pm

Elizabeth Buckley  Ocean Memory  Ann Blankenship  Petrichor

Elizabeth Buckley Ocean Memory Ann Blankenship Petrichor

The idea for this show began with an invitation to the Tapestry Artists of Las Aranas Spinners and Weavers Guild from University of New Mexico College of Fine Arts' Dean, Kymberly Pinder.  Mary Rawcliffe Colton spearheaded the idea of pushing the limits of our comfort zones in tapestry, whether it be with conceptual or experimental work or with design and technical challenges.  The venue space, located at the end of a six-story parking garage, was also a challenge with its main 70 foot long rectangular room of 11 foot walls,  with a small entrance area on the north end and a small 14 foot alcove at the south end.

North end of west wall; Mary Rawcliffe Colton  Ghost Bike Memorial , Elizabeth Buckley  Dialogues Through the Veil ; Entry area north wall: Cindy Dworzak  Circles ; Elizabeth Buckley  Ocean Memory

North end of west wall; Mary Rawcliffe Colton Ghost Bike Memorial, Elizabeth Buckley Dialogues Through the Veil; Entry area north wall: Cindy Dworzak Circles; Elizabeth Buckley Ocean Memory

Juried and curated by Mary Colton and Nancy Wohlenberg, with input from gallery director,  Lara Goldmann, Questioning Limits ultimately became an opportunity for each of the ten exhibiting tapestry artists not only to create new tapestries,  but also to show multiple pieces from their body of work. 

Entry South Post: Jaye Whorton  Jaguar vs. Blood Moon ; West wall continued: Mary Rawcliffe Colton  Roadsides Bloom Plastic , Ann Blankenship  Sundance with Alisha , Naomi Julian  Myriad Pathways

Entry South Post: Jaye Whorton Jaguar vs. Blood Moon; West wall continued: Mary Rawcliffe Colton Roadsides Bloom Plastic, Ann Blankenship Sundance with Alisha, Naomi Julian Myriad Pathways

Mary Rawcliffe Colton's Roadsides Bloom Plastic uses strips of plastic bags on ramie warp, Ghiordes knots.  Ann Blankenship's Sundance with Alisha incorporates wire, prayer ties, and wool.

Elizabeth Buckley  Crane  and  Fossil, Feather and Light ; Ann Blankenship  N-1: Dumpster Diving  and  Invasive Species , Naomi Julian  Creation , Ann Blankenship  N-1: Turning Sixty

Elizabeth Buckley Crane and Fossil, Feather and Light; Ann Blankenship N-1: Dumpster Diving and Invasive Species, Naomi Julian Creation, Ann Blankenship N-1: Turning Sixty

Ann Blankenship found piles of slides in a dumpster, which became integral to her two pieces:  N-1:  Dumpster Diving and N-1:  Turning Sixty (the sculpture on the floor)

Elizabeth Buckley  Fossil, Feather, and Light ; Ann Blankenship  N-1: Dumpster Diving , Ann Blankenship  Invasive Species

Elizabeth Buckley Fossil, Feather, and Light; Ann Blankenship N-1: Dumpster Diving, Ann Blankenship Invasive Species

Ann Blankenship's Invasive Species incorporates wire, wood and wool. 

Middle West Wall: Dan Klingelsmith  Plieades,  Elizabeth Buckley  Crane  and  Fossil, Feather and Light ; Ann Blankenship  N-1: Dumpster Diving  and Invasive Species, Naomi Julian  Creation ; Ann Blankenship  N-1 :Turning Sixty

Middle West Wall: Dan Klingelsmith Plieades, Elizabeth Buckley Crane and Fossil, Feather and Light; Ann Blankenship N-1: Dumpster Diving and Invasive Species, Naomi Julian Creation; Ann Blankenship N-1 :Turning Sixty

Elizabeth Buckley  Crane copyright 2016

Elizabeth Buckley Crane copyright 2016

Elizabeth Buckley wove Crane off-loom, utilizing tapestry, macramé, and warp-faced finger weaving so that she could be free to manipulate, fold, knot, or weave the threads and woven areas.  "Some of the threads served as warp for awhile, then weft.  There was no tension on the warp, although I did tape it down to keep it orderly.  I improvised a lot, breaking many rules!"

Mary Rawcliffe Colton  Lamplight Mosque , Cindy Dworzak  Matrix , Dan Klinglesmith Constellations series:  Orion, Gemini, Winter, Summer, Plieades

Mary Rawcliffe Colton Lamplight Mosque, Cindy Dworzak Matrix, Dan Klinglesmith Constellations series: Orion, Gemini, Winter, Summer, Plieades

South Wall:

LInda Giesen  Desert Dunes  and  Shifting Sands;  Ann Blankenship  Route 66

LInda Giesen Desert Dunes and Shifting Sands; Ann Blankenship Route 66

East Wall:

Linda Giesen  Wired--the Inside and Outside of Anxiety , Naomi Julian  Enchanted Mesa,  Vivian Skadron  Sunset Over Albuquerque , Nancy Wohlenberg  Rift Valley Center Place I and II ;  Blue Tree  ; Naomi Julian  Stormy Skies Over Ranchos de Taos,  Jaye Whorton  A Tip of the Hat to Ms. O'Keeffe

Linda Giesen Wired--the Inside and Outside of Anxiety, Naomi Julian Enchanted Mesa, Vivian Skadron Sunset Over Albuquerque, Nancy Wohlenberg Rift Valley Center Place I and II; Blue Tree ; Naomi Julian Stormy Skies Over Ranchos de Taos, Jaye Whorton A Tip of the Hat to Ms. O'Keeffe

Linda Giesen  Wired--The Inside and Outside of Anxiety  photo credit: Nancy Wohlenberg

Linda Giesen Wired--The Inside and Outside of Anxiety photo credit: Nancy Wohlenberg

Alcove north wall:

Elizabeth Buckley  Portal,  Jaye Whorton  Wedge Weave I,  Mary Rawcliffe Colton  Bumps in the Road,  Jaye Whorton  Kaotic Klown ; pedestal: Ann Blankenship  Four Directions   Photo credit: Nancy Wohlenberg

Elizabeth Buckley Portal, Jaye Whorton Wedge Weave I, Mary Rawcliffe Colton Bumps in the Road, Jaye Whorton Kaotic Klown; pedestal: Ann Blankenship Four Directions

Photo credit: Nancy Wohlenberg

Mary Rawcliffe Colton's Bumps in the Road incorporates pulled warp with use of smaller and smaller wefts to reduce the weaving width from 5 to 1.5 inches.  In Ann Blankenship's Four Directions, the metal cube is the loom.

