Sunday, March 4, 2012

James and the cranes


I woke up this morning not to my alarm clock playing the first few bars of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy in C minor but to the morning flight of greater sandhill cranes flying over the house and feeding in the barley field across the street.  (Of course the insistent whines of my dog in the corner reminding me that it was far past 6 am and she was hungry might have contributed.) The cranes have been amassing for 4 weeks now, the first arrivals coming just after I moved here the beginning of February. The experience of watching 1000 or more cranes feeding, circling, taking off, calling to each other, and dancing from my front window day after day has been magical.



I have lived in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado before. Four and five years ago I was here living first in the South San Juans in a mountain house 6 miles from my nearest winter neighbor and then on the flanks of the mighty Mt. Blanca on the other side of the valley--all off-grid, all an adventure. By the summer of 2008 I was trying to fit little bits of tapestry weaving in around the three jobs I was working as an occupational therapist. I had a sunny but much-in-need-of-repair apartment over a realty office as my studio and my Rio Grande loom was turning out some promising work, albeit slowly. But my therapy jobs were becoming difficult and my personal situation was also.

In October 2008 I took another workshop with James Koehler at the Taos Wool Festival. I watched the aspens changing colors at the Taos Ski Valley one afternoon and decided I was moving back home. The next day I asked James if he would still take me on as an apprentice (he had offered two years prior) and he agreed. So I quit my jobs, packed my Rio Grande loom (and my piano--this is a story for another day, but it is another reason my brother-in-law is on my personal beer-for-life program) and moved into a lovely straw bale house in Velarde, NM, 55 miles north of James' studio in Santa Fe. By February I was spending three days a week in his studio and there was a large tapestry in process on the smaller of his Cranbrook looms.



I studied with James as his apprentice until his death March 4, 2011, a year ago today. In the year since he left us, many things have changed in my tapestry world.  I started my own business in earnest, I sold some large pieces, one to the permanent collection of a college, got some commissions, and started teaching workshops. James had a large influence both on my art and on the course of my life.


James finished his autobiography less than a year before he died. In Woven Color: The Tapestry Art of James Koehler he talks about how he came to be the tapestry artist he was. As far as I know, it is only sold by Blurb Publications at this time.

And then there was the Bauhaus project. This undertaking consumed much of three years. I have written about the Bauhaus project a lot on this blog, but I have to mention it again here because it influenced my time with James. Cornelia Theimer Gardella is a good friend of mine and the project was her baby. The idea was to look at the influences of the Bauhaus, the early 20th century German art school, on our contemporary tapestry creation in New Mexico in the early 21st century. James signed on and the three of us read a lot of Paul Klee's notebooks as well as other Bauhaus material and eventually put together two shows entitled Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus. The first show was in Albuquerque, NM in the summer of 2010. The second was in Erfurt, Germany at Michaeliskirche in September and October of 2010. The trip and the project in general were monumental for me and pushed my thinking about who I was as an artist in the broader world.

I have sold the pieces I created for that show in 2010 and it is time to move on to new projects. There have been many times in the last year that I have wanted to ask James a question about a technique, a design, a teaching quandary, or even a legal issue. I have to rely on my knowledge of him and mix that with my own experiences, because the answer James might give me if he were here today might not be the path I would take. James taught me a lot of specifics, but he also taught me to look for what is important in myself and to follow that above anything else. His words from those years I was working in his studio still echo around in my head sometimes and they have definitely influenced the direction of my art and my life in one way or another.

Cornelia Theimer Gardella, James Koehler, Rebecca Mezoff
Michaeliskirche, September 2010
photo: Hamish John Appleby
photo: Hamish John Appleby

James Koehler, Michaeliskirche opening, September 2010
photo: Hamish John Appleby
Tomorrow I will post some information about his two remaining looms, a 100 inch Cranbrook and a 100 inch Shannock. They were the center of James' tapestry studio and they are in exquisite condition as they were loved by a master for many years. They are in need of new homes.

James Koehler, September 2010
photo: Hamish John Appleby
The sandhill cranes in my front yard are both a blessing and a call to awareness. Life can be much shorter than we expect it to be. We are always on a journey and I, for one, want to pay attention to where I am in this moment, eat all the barley I can while the sun is out, and prepare for the next flight north. 




4 comments:

  1. Beautiful tribute to James but also you've noted an important point for us all to remember... it passes too swiftly; what do we do with today?

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  2. In was the same age as James when he passed away, so I definitely got that message, Tommye.

    Rebecca, I really like what you said about how James taught you
    "...to look for what is important in myself and to follow that above anything else."

    That's such a great lesson to remember.

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  3. In response to the comments and the post--Tomorrow is my own anniversary of grief. When Gary and I were told the outlook, his first response was about all the wasted time. A lesson for all of us...

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  4. Rebecca, since I just hit the one year mark of working on the condor tapestry, I have been thinking back over everything that happened during that time. James' death was one of the very first that came to mind. Even though I only took one workshop from him, there are several techniques & concepts he taught during that time that have stuck with me & have become part of my weaving aesthetic ever since. The one comment that has had the biggest influence during my work on my current tapestry was something that he actually said in reference to a question someone asked regarding what joins one should use in a tapestry, but his response applies well to many things... he said something to the effect of "It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you are consistent throughout the work". His life may have been shorter than expected, but during that time he touched more people, created more beauty, & accomplished more of his own personal goals than most humans dream or are capable of!

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