Thursday, February 28, 2013

The thing about fiber art... that it does something important for the maker.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that the baby blanket featured at the end of this post is art. I knitted it from a pattern and quite frankly, there were some mistakes along the way. But I think back in the first wave of feminism that fiber pursuits were discounted as something demeaning to women and perhaps some of those feminists forgot that the making does something positive for the maker. At any rate, I know that knitting keeps me sane some days in ways that little else besides hiking lots of miles does. Tapestry weaving is my passion, and as such I am emotionally invested in making something that I truly believe is art, and so though the weaving can be relaxing if I get in a rhythm, it still holds some tension for me psychologically.

Knitting has no such hold over me. I really couldn't care less most of the time if I mess it up. A baby hat that is a little lopsided can still keep a kids head warm, though art, I'd say, it definitely is not.

I have thought more about the June Wayne blog post I wrote last and about how June in her essay in the Art Institute of Chicago catalog was trying to say that tapestry was something different than fiber art, and I still wonder about this. IS tapestry something that isn't quite fiber art? I am fascinated by much of the fiber art that is out there. I am interested in seeing current fiber art whether it be the sculptures of Sarah Hewitt or the bead art of Jennifer Schu, or Iviva Olenick's embroidery shown on her blog, Were I so Besotted. (For some reason those were the three I thought of first. I could have named a million others, and I never never exaggerate.) Thoughts on this? Is tapestry different than what we generally label fiber art because it is perhaps better able to portray an image? Does that make it more like painting for example?

I found a new yarn store in Santa Fe that I had never gone to before. This place has been on my radar for a few years as it is for sale and I have wished I could buy it, not to sell yarn but to have as a studio and home. Unfortunately, I don't have an extra two million lying around (it is not far from the plaza and prices in Santa Fe go down depending on how many feet you are from the Palace of the Governors). If anyone wants to be a patron to a great committed tapestry artist and does have a couple extra million to bandy about, please let me know!

Miriam's Well (Emily thought for years that the place was named for the owner, Miriam Swell... perhaps I don't articulate well) has a great location on Paseo de Peralta, but the entrance is in the back of the building and you have to take a circuitous route through a couple alleys to find it. Never fear, there are signs.

I believe the Santa Fe School of Weaving used to have a lot of looms, but now it is primarily a knitting shop. When she found out I was a tapestry weaver, the delightful owner Miriam Leth-Espensen showed me the beautiful churro from Los Ojos she is carrying now. It is sensational stuff. I have a stash of churro already though and had to leave this bit behind. I was sorely tempted by many beautiful knitting yarns at this place, but my knitting yarn stash is literally busting out of the storage spaces I have been allotted for this kind of thing. I can't cram any more in until I knit some up and get it out of the queue. Miriam learned weaving in Denmark from two Bauhaus teachers and moved to Santa Fe 25 years ago from Vermont. Maybe she'll adopt me and give me the place for my winning smile.

In a stash-emptying move (who am I kidding, there will always be more yarn) one project I finished this week was this Lace Blanket from 60 More Quick Baby Knits. This blanket gave me a run for my money. There were errata and I didn't realize it until I had ripped out the border several times. Even after seeing the errata I had trouble getting it right. Eventually I did what all of us are forced to do from time to time lest we be tempted to rip out the whole thing; I fudged it. And it came out okay. As Emily so pointedly made me realize, it is just going to get covered with baby spit-up anyway, so what does it matter if the corners aren't perfect? Perhaps she has a point.

So we can probably agree that following a pattern for a baby blanket from a pattern (and check for the errata before you start a project like this for goodness sake!) is probably not fiber art. But what really is? Or does it really matter that much? Perhaps art can be anything that is engaging and makes us think. Let me get some knitting needles while I ponder that.

Monday, February 25, 2013

June Wayne's tapestries in Santa Fe

I took a trip down to Santa Fe Saturday to hear a talk about the two solo shows at David Richard Gallery: June Wayne The Tapestries: Forces of Nature and Beyond and Judy Chicago: Woven and Stitched. The primary speakers were Elissa Auther, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Janet Koplos, a New York City-based art critic, writer and contributing editor for Art in America. David Eichholtz, the curator at David Richard Gallery, gave a great introduction of the artists and mediated the discussion. Judy Chicago herself was in the audience and gave a lot of feedback about her work.

