The light is golden on cottonwood leaves as sandhill cranes circle over my studio this late morning. Their calls evoke an ancient memory filled with decades and millennia of winter migrations. They also remind me of my mother, who loved the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, where thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, and Canadian geese migrate each year. The last seven years of her life, around this time, we celebrated our birthdays here.
Here is where my mother's heart always lifted as she witnessed the masses of wings whistling above her as thousands of birds flew in each evening. The rhythm of their calls provided a cacophony of sounds as they settled overnight in the marshes. Their long necks curved downwards as they dug for delectable things to eat at the roots of rushes and grasses. The surface of the water reflected the streaks of colors of the ever-changing sunset light in the sky above.
A few days ago, on my 60th birthday, the morning air was warming from the crisp autumn night and brilliant blue sky provided a backdrop to the golden leaves. The solo show is now back in my studio, and I finished hanging it among the other work. The walls are no longer sparse and empty. The visual conversation between pieces filled the studio, as I quietly sat and listened for what needs to come next. What is the next tapestry that needs to be woven? The next drawing that needs to emerge out of my pencils?
I reflected on the students, the learning, the laughter, and the light bulb moments of recent studio workshops. Each fall sandhill cranes often provide a moment to pause all work at the loom, to go outside and look up. First alert of their arrival are their croaking calls as they circle the air currents to a higher level, before swiftly setting off in V patterns to fly further south. Sunlight often casts a glow on their underbellies. Sometimes they are so high, they look like glitter in the sky, when the light glints off of their wings angling as they circle.
My studio as classroom has become a refuge of learning, a place of connections among students, from all over the country, who gather here to share four days together in their tapestry journey. The tapestry community grows and strengthens through these workshops where connections are made and reinforced through shared experience. All of us come together to deepen our engagement with this woven form that is both archetypal and global, with expansive room for regional and individual expressions. This is how tapestry as an art form not only survives, but thrives.
Nancy Nordquist, who has come to several of my studio workshops, wrote this in an email to me:
I feel fortunate that so many tapestry weavers are willing to teach and to share their knowledge of the craft. This past year was extraordinarily full of workshops for me, and I learned a lot from all of them, but there was something special about yours. Your four-day class was well-planned to take us through the steps that will lead to a tapestry, but there was even more to it than that. I think it was actually being in your studio that makes it different from all the rest. We (I and most students, I think) are trying to learn technique, but we are also trying to learn process--how you actually create a tapestry, how you get from idea to design to finished piece. So to be in your studio, to look at your loom, your finished pieces hanging on the walls, your books, your art supplies, your closet full of yarn, etc., is to be surrounded by all of the clues we need. For instance, I was only half paying attention while you were explaining the steps that led to your “Petroglyph and Prairie,” but later when I was free, I was able to look at the pieces--drawings, cartoon, yarn sample card--and rethink the process at my own pace. Whenever someone had a question about how to do something, from tapestry techniques to finishing, you could pick up a book or one of your own tapestries that would be a perfect example. It would be impossible for a traveling teacher to have all that handy. How can you anticipate all the questions students might have? Or the tools or yarn they might need? And simply being in your creative space taught us things that we would not have thought to ask. For example, seeing your drawings on the walls and coming to realize that one of them was not going to be a tapestry but understanding that it had its own purpose was instructive and interesting. I even wonder if there might not be some magic just in spending time where so much creativity takes place.
So, thank you for sharing your knowledge and your space with us. It was wonderful.
Thank you, Nancy Nordquist, for your permission to quote from your email to me. Thank you to all of my students who share so much with me, and continue wanting to learn, explore, and push the edges of their comfort zones.