Alcove east wall:

pedestal: Ann Blankenship  Four Directions , Nancy Wohlenberg  Five Sisters Song Series: Hot Flow, New Earth, Soil;  Mary Rawcliffe Colton  Primroses , Nancy Wohlenberg  Substraction: Flow  and  Tangledoodle  , Dan Klinglesmith  Pathway   photo credit: Nancy Wohlenberg

pedestal: Ann Blankenship Four Directions, Nancy Wohlenberg Five Sisters Song Series: Hot Flow, New Earth, Soil; Mary Rawcliffe Colton Primroses, Nancy Wohlenberg Substraction: Flow and Tangledoodle , Dan Klinglesmith Pathway

photo credit: Nancy Wohlenberg

QuestioningLimitsShowPoster.jpg

If you cannot make it to the opening or closing receptions, the gallery is open on Wednesdays and Fridays 10:00 am - 6:00 pm.


Special thanks to Nancy Wohlenberg for use of her photos, as well as for her photo-editing skills on my images.  Photo credits:  Elizabeth Buckley, unless otherwise noted.

Drawing As Pathway

 Drawing for  Petroglyph and Prairie  tapestry   © 2012 Elizabeth J. Buckley  

 Drawing for Petroglyph and Prairie tapestry © 2012 Elizabeth J. Buckley 

I teach drawing to many adults who have had discouraging experiences in previous art classes, often in their youth.  It takes courage for many to even sign up, and invariably they tell me that what helped them to decide to register was the phrase:  "there is no such thing as an awful line” in my course description.  Whether my classroom is in my studio, at Ghost Ranch during the July Festival of the Arts, or in conjunction with a tapestry design workshop, many arrive with the unease of being outside their comfort zone, hoping to have a better relationship with drawing.

Feather  drawing by Laura Nelson 2013  Drawing as Meditation  class at Ghost Ranch

Feather drawing by Laura Nelson 2013 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

Leaf  drawing by Emily Flores 2014  Drawing as Meditation  class at Ghost Ranch

Leaf drawing by Emily Flores 2014 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

We begin by getting acquainted with the pencil as a tool, and all the many lines and marks that can be made with it.  We do warm-ups with the pencil, for just as a dancer or a singer must warm up and stretch the body or vocal chords, so too must the artist warm up the drawing muscles and neurological connections between the hand, arm, eye, and brain.  We play, explore, experiment, and try new things. Then, one-by-one, each student settles into the act of hands with pencil creating marks on paper, following and describing what the eye observes.  A quiet concentration comes over the room, and I know that the deeper component of drawing is at work.

Drawing is about engaging with the world and truly seeing the shapes, textures, patterns of light and shadow in front of us.   The more we focus on a blade of grass, a leaf, or a tree, the more we can understand through observation the essence of leaf, tree, or cloud.  We connect in a deeper way, through the pencil in the hand and the focused eye and mind.  We enter into the eternal moment.

Moonscape  drawing by Jan Boydstun 2014  Drawing as Meditation  class at Ghost Ranch

Moonscape drawing by Jan Boydstun 2014 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

Once my students get this component of drawing, it changes how they see and engage with the world.  They have found a pathway to a deeper connection with what they observe, and it helps them to be more fully present. For some, it becomes part of their daily journaling practice.  For others, it is a way to begin expressing something that has no words. 

Tree and Mesa  drawing by Marie Dixon 2013  Drawing as Meditation  class at Ghost Ranch

Tree and Mesa drawing by Marie Dixon 2013 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

For my tapestry students, they discover that they can see and subsequently better understand the connection with shape, line, form and value (the degree of lightness and darkness), and how these can translate to tapestry technique.  The mantra becomes:  “If I were to weave this, what techniques would I use to describe the essence of this?” 

Marie Dixon was in the 2013 Drawing as Meditation:  Sharpening the Eye to See  class at Ghost Ranch.  Already an accomplished watercolor painter, she kept a journal of each class day.  Several months later, Marie shared this with me:

As I followed along each day during the “ Drawing as Meditation,” I conscientiously took notes and posted samples of my work in my journal. I wanted the notes and artwork to remind me of the special instruction and mood created by the daily exercises designed by Elizabeth Buckley. I had my favorites like the tearing paper landscapes, the movement and drawing day, and making my marks to show my mood. I thought to myself, I wanted to remember each day and someday share with others.
Coming back to Sacramento, I had a neighbor who was very sick with cancer and her daughter had asked her to draw her feelings. She was intimidated by the process so I brought the art supplies over and my journal from the class and took a few hours to explain to her that drawing and painting can be very meditative and she had nothing to fear. Each of the exercises could be easily done by someone who had never drawn or painted.
 The drawing as meditation transported my friend from the weight of her illness, allowing her to get in touch with her feelings in a way that was freeing rather than frightening. My neighbor was successful and very grateful and has continued to use my journal. This is a very peaceful approach to art where everyone is successful in their own way.
2015  Drawing as Meditation  class field trip, Ghost Ranch, NM   photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley

2015 Drawing as Meditation class field trip, Ghost Ranch, NM   photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley

Drawing truly can be accessible to everyone.  With pencil and paper, one can enter a pathway into the pulse of life. 