I read Elissa Auther’s book (String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art) a little more than a year ago as part of an American Tapestry Alliance study forum I participated in about increasing the visibility of tapestry in contemporary fine art. I reviewed the parts of the book about Judy Chicago and Auther’s conclusion before going to the lecture. I very much expected to hear a talk connecting the ideas in the book about history of fiber art and its place in contemporary fine art to contemporary tapestry art. We were, after all, sitting in a gallery full of large contemporary tapestries. Unfortunately, there was almost no mention of tapestry at all from either Koplos or Auther in their talks.

I purchased the catalog from The Art Institute of Chicago’s show of June Wayne’s tapestries in 2010-2011. At this point June was still alive and she wrote a short essay for the catalog. June is best known for her lithography and New Mexicans might recognize the name Tamarind Lithography Workshop which is now housed at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. For four years from 1970 to 1974, June focused on creating 12 large-scale tapestries, 11 of which were realized. All are currently exhibited at David Richard Gallery.

Here is a quote from the beginning of June Wayne’s catalog essay entitled, “Sufficient Unto Each Day is the Myopia Thereof.”
In 1973 the International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne, Switzerland, rejected one of my tapestries. Mildred Constantine, the curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the chairman of the Lausanne jury, told my Paris dealer that Lame de Choc was “too old-fashioned to show alongside fiber art.” Over the years I have ruminated about the differences between fiber art and tapestry and have come to believe that they are conceptual opposites, although they share the rubric of textiles.

In the 1960s fiber art literally “jumped over the convent wall” into mainstream aesthetics, distinguishing itself from tapestry by the adoption of “fiber” as its key word, which it had a genuine (and practical) need to do. Semantically and factually, tapestry had become a misleading label for the new directions that were being taken in weaving by artists who paired themselves with painting, graphics, collage, assemblage, and all the other artistic subsets that gave the ‘60s its reputation for freedom of expression…. But my art had an agenda that did not fit the goals of fiber. I needed and wanted tapestry techniques whose methodology echoed both benday dots and computer grids, just as it offered me a type of image making through the accretion of modules that I had found in the pores of lithograph stones….
I found it more than a little ironic following this quote and given the fact that the talk was in a gallery stuffed with huge tapestries, that the lecturers did not show one slide of a tapestry, did not talk about June’s tapestries, and that the entire talk was centered around the fiber art of which June says her tapestries had nothing to do with.

Here are some quotes and highlights from the talk. There was a lot said about Judy Chicago’s work. I was excited to hear more about her history and work while looking at one of her tapestries (The Creation). I also appreciated hearing Judy speak a little bit about her career as an artist. (There is a lot of information out there about Judy Chicago and I will leave it to you to research her show.) I heard far less about June Wayne’s work.

Janet Koplos at the very end of her 20 minute talk and the only mention of tapestry by either speaker until the question period: 
Tapestry, the technique central to the two bodies of work that brought us here today, have somewhat more relation to drawing and painting and thus more easily accommodate specific statements of meaning. It seems that people trained in fiber often looked for ways to work beyond the expectations of that material while people trained in other mediums and techniques looked at fiber and saw the emotional, tactile, and associational values of fiber and use that toward ends that may be also present in their other work such as painting or printing. Interestingly the same thing seems to be happening in clay today…. and it is a reminder that there is never just one approach and even a single medium that can have many facets, it all depends on the ideas and the impulses of the artist.
At the end of the two talks, there was a period for questions. It was clear that the gallery had a large number of fans of Judy Chicago which was not unexpected since the creator of The Dinner Party (and many other famous works of art) was sitting among us, and she does live in New Mexico after all. We were an hour and a half into this experience and I had yet to hear anything substantial about tapestry from anyone except David Eichholtz, the gallery owner and curator who introduced June Wayne’s work at the beginning and the brief statement Koplos made at the end of her talk. So I stood up and asked Koplos and Auther what they thought the connection was between the issues of fiber art’s place in modern art to contemporary art tapestry production. The answer from Janet Koplos was that there isn’t anyone doing contemporary tapestry art any more. This was stunning to me. I sat down with my head spinning… and then all the things the ATA forum I participated in last year rushed back to me and all I could think was that these are the current scholars and curators of fiber art and even they don’t know what we do. Or rather, they know what we do, but they don’t think anyone of consequence does it any more. Here is the exact conversation.

