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

 

Honoring Navajo Master Weavers

BookCoverNavajoTextiles.jpg

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.

 

 

 

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