Appreciation to Marie Dixon, Jan Boydstun, Emily Flores, and Laura Nelson for their permission to use their images and words in this post.


My Mother Tongue is Tapestry

Elizabeth Buckley's hands weaving photo credit: Lany Eila

Elizabeth Buckley's hands weaving photo credit: Lany Eila

When I sit at the loom, absorbed in the weaving growing before me, all words fall away, and I am in my mother tongue.  Tapestry is like breathing for me:  automatic, and the air that sustains me.

My college French teacher, Marguerite Hessini, spoke of la langue maternelle, one’s mother tongue, the language one first speaks and the language one automatically uses to articulate one’s thoughts. She, herself, grew up speaking three languages: Alsacian, French, and German, then subsequently learned and became fluent in English, Arabic, and Spanish.  She later completed her doctorate in Linguistics and spent one summer living in the desert, assisting a Southwest Native American culture in documenting their mother tongue and in developing educational materials written in this language.

For me, the term, la langue maternelle, goes beyond the verbal linguistic realm to that of hand woven tapestry, and the language of the loom that I was well-versed in by the age of 10. It made so much sense to me, and I loved how my hands could make vertical and horizontal lines, hills, valleys, angles, and shapes in the warp.  For me, la langue maternelle of tapestry also literally did come from my mother, Esther J. Kolling.

As I developed my verbal language skills in English as my primary language, and in French as my secondary language, my eyes and hands also were becoming fluent in the non-verbal languages of woven structures and color.  In many ways, the language of the loom became my mother tongue, as my initial thoughts tend to come as images, colors, textures and techniques before I translate them into words. I automatically think in this non-verbal language, and my hands often know things before I have the words for them.

Book Cover

Book Cover

I recently came across the term, mother tongue, again in the book written by K. David Harrison, entitled: The Last Speakers:  The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages. Here he describes how:

Everyone values their mother tongue, and few people would be willing to part with it. (p.13) ...language not just as a way of speaking or a domain of cognition. It is an entire conceptual universe of thought, compactly and efficiently encoded into words. (pp. 55-56)

In the case of tapestry, the conceptual universe of thought is encoded in thread and technique.

One of the amazing things about tapestry is its universality, across time, cultures, and how it transcends words.  We look at a tapestry, regardless of where or when it was made, and can read it, study the technique vocabulary, and marvel at what is said in this language of discontinuous wefts.

Harrison goes on to say that:

...language’s proliferation doesn’t stop with just having a word for something. Once in a lexicon, the “mental dictionary,” a named concept takes on a life of its own. It contributes to organizing thought and perception. We have no idea how deep this effect goes…. how deeply (or shallowly) language may influence thought and perception. (pp. 47 – 49)

Book cover of Huari and Inca textiles, a Dover publication

Book cover of Huari and Inca textiles, a Dover publication

I am reminded of how Susan Martin Maffei has described the Huari culture of pre-Inca Peru, where everyone—children, adults, men, and women—was expected to participate in the various phases of tapestry weaving; of how tapestry was the language, the form of currency, as well as served to define social status. The dead were wrapped in up to 20 layers of tapestry fabric, to assist in the realm of the after life.  What would it have been like to live in such a cultural environment!

Book cover

Book cover

In K. David Harrison’s book:  When Languages Die:  The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge, he takes an in depth look at what we lose when languages vanish. To put it succinctly: 

Language disappearance is an erosion or extinction of ideas, of ways of knowing, and ways of talking about the world and the human experience. p. 7

Again, I relate this to tapestry knowledge, since it has been vulnerable to disappearing over the centuries.  Here are a couple of examples in my lifetime:

The week of November 17, 1991, the French government announced its decision to uproot and disperse Les Gobelins Tapestry Manufacture from Paris, including:  Gobelins vertical warp tapestry weaving, Savonnerie rug weaving studios, in-house and foreign student training programs for both studios, the dyeing studios, and the restoration studios for rugs, tapestries, and furniture (IFROA, the French Institute for the Restoration of works of Art).  Weavers not willing to relocate would have to retrain for other work.  Micala Sidore wrote a page report about this in the December 1991 newsletter of the International Tapestry Network (ITNET).   The global community—tapestry weavers, museum curators, textile conservators, citizens, and countless others-- responded by sending air mail letters and postcards of protest. (This was before we had the internet).  The world outcry was large enough that on January 29. 1992 the Minister of Culture, reversed this proposed plan, although it did terminate the training and education program at Gobelins, shifting students to the Aubusson Ecole National des Beaux Arts and also moved the restoration studios to Aubusson.

Book cover:  The Song of the World Tapestries  Angers, France

Book cover: The Song of the World Tapestries Angers, France

In addition to writing my letter of protest, I also knew that I needed to go to Aubusson to learn what had not yet been documented, before it vanished.  In the case of the atelier Tabard, which wove the bulk of Jean Lurçat’s Chant du Monde (Song of the World), it was too late.  Their technical knowledge died with the death of the last tapestry weaver of that family.

But it was not too late with Gisèle Brivet, a fourth-generation tapestry weaver who worked collaboratively with her husband, Henri, who also had recently retired from teaching tapestry design at the Aubusson Ecole National des Beaux Arts (which is now closed and is being converted into a tapestry museum, renamed Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson).  No one in their family was interested in learning tapestry, so they went against the centuries-old atelier tradition of never sharing tapestry secrets outside the family, to pass on some of their love, process, and technical skills to me and two other weavers from the United States.  I wish I could have stayed longer, to learn more.

In June of 2005, Tapestry Weavers West celebrated its 20th anniversary with a symposium:   Tradition in Motion:  New Forms, Attitudes and Approaches to Tapestry.  Here Phillipe Playe, director of the Beauvais Tapestry Museum and Mobilier National in France, announced that their six-year training program was no longer going to accept new students as they could no longer guarantee jobs for its graduates.  He suggested that like the grape growers in California and in France helped each other out in times of drought, perhaps the same could be done in tapestry as well, with the weavers here in the United States carrying on the knowledge.  Phillipe Playe taught two workshops in the United States with Jean Pierre Larochette and Yael Lurie to textile conservators, tapestry teachers and artists, myself included.