Rebecca: I am just wondering if you have any comments about contemporary tapestry in relation to the development of fiber art and its place in the art world today.

Koplos: I think in the art world today there is a place for absolutely anything anybody wants to do. I don’t think there is any limit on it. But the real movement in tapestry, the attention to tapestry, came with the Lausanne Bienniale in the 60s and lots of artists were paying attention to it then but not to the degree that these two women were. You know, they were just somebody who did a cartoon and handed it over to somebody and it was executed by another person, so it was a superficial engagement. But there was engagement with the thing. And now… [she trails off and Auther picks up]

Auther: The only way I can answer that is I went to the recent College Art Association meeting in New York which is the big interdisciplinary conference that artists and art historians come to. I noticed there was a panel on tapestry and I thought that was really fascinating, but as I looked at the individual papers as the conference came closer, it was really really stuck in 17th and 18th century. And I still feel like scholarship is … there is not the scholarly interest in contemporary tapestry that there should be.

David Eichholtz talked some about the use of digital weaving done by people like Chuck Close and Robert Indiana and questioned the differences between this kind of weaving and the one-of-a-kind hand weaving that created June Wayne’s tapestries. And then Eichholtz mentioned a digital weaving studio in Belgium.

Audience member: A very well known artist in California these days is a woman named Pae White who does the thing with Brussel’s tapestries and she creates immense installations with Brussel tapestries.  [...]

Auther: I am glad you brought up Pae White because it just occurred to me that yeah, she is probably the only contemporary artist I know that is doing large scale tapestry where she initiates the process and she is showing in museums that are exclusively devoted to contemporary art. I saw a series of her works in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and also I saw a series at SITE [Santa Fe], that must have been two years ago I think? 

Audience member: They are knock-outs.

Auther: They are huge and they are really interesting and I have never had a chance to talk to her about the motivations or why she is going into that realm but before that time she worked generally I think with a great interest in fiber and craft traditions.

Unfortunately, Christa Thurman, Chair of Textiles at The Art Institute of Chicago was not able to make it to the lecture as originally planned due to a personal emergency. I would have loved to hear what she had to say. David Richard Gallery has some interviews planned with her and promises to post a series of podcasts and videos with all this information including the talk I heard online. I look forward to Christa’s response to my question.

David Richard Gallery did an excellent job getting these speakers and I appreciated the well-attended event. The owners of the gallery were engaging, knowledgeable, and seemed exceptionally supportive of tapestry. I want to thank them for hosting this beautiful show and I hope they will consider showing contemporary art tapestry again in the near future.

Please visit David Richard Gallery's website and look at the June Wayne tapestries. Or better yet, if you can, go see the show. The tapestries are very large and several of them were stunning. They were woven by three different French studios in the early '70s. My favorite two are The Fifth Wave and Verdict. The Fifth Wave (Cinquieme Vague) was inspired by one of her lithographs, Wave Five. The background consists of irregular blocks that look like they are full of a design from tree rings. I love the color gradation use in this piece. Verdict is 73 by 117 inches and was woven by Giselle Glaudin-Brivet at Atelier Giselle Glaudin-Brivet, Aubusson. The imagery in this piece is also based on Wayne's lithographs and contains references to DNA molecules and mountains. She uses two different warp setts in this piece, adding spots of color through much of it with a double sett.

For more information:
Here is a video of Elissa Auther speaking about her book, String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art.

Here is a link to a series of photos of Pae White's Untitled, Still from the Whitney Biennial in 2010, a massive "tapestry". I am unable to find much information about her fiber works online but can only assume that these large pieces are digitally produced, possibly in Belgium as people in the talk suggested. This work is what Elissa Auther thought of when talking of contemporary tapestry.
Pae White, Untitled, Still; Whitney Biennial 2010
David Richard Gallery has a series of videos posted on their website. They have a few of June Wayne talking about her work. Here is one of them:

Cinquieme Vague, June Wayne, 86 x 78 inches, Tapestry, 1972

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Need a dye class?

I have had many students ask me lately when I am teaching in 2013. I have some classes in the works, not to mention the online class I'll be launching this year. It looks like I will be teaching in New Hampshire this summer for sure and probably somewhere in Colorado. I am still searching for a New Mexico venue if anyone has any requests...  Those dates will all get worked out in good time.

In the meantime, for those of you who have asked me about whether I teach dyeing, consider a class coming up very soon at Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center. Cornelia Theimer Gardella weaves wonderful tapestries and is also a master dyer. She is teaching a dye class March 1-3 based on Itten's color star and incorporating a lot of color theory. I really recommend her if you want to start dyeing your own tapestry yarn. Sign up quickly! She doesn't take many students and March 1 is right around the corner. Look at this link on the EVFAC site with a description of the class and a great bio of Conni. And even if you don't want to take the class, click on the link because the tapestry pictured there is stunning.

Cornelia Theimer Gardella, Tomorrow II, 32 x 51 inches; hand-dyed wool tapestry
Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center: Phone number is (505) 747-3577

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Warm sunshine

Today is a beautiful sunny day in the San Luis Valley. The temperature is just above freezing and it feels warm and beautiful. As I trek in and outside again to check the dye pots and give them a little stir, I stop to watch the cranes circling high above my house. Sometimes I have to search a long time to locate them as they are circling so high they are just little dots in the sky. On days like this they do big lazy circles around and around, croaking and crying the whole time.

I am making black today. Very light and very dark. I am attempting to level the very light black (gray) with the addition of Abegal SET and sodium acetate to my usual glauber's salt. We shall see if it works.

The sun shines brightly in my south-facing studio and I am happily winding yarn. Life doesn't always seem so idyllic, but it is amazing what a little sunshine, some crane cries, and a pile of yarn can do for me.

Happy Monday from the San Luis Valley of Colorado. (I will let you know how the black turns out.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

A bad dye job

Today I was working to turn this yarn
into colorways for a class I'm working on.

I suspect that I waited a little too long to add the acid on this teal batch and the dye hit quickly. I use glaubers salt as a leveler and there was a lot of it in this dye bath, but clearly I did something else wrong as you can see the unevenness before I even took it out of the bath.

So I am afraid I am going to have to go back to using some of these especially for my lightest colors.
I used to use all three at various points (Synthrapol, Abegal SET, and sodium acetate), but dropped them one at a time as things seemed to be going well. Perhaps I'm having trouble with the well water here and probably I should test the pH of it right off. Heaven only knows what else is in it as it frequently smells like sulfur (which is a nice addition to the frequent skunk smell around here especially this time of year--we measure the seasons by the skunk migrations now).

Synthrapol can act as a surfactant to improve the penetration of water and dye into wool. I always soak my fiber overnight but this doesn't seem to be enough for the lightest colors.  Glaubers salt is sodium sulfate and is used as a leveling agent which I do use in all of my dyeing below about a 3 depth of shade and with colors as light as this teal, I use it at 10% WOG.

Abegal SET is another leveling agent which helps create an even color by slowing the rate at which the dye molecules attach to the fiber as well as increasing dye penetration. Sodium Acetate is a pH buffer and my research suggests it helps keep the pH of the pot from drifting upward at the end of dyeing. I am not sure I need to return to using it as my pots seem to remain below pH 5.0 during the whole process.

It is also possible that the pot was too acidic for the light color which helped the dye hit quicker. I don't usually measure the pH of the dye pot very carefully. The citric acid I use takes it down to about 3.5 and so I just put in enough to do that. But maybe pH 3.5 is too low for these light colors.

At any rate, I will have to take more care with the lower depth of shade colors in the future and experiment with some of these assists for them. The colors at DOS 1.0 or more are quite even almost all of the time.

Alas, this teal yarn is going to need a do-over. Good thing I like dyeing.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

DY Begay's show at U.C. Davis

Sara Lamb had a post about DY Begay's show at UC Davis this past week. I really enjoyed her words about DY Begay and greatly wished I could have heard DY speak (not to mention seeing these gorgeous weavings in person).

Sara's blog is Woven Thoughts and the post Recharge about DY Begay is HERE. In her post, Sara has this to say about DY, which echoes my own feelings about this amazing contemporary Navajo weaver.
It was a quietly revealing and inspiring talk given by a woman who knows her true place, and her value, along the continuum of weavers, mothers, Dine, and desert dwellers.

DY's show is at the C.N. Gorman Museum at U.C. Davis. The curator of the museum was kind enough to send me a catalog the day she got them as I realized I was not going to be in the vicinity of Davis during the run of this show. The catalog is very well done and I recommend a copy. You can purchase it HERE.