A number of us who studied with these and other tapestry masters now teach and pass on this knowledge. Many of us do so as itinerant instructors at our studios or retreat centers, through weaving guilds or arts centers.  Over these past decades, most university institutions in the United States have eliminated their fiber arts programs, some of which did include hand woven tapestry.  Many of us tapestry artists are in the second half of our life spans, producing work that few art galleries are willing to represent because there are no guarantees of sales.

We live in an era that embraces high-speed internet, computer technology, and the encyclopedic form of knowledge in mainstreamed, dominant languages.  It is ironic that with all of this information at our finger tips, we also are facing the extinction in our lifetime of over 500 oral human languages, and all of their accompanying vocabulary, thought systems, cultural and environmental knowledge. This is the world of the coming generations, who’s fingers are trained to text message and to type on keyboards, and who may or may not have interest in learning that there is so much more one can do with one’s hands. 

Is the language of tapestry and the knowledge of weaverly hands going to survive?

I have great hope that it will.  Over and over again, I see where one person can and does make a difference, be it through teaching, curating exhibitions, making videos, writing and publishing books, establishing organizations and study groups, building websites, and creating new works in tapestry.  I am doing my part, as are so many others.  We each do make a difference.

detail of weaving process©2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

detail of weaving process©2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

Esther J. Kolling, Fiber Artist

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, I write of Esther J. Kolling.  It is time to begin telling her story…

As an artist, you have to find what speaks to you.                              --Esther J. Kolling

Fiber Artist, Esther J. Kolling, had an infinitely curious mind that lead her to create works ranging in techniques from macramé, sprang, and basketry, to ikat, double weave, complex weave-structures, inlay, and tapestry. During the 1970’s – 1980’s her award-winning works were exhibited nationally at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City and at the Denver Art Museum, as well as regionally at Midwest Weavers Conferences and Kansas Artist Craftsman.   Esther Kolling was also my mother.

When I was about 3 years old and Esther Kolling was in her late 30’s, she discovered her artistic leanings through ceramics, mosaic, drawing and painting classes that she took at the local college.  During the height of the 1960’s, she pursued her masters degree in art education over the course of six summers at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and at the end of each summer, she transitioned back to her life in small town Kansas.

How difficult it must have been to go from the spirit of the 60’s in full swing, classes that stretched her, and studio space to work in to none of that.  There was no separate room available for her to work on art in our 800 square foot home totaling five rooms: the kitchen, living room, bathroom, my parent’s bedroom, and the bedroom my older sister and I shared. 

Esther often did art on the kitchen table or at the living room desk during the day while my sister and I were at school, or late at night, after everyone had gone to bed. I remember going to sleep to the sound of the brayer squeaking while she made wood block prints.  She also kept taking art classes at the local college, to have access to studio space, and stay artistically active in between summers.

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    “pre-Cambrian Forms”   33” x 9"    ©1972 Esther J. Kolling,   Macramé using   wool/mohair blend, horsehair, wooden sticks

“pre-Cambrian Forms”   33” x 9"  ©1972 Esther J. Kolling, Macramé using wool/mohair blend, horsehair, wooden sticks

Toward the end of her degree, she joined the Wichita Weaving Guild.  There she discovered her love of fiber:  macramé, sprang, vegetal dyes, spinning, weaving, and later complex weave structures, ikat, and tapestry. Soon I was joining her in slow drives along country roads, helping to collect dye plants growing along the ditches and on hillsides. The house began taking on the peculiar odors of dye bathes out of mullen, coreopsis, sedges, walnut hules, onion skins, and marigolds. Evenings would find her carding and spinning wool. 

 

She made a place for her 48” width Macomber loom after measuring an area on the edge of the living room that bordered the kitchen. She removed a chair and shifted over a plant stand.  Not a room of her own, in the sense of Virginia Woolf, but an area for her to work, with light from the west picture window.

 

I was fascinated by watching her weave, and wanted to learn.  She showed me how to warp up a cardboard loom and the basics of over and under, gave me an assortment of yarns and a large needle, then left me to explore on my own.  When I finished that weaving, she put together a frame loom out of canvas stretchers for me.  I was all of ten years old, and I felt a kinship, a contentment when weaving tapestry that I never before had experienced. I loved how my hands could make hills, valleys, angles, and shapes in the warp.   As my mother learned new techniques, so did I.  By the time I was in my early teens, I was her teacher’s assistant in the community continuing education classes she taught at the local art center. Together we taught macramé and non-loom techniques, as well as beginning weaving.

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     “Om”  28” x 13.5”   ©1986 Esther J. Kolling,   ikat of linen 30 epi     

 “Om”  28” x 13.5” ©1986 Esther J. Kolling, ikat of linen 30 epi     

Over the years, Esther Kolling taught workshops in dyeing through the Wichita Weaving Guild, and weaving at Southwestern College. She regularly juried into and won awards in the Kansas Fiber Directions exhibitions, as well as the War Eagle Arts and Crafts Fair in Arkansas. Her gallery representation included The Sign of the Acorn in Wichita, Kansas and later in retirement, the artist coop gallery in Socorro, New Mexico.

 

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    “Magenta and Gold”  27.5” x 14.5"   ©1982 Esther J. Kolling,   Inlay   in linen at 20 epi

“Magenta and Gold”  27.5” x 14.5" ©1982 Esther J. Kolling, Inlay in linen at 20 epi

Esther Kolling’s creative process involved working from sketches or a thumbnail design, taking a small section and expanding it or superimposing it onto another design.  The composition would evolve and change as she kept working with it. At the loom, she would add or delete design elements as she wove. 

 

 

 

In the tapestry, Flight, she used slits to create vertical lines, and combined woven shapes with some irregular hatching, using both commercial and her handspun yarns, as well as weft bundles of varying textures. 

Flight  29” x 29”    ©1985 Esther J. Kolling  , tapestry   of   handspun and commercial wool, cotton bouclé weft on cotton warp at 6 epi

Flight29” x 29”  ©1985 Esther J. Kolling, tapestry of handspun and commercial wool, cotton bouclé weft on cotton warp at 6 epi

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     “Reflection”  16” x 16”     © 1988 Esther J. Kolling  , tapestry of   hand-dyed wools in weft bundle mixes on cotton seine twine warp at 8 epi

 “Reflection”  16” x 16”   © 1988 Esther J. Kolling, tapestry of hand-dyed wools in weft bundle mixes on cotton seine twine warp at 8 epi

In Reflection, her vertical lines are woven and double-weft interlocked.  She blended via weft bundles of her hand-dyed yarns with some pick-and-pick and irregular hatches.

Later in life, after moving to Socorro, Esther Kolling’s entire townhouse became her studio, filled with multiple looms, spinning wheels, an extensive textile library, and a sizeable yarn stash, with inventory including her hand-dyed wools, cottons, silks in varying weights and quantities.  These she kept saving for “special projects” that she never lived long enough to create.

Esther Kolling's Socorro studio,  main room

Esther Kolling's Socorro studio,  main room

She had six years in this space, exploring a range of techniques in textiles from Africa, Japan, Indonesia, Peru, Guatemala, and the desert Southwest. Her later work became a blending of ethnographic elements into her own designs and sketches, evolving an idea through many steps until it became a reflection of her own consciousness.

After her death, I sorted through the 57 file boxes of yarn she had in her stash.  Her hand-dyed yarns are now part of my inventory in my studio, which is about the size of the house I grew up in.  I make sure to include something from her “special projects” stash in each of my tapestries, so that her artistic legacy continues in the flow of yarn that her hands touched and now passes through mine while I weave.

Esther J. Kolling in 1971, her  hands doing macramé   Photo credit:  Bill Stephens

Esther J. Kolling in 1971, her hands doing macramé   Photo credit:  Bill Stephens

 I find myself drawn to the weavers who sat behind looms in other times and places.  I like what the individuals made for their own use in prehistoric times, and what we can learn from them.  You can’t separate the ethnographic textiles from the cultures of their people.  I’m drawn to this because of the mastery these people had.  When I’m weaving, my mind seems to merge with the mind of the weaver who’s work I am studying.  I appreciate their minds, their patience, their mastery, their hands…                           

Esther J. Kolling                                                                                      November 19, 1925 – January 5, 2000

Color Blending Using Multiple Wefts

Four sequential color blends on Aubusson bobbins

Four sequential color blends on Aubusson bobbins

I love blending colors by using multiple strands of thinner yarn in a weft bundle. Instead of having only a few colors, the palette opens up to a broader spectrum of possibilities. The French tapestry tradition has been using this approach to color blending for over 900 years. In the Gothic era, typically only 15 – 20 colors were used in one mural-sized tapestry or series of tapestries. The additional shades and blended colors were made through the use of up to 5 strands in a weft bundle.

My warp is 12/9 cotton seine twine sett at 10 ends per inch.  For weft, I am using 3 strands of a crewel weight, worsted needlepoint wool.

Blend A (top): 1 white, 1 light gray, 1 light mauve with 3 bobbins of each of these colors

Blend A (top): 1 white, 1 light gray, 1 light mauve with 3 bobbins of each of these colors

First, let’s look at using strands of similar values, (value meaning the degree of lightness and darkness. More about this in week 6 of the Blog Tour).  I have picked a light gray, a light mauve, and a white (Blend A).

Bottom stripe of Blend A. Weaving the low hill out of solid gray. Note parallel wefts of solid gray in shed.

Bottom stripe of Blend A. Weaving the low hill out of solid gray. Note parallel wefts of solid gray in shed.

I have woven the base stripe—about half an inch-- of Blend A, and now am weaving the shape of a low hill with the solid light gray on the right.  (More about weaving shapes, in week 4 of the blog tour).  When weaving any solid color with three strands, in order to have a smooth woven surface, the strands need to lie parallel in the shed, as any twists in the strands will result in a bumpier looking surface.

Two hills of solid light gray and light mauve on each side of the warp, before weaving the center.

Two hills of solid light gray and light mauve on each side of the warp, before weaving the center.

Next, I weave a steeper hill with the light mauve on the right. 

The center will begin as solid white. 

 

In the solid white area, I am next going to add in some of Blend A, by doing some irregular hatching (from week 2 of the blog tour).  Irregular hatching can be woven row-by-row, or it can be woven by creating a series of steps with one bobbin of color and then filling in those steps with a bobbin of a second color.  Here, I weave a sequence of short and long steps with the solid white area, and then fill them in with Blend A

With solid white, creating the first steps for hatching, going from left to right. Note first step is small--6 warps wide--and the second step is longer--14 warps wide.

With solid white, creating the first steps for hatching, going from left to right. Note first step is small--6 warps wide--and the second step is longer--14 warps wide.

Weaving with Blend A, filling in the short and longer steps created with the solid white. This is another way to weave irregular hatching.

Weaving with Blend A, filling in the short and longer steps created with the solid white. This is another way to weave irregular hatching.

Notice how the lines of the irregular hatching are creating a slight angled area of transition between the woven areas of solid white and Blend A. Gradually, I will weave smaller lines of the solid white as I work my way over to the right edge. I end the solid white, and weave a row or two with Blend A.

Blend B: 1 light mauve, 1 white, 1 bright yellow

Blend B: 1 light mauve, 1 white, 1 bright yellow

Adding Blend B, filling in the short and long steps created with Blend A.

Adding Blend B, filling in the short and long steps created with Blend A.