Here is an excerpt of the artist statement in the catalog. DY's words:
I am blessed that I can stand outside my home (hogan) and see far in all four directions. There are formations outlined in stepped patterns painted in bundles of red streaks, subtle shades of pinks, clusters of dusty-ochre, and flickering sand tone colors. At dawn, shoots of pale baby blue awaken the sky, and I sometimes see deep dark indigo, pinks and shades of soft yellows. The sunrise is often my canvas - it seduces my imagination with colors, curiosity, and beauty. These images are replaced at the end of the day by flaming oranges as the sun sets for the evening and night takes on dark, forbidding colors. These daily encounters with light, color, remarkable land formations, and a lifetime of memories are the textures I reflect on, interpret, and explore in my tapestries.
I grew up in Gallup, NM near the Navajo Reservation and I can feel DY's descriptions of the land she is from in my own heart.

Here are two photos from the northeastern part of Arizona near Chinle where DY is from.

Friday, February 8, 2013


The cranes are back. This morning I was re-tying yarn skeins to get them ready for dyeing and I heard them through the double pane windows. I ran outside, and yes, it was the unmistakable sound of sandhill cranes calling. This is the front of the troop. Thousands and thousands more will be arriving in the next few weeks.

These birds are a big sign of hope for me. It is a time of indecision and uncertainty in my little family. The return of the cranes is something I didn't think I would be here to see, but here I am. They make me feel hopeful. Time isn't linear, it moves in circles. The good we plant comes around again. I am so happy to witness the return of these big beautiful birds. They'll be here a few months before heading north to Oregon or Canada to their summer nesting grounds. Maybe by the time they leave I will be following them on my own migration.

Here is a video compiled from photos and video taken over the last year. Listen to the sound of thousands of cranes circling. The cranes arrive in the San Luis Valley sometime around Valentine's Day, stopping here after leaving their wintering grounds at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. They will be here for a couple months before they fly north for the summer. They stop here again in October and November on their way back south with their new young in tow. Most of these cranes are greater sandhill cranes as opposed to the famous flocks of lesser sandhills on the North Platte in Nebraska.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Look what the brown truck brought today!

Look what showed up on my porch today while I was out walking the dog this afternoon.

That is 30 pounds of white yarn that is soon going to be dyed for my students.

There is nothing better than a big box of undyed yarn waiting for the magic that turns it all the colors of my color wheel and many in between. I love dyeing yarn in a weird, unexplainable kind of way. I probably shouldn't love it. It is really hard work. Those pots are heavy and there is a lot of water to schlep. There is the messy process of measuring the dye in both liquid and powder form. Then there are the constant trips inside and outside again to check the temperatures, add the acid, make sure the burners haven't blown out and that I haven't run out of propane. There are the pots I forget to time and have to guess (actually I'm getting pretty good at telling what stage the yarn is at and rarely even use my thermometer any more). There is the worrying that I am wasting too much water and the attempts to reuse some of the dye baths (which usually does work out). There are the dark evenings when I am in the backyard with my headlamp rinsing yarn to hang and the times I have to try to keep it from dripping all over the house because it is too cold or windy or smoky to leave it hanging outside. But still the magic of the resulting colors, which are surprisingly almost always what I expect, is really fun.
The weather is much warmer now and as some days it is even above freezing, I think I may be able to brave the dye shed before too long. I am looking forward to making this white yarn colored.

Here is my niece helping her auntie with the last batch of yarn I dyed before the weather turned colder than is really reasonable.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Off Broadway

And as a last bit about my trip to Fort Wayne, I couldn't resist mentioning their fantastic yarn store, Knitting Off Broadway. This is probably one of the best I've been to. They had the right mix of gorgeous yarns that included some gorgeous yarns I could afford. They had an astounding collection of terrific patterns, and Natalie and Tami knew everything that was in the shop and where to find it.

The stone sheep that meet you at the door (in the back in case you go) are perfect for a yarn shop. Who needs stone lions?

I have to find one of these old hotel mail slot thingies to hold my knitting yarn. Emily is gasping right now at the thought of that much knitting yarn, but I probably could fill at least half of it with what is stuffed in the bottom of my closet and in the ottoman in the living room right now.

Because I was traveling light on the trip to Fort Wayne, I bought a bit more yarn than I could stuff in my little bag. Natalie, being the great business woman she is, was quick to say she could ship it to me.  A few days after I got home this pile of yarn arrived in the mail. It was Christmas all over again. I can't wait to dig into some of those new Steven West patterns Natalie!