Next, I make a new weft bundle mixture, adding in a bright yellow, and dropping out the gray for Blend B.  Again, I use irregular hatching,  first by creating a short and long step with Blend A.  Then I weave with Blend B, the short step--over 11 warps--and the longer step over 25 warps.  Because these are mixtures of different colors, I allow the separate strands to randomly twist as I place the weft bundle in the shed.  It helps to create the slightly stippled look.

Blend C: 2 bright yellow, 1 white

Blend C: 2 bright yellow, 1 white

Beginning the hatching of Blend C on left with Blend B on the right.

Beginning the hatching of Blend C on left with Blend B on the right.

I make a new weft bundle mix, dropping out the light mauve and adding a second strand of bright yellow, so that I have 2 strands bright yellow and one strand white for Blend C

Blend D: 1 yellow-orange, 1 pale yellow, 1 bright yellow

Blend D: 1 yellow-orange, 1 pale yellow, 1 bright yellow

On left, Blend D hatching with Blend C

On left, Blend D hatching with Blend C

For Blend D, I drop out the white and combine one yellow-orange, one bright yellow, and one pale yellow.  Notice how vibrant this makes the color, by having three different, but closely related colors mixed together.

Blend E: 1 light blue, 1 yellow-orange, 1 bright yellow

Blend E: 1 light blue, 1 yellow-orange, 1 bright yellow

Now, let’s look at creating weft bundles using strands of contrasting values

For Blend E, I am dropping out one strand of bright yellow and adding a light blue to combine with one strand of yellow-orange and one strand of bright yellow.   Notice how the coolness of the blue and its darker value contrast with warmth and the brightness of the other two strands in this bundle. 

Hatching with Blend D on right and Blend E beginning on the left.

Hatching with Blend D on right and Blend E beginning on the left.

Here, I am starting the small hatch line of Blend E on the right edge.  Notice that I am continuing to allow the weft strands to twist, so that they visually appear as small dots and dashes when woven.

Blend F: 1 bright yellow, 1 light blue, 1 bright blue

Blend F: 1 bright yellow, 1 light blue, 1 bright blue

Blend G: 2 bright blue, 1 light blue

Blend G: 2 bright blue, 1 light blue

For Blend F, I keep the strand of bright yellow and blue, and add in a slightly brighter blue strand.  For Blend G, which will be all blue, I have 2 strands of the slightly brighter blue and one strand of the lighter blue.  I find that by mixing the 2 different blues, it gives the color more vibrancy and life.

Thus, I have created a sequential color transition from Blend A to Blend G.  This is one example of how the use of multiple wefts opens up many possibilities for creating new colors, as well as blended areas that transition from one color or value to the next.  

The finished sample with 7 different mixed color blends and 3 solid colors.

The finished sample with 7 different mixed color blends and 3 solid colors.

The type of yarn that is best to use is thin but firm.  Two-ply crewel weight needlepoint or lace weight wool yarns such as Appleton, Anahera, or Mora work well, as do the Norwegian yarns such as Alv and thin Vevgarn.  Hand spun singles weight wool yarn is also good to use.  Some weavers use cotton embroidery floss, which is available at fabric and crafting stores.  Click here for more information on yarn sources, and tapestry weaving tools.

Bobbins and Shuttles for tapestry weaving

Bobbins and Shuttles for tapestry weaving

Now, let’s look at the tools that can help in weaving with weft bundles.  There are an assortment of bobbins, small flat shuttle, netting shuttles, yarn bobs that can be used.  When winding the bobbin or shuttle, it is important for all the strands to evenly wrap onto the bobbin or small shuttle.  If one strand is looser, then it will make for a bumpier woven surface. 

I prefer using the Aubusson bobbin, sometimes called bone or flute bobbins. These can be wound on a Swedish bobbin winder--the one with the smallest shaft will work for these bobbins. 

 

Aubusson bobbin on Swedish bobbin winder

Aubusson bobbin on Swedish bobbin winder


And the winners are....

Ruth J. Rowell for a free entry to the Tapestry Unlimited Exhibition and a one-year membership to the American Tapestry Alliance.

Nina Kennedy for a one-year membership to the American Tapestry Alliance.

congratulations! 


Every week of this blog tour, you have a chance to enter to win one of two prizes: a one-year membership to the American Tapestry Alliance or a one-year membership to the American Tapestry alliance AND a free entry to the Tapestry Unlimited ExhibitionTo qualify to win, just leave a comment on this post. We will randomly choose two winners on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.  Current ATA members are not eligible to win.

The Blog Tour: 

Week 1:  Vancouver Yarn The Basics of Tapestry Weaving

Week 2:  Rebecca Mezoff Color Blending with Irregular Hatching

Week 3:  Terry Olson Weaving Slits to Create Vertical Lines

Week 4:  Mirrix Looms Weaving Shapes

Week 5:  Elizabeth Buckley Color Blending Using Multiple Wefts 

Week 6:  Sarah Swett The Value of Tapestry

This blog tour is in celebration of ATA's annual unjuried exhibtion. Tapestry Unlimited; 11th International, Unjuried Small Format exhibition is open to all weavers. We are expecting upwards of 250 participants who will show their work at the Milwaukee Public Library this upcoming summer. Everyone who signs up to participate by January 31st, 2016 will be included in the exhibition, and your tapestry does not need to be mailed to us until March 2016. There is an exhibition fee of $40 which pays for both the return postage for you tapestry, as well an exhibition catalog, in which everyone’s tapestry will be featured.  We invite entries woven within more traditional definitions of tapestry, as well as ones which expand upon them, including multimedia work.

The American Tapestry Alliance (ATA) is a nonprofit organization that provides programming for tapestry weavers around the world, including exhibitions, both juried and unjuried, in museums, art centers and online, along with exhibition catalogs. They offer workshops, lectures, one-on-one mentoring and online educational articles as well as awards, including scholarships, membership grants, an international student award, and the Award of Excellence. They also put out quarterly newsletter, monthly eNews & eKudos and CODA, an annual digest.
 

Sett Considerations in French Tapestry

Recently, I was asked to write about sett in French tapestry, based on my observations and experience of working in the Aubusson and Flemish traditions.

Sett in tapestry is about more than covering the warp with the weft.  Sett is also about the shape and size of the grain, or the bead, created in the weave and how it impacts the visual texture of a tapestry. The grain, or the bead, of the weave is always in relationship to the scale of the tapestry and the complexity of the design. 

In general, the French use of sett is characterized by the bead being rounded and smooth to produce a flat surface, so that light can reflect evenly off of the weaving.  Light also affects the visual impact of sett and grain in how it reflects differently off of the ribs of the warp when a tapestry is hung with the warp running horizontally than when hung with the warps running vertically.  This is especially noticeable in the use of techniques like hachures, which read differently when viewed vertically, than when viewed horizontally.  This is one of several reasons why Aubusson tapestries are designed and woven to be hung sideways, by the weft, with the warp running horizontally.

Pelican  study detail

Pelican study detail

Pelican  study detail, rotated with warps running vertically

Pelican study detail, rotated with warps running vertically

A smooth, rounded bead in sett can be achieved by several means.  First, is by the classic ratio used in French, Flemish, and many European tapestry traditions, where the diameter of the warp = diameter of the weft bundle = the space between warps.  Second, is by the type of wool yarn used in the weft bundle.   Firmer yarns will yield a rounder grain. Softer, loftier yarns will produce a more flattened, or oval grain.  For a more squashed and linear grain, either increase the space between the warps, or reduce the size, or diameter, of the weft bundle.

In historic mural tapestries of the Medieval and Renaissance eras, (such as those recently on exhibition at the Met) the sett is quite fine, averaging around 22 – 24 epi.  These works usually depicted scenes from history, Christianity, or mythology in highly detailed epic narrations. Weft bundles were of firm, thin wools, and sometimes silks or even gold strands.  Often the depicted garments worn by human figures included the drape of fabric reflecting the woven structure of the cloth (twills, brocades, etc.). In order to have enough warps in an inch to weave all of this detail, the sett had to be quite fine. 

Pelican  Elizabeth Buckley's study woven in Aubusson

Pelican Elizabeth Buckley's study woven in Aubusson

When I was weaving in Aubusson, Gisèle Brivet warped the loom with cotton at around 11 epi, and we used fine, firm wool yarns (similar to the now discontinued DMC Medici wools or about the size of the 18/2 weight of worsted wool yarn currently available through Weavers Bazaar in the UK.) in weft bundles of 5 strands. I marveled at the range of possibilities in the palette for blending and mixing five-strand weft bundles.

In considering sett, it is important to gauge the size of the overall piece in relation to the amount of detail in the design. Often I use 12/9 cotton seine twine warp at between 11 and 12 epi, although my current large format tapestry, which will measure 4’ x 5’, I warped with 12/12 cotton seine twine warp at 10 epi, for just a slightly larger grain in proportion to the scale of the finished piece. My weft bundles of 3 -5 strands combine various weights and firmness of worsted wool yarns:  Appleton crewel, Anahera, plus those from my stash of discontinued yarns-- DMC Medici. Paternayan crewel--and some of my mother’s hand-dyed silks and wools. 

Elizabeth BuckleyDialogues Through the Veil  detail sett is 12 epi, ©2010

Elizabeth BuckleyDialogues Through the Veil detail sett is 12 epi, ©2010

Generally, small format tapestries need a more refined sett, to avoid a lumpy-looking image. Kathe Todd Hooker works at 20 – 22 epi, using Dual duty craft thread, button hole twist for warp.  An example is below, her tapestry:  And He… Her weft bundles are of sewing thread and/or embroidery floss. She divides out the 6 strands of embroidery floss to get at least 6 different color changes.  In areas she wants more refined detail, she will use thinner weft bundles, just as I also do with wool at 10 – 12 epi.

Kathe Todd Hooker  And He...  26.5" x 18.5" sett is 20 - 22 epi

Kathe Todd Hooker And He... 26.5" x 18.5" sett is 20 - 22 epi

Kathe Todd Hooker  And He...  detail

Kathe Todd Hooker And He... detail

Does sett disappear when viewing the tapestry? Or does your eye catch on the patterned texture it creates? 

Barbara Heller  One Way  border sett is 4 epi, interior sett is 8 epi

Barbara Heller One Way border sett is 4 epi, interior sett is 8 epi

Barbara Heller uses two sett sizes in her tapestry, One Way:  4 epi for the border area, and 8 epi for the interior.  Notice the two different textures and how the light reflects differently off of the two surfaces.

Barbara Heller  One Way  detail Note the two sett sizes

Barbara Heller One Way detail Note the two sett sizes

For warp, she uses 8/4 or 8/5 linen at 8 epi because she likes the slightly stiffer hand it gives. For weft, she uses Le Mieux or Briggs & Little 2ply (or equivalent), or three strands of Paternayan crewel (or equivalent) at 8 epi.  At 4 epi her weft bundle can have very different yarns, including her own handspun (or equivalent) for producing the more textured effect. At 8 epi she will sometimes add a thinner strand of another color, as in the water areas in the tapestry, One Way, and is careful about how this thin strand is laid in for every bead so that the yarns do not twist.

Tommye Scanlin often works at 8 epi, using either the 12/12 or 12/15 cotton seine twine, depending on the bead she wants and the wefts she plans to use.  An example is below, her tapestry:  Because of Memory.   At 6 epi, she will use 12/18.  She will do smaller format tapestries at either 10 or 12 epi, using either 12/9 or 12/6 cotton seine twine warp.

The ratio of warp, weft, and spacing that both Barbara Heller and Tommye Scanlin use is based on Archie Brennan’s recommendations of wrapping warp around a cm to determine ends per inch. It is similar in nature to the diameter of the warp=diameter of the weft bundle=space between the warps. (Archie Brennan’s on-line article on the American Tapestry Alliance website: http://americantapestryalliance.org/education/educational-articles/the-space-between-the-warps/ ).

Tommye Scanlin  Because of Memory  63" x 60" 2014 sett is 8 epi

Tommye Scanlin Because of Memory 63" x 60" 2014 sett is 8 epi

The number of strands in Tommye Scanlin’s weft bundle varies from two to five or six, depending on the yarns she is using together as well as the sett.  She uses Vevgarn, a 2-ply wool from Norway, available through Norsk Fjord Fiber, and Alv Norwegian wool that Kathe Todd-Hooker sells through Fine Fiber Studio, that is a 2-ply worsted about 14/2 in size.  (Smaller than the Vevgarn but not as small as the Mora wool from Glimakra.  She will use these together or separately, and sometimes throw in a thin linen, as well.  Tommye states, “I like a ‘whole wheat’ sort of yarn for weft, one that's firm and not flabby. I like to have a pretty defined bead to the weave.”

Tommye Scanlin  Because of Memory  detail

Tommye Scanlin Because of Memory detail

For additional technical information on sett, visit Tommy Scanlin’s blog post: http://tapestryshare.blogspot.com/2012/06/warp-sett-few-options-and-opinions.html

Thank you to Kathe Todd Hooker, Barbara Heller, and Tommye Scanlin for their permission to use these photos of their work and for their generous sharing of technical information included in this blog post.  Thank you to Rebecca Mezoff for the initial inquiry.

Beacons of Light

As artists, we have a unique role to be Beacons of Light with our work. 

Jane Chu , NEA chair, recently was quoted as saying,

“As a young person, I couldn’t have survived without the arts.  It was something that allowed me to be struck by beauty, a place where time stood still.  The aesthetic value of art is essential to civilization.... and can guide us through this time of transitions. "

In order to create the work that allows others to enter into a place where time stands still, we need to be very protective of our head and heart space, our way of tuning in and being present to the our environment and to the sources of inspiration, of beauty, and that to which we respond in awe.  How we are able to make the world a better place through our artwork, our teaching, our keeping alive another way of viewing and being present to life--all of this is dependent on our ability to stay connected and clear, tuned in to the pulse of life beneath the chaos and negativity.

Recently, one of my students said, “Has the world gone nuts or what?!”

We live in especially negative and chaotic times, where religious fanatics and self-righteous zealots are escalating hatred, anger, brutality, and human suffering.  Much of our politics is ruled by corporate greed, corruption, and exploitation of the earth.  In the age of the internet, we can learn of the latest incidents in an instant.

As artists, especially, we need to take great care with how much of the chaos and negativity of the outer world we take into our lives, for it can be so contagious.  It is a delicate balance between staying informed enough to know what is going on in the world, and letting it intrude too much into one’s head space.

Where we focus our thoughts and energy grows. 

Morning light on cottonwood leaves outside my studio. photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley  ©2015

Morning light on cottonwood leaves outside my studio. photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

What is your beacon of Light, a lit candle in the darkness guiding your way?

Sandhill Cranes in migration, circling above my home and studio this past February.   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley   
  
 
  
    
  
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  ©2015

Sandhill Cranes in migration, circling above my home and studio this past February.   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

For me, it is the call of Sandhill Cranes or Canadian geese in migration, the way sunlight glistens on cottonwood leaves moving in the breeze.  It is also the deep and profound silence found when walking in remote wilderness, where the overlay of human energy is minimal and the deep memory of the Earth’s epochs is within reach.  I bring back to the studio treasures that beckon me:  dried grass heads, particular bits of sandstone, quartz, or even petrified wood; a weathered bone, seed pods, the feather left by an owl.  Reminders of beauty, that there is another way of being in the world, and of my role as an artist to articulate that which is invisible, make tangible that which is sacred.

Northern New Mexico clouds.  photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley  ©2015

Northern New Mexico clouds.  photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

Sunflower in my garden. photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley  ©2015

Sunflower in my garden. photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

Be Beacons of Light, Peace, and Kindness. 

The world needs this from all us.

 

Flash Flood and New Visions

When Suzanne Halvorson walked into the newly refurbished Fiber Arts Center at Ghost Ranch to begin the first day of her Weave and Wander class on Tuesday morning, July 7th, little did she know that this also would be her last day to teach in this space.  Her's was the first class held in it.

Storm clouds approaching                                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Storm clouds approaching                                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

At 6:30 that evening, a shelf cloud had settled in over the mesas surrounding Pedernal, moving swiftly toward Ghost Ranch.  By 6:45 she and her students began gathering for the evening session, continuing with warping their looms, some at the warping board and others tying on and tensioning.

By 6:50 pm the rains began, a sprinkle followed by pouring rain, winds blowing sheets of rain at a 45-degree angle.  By 7:00 pm, further up the arroyo that runs along the eastern edge of the campus, a 20-foot wall of water had almost peaked its bank near Long House and the Art Building. Teachers and students heard the roar of water, quickly scooped up art supplies off the floor onto tables and left.

Further down the arroyo, Suzanne looked out the window of the Fiber Arts classroom and noticed water coming toward the building.  She told her students that they needed to leave immediately.  Moments later, Maureen Fitzgibbon from Ghost Ranch staff stepped into the classroom and told everyone they had to get out now and head for higher ground.  Within the few minutes it took for everyone to pile into their cars, including one blind woman with her seeing-eye dog, the water was halfway up the tires on all of their vehicles.  They drove up to the Welcome Center to wait out the storm. 

West wall of fiber arts studio                              photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

West wall of fiber arts studio                              photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Five minutes later, the raging water, now several feet high, knocked down the west wall of the classroom.

Another view of west wall                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Another view of west wall                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Churning waters pushed looms into a log jam against the French doors, which then blew out. 

Looms jammed in the French door opening         photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looms jammed in the French door opening         photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley