Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Desert Horizons with Joan Baxter

Ghost Ranch. It is in the Piedra Lumbre near Abiquiu, New Mexico. It is a place that lives deep in my heart and it was also the perfect place for some serious learning.

I was there all last week taking a workshop with Joan Baxter. If you don't know who Joan Baxter is, look her up NOW! just as soon as you finish reading this blog post. It was a tremendous and rare opportunity to study with a true master.

I was challenged. I pushed myself. I laughed. I cried a little. I wanted to dig deeper. I did.

I learned a lot. I filled a notebook with notes and design ideas.

When I left, my world was bigger than it was when I arrived. For that I have Joan to thank... and myself. I was ready for it. I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked to be, but it wouldn't have mattered. I would have thrown everything out in the first hour anyway. That was the scary part. That first day when I suddenly felt like I was standing there naked. Like I knew nothing. Like I had to start over and build my whole self again. Turns out that isn't the case, but it was a frightening place to be for awhile.

Joan brought this yarn. It was gorgeous; it is no longer made; and she let us use it anyway. She is working with the fantastic people at Weaver's Bazaar to make a similar yarn.
She also brought the whole palette from Weaver's Bazaar in 18/2. This is a yarn that I am very interested in. I have used little bits of it and am looking forward to the day that a shop in the USA carries it and I can get it a bit easier. It will be soon.

The mix of these two yarns was wonderful... and very different from the yarn I am used to using. These yarns are thinner than the singles I use now and that allows for more color blending. The combination of a thinner and thicker yarn does change the way the bundles reflect light and how the colors mix.
The light there changes all the time. Sunrise and sunset were particularly fascinating as the colors of the sandstone cliffs changed. The deep red glowing stone looks very different at sunset than it does in the fierce light at mid-day. I wandered around a lot at the beginning and ending of the days watching the light change on the rock and through the cottonwood trees along the bosque.

Joan's work is grounded in landscape, narrative, and place. Being able to study with her in a place that has been familiar to me over most of my life was very helpful. Using the stories in my head and the feeling of the Piedra Lumbre in my bones did inform my choices and my designing.
Her work is full of transparency and mystery. She tells stories, often using multiple timelines in the same piece. One of her most recent pieces is a collaboration with a choreographer. The tapestry is gorgeous and when installed, there is a dancer that looks like it is moving right in the tapestry, projected onto and through the work.

Joan is from Scotland and her home clearly informs all of her work. Water, boats, kilts, deep colors, and old places find themselves in her pieces. That sense of place and use of landscape was a strong message as we learned the simpler things of technique and color. I started to wonder where my own starting point was. What am I grounded in? Where is the story of the piece I am struggling to design? What does it mean? Once I started to find some questions and a few answers, I was able to take steps toward a piece of art that I want to make.
I knew many of the other workshop participants. They were a talented and committed bunch. We worked all day and then had a program each evening. We heard about Joan's work and shared some of our own. We heard about various projects Joan has completed and the people and stories she has worked with in her career. These images and conversations were fascinating and a vital piece of the experience.

The sampler that I wove while there is not important. It was informative and I practiced some new color skills. What was important was the process. Looking at Joan's work. Looking at other tapestry artist's work. Talking about technique and color and design. And spending time sitting still and looking. There was no moon that week and the Milky Way was brilliant. I stood on the pitch dark path watching Cassiopeia climbing as the Big Dipper headed toward the horizon every night... dancing around the north star. And in the morning I greeted the dawn with sun salutations facing the iconic Peternal, the mountain Georgia said god would give her if she painted it enough.

On the last morning as I left Ghost Ranch, I stopped at the Billy Crystal* cabin hoping to capture one last moment of a tremendous week.
 That is when I cried a little... hoping that the experience could continue at home in my own studio... wishing I had more time to learn from Joan... wanting more clear space to walk on the earth without distraction...
As I drove north toward Chama I started to feel better. The road up over the Continental Divide was a long tunnel of brilliant gold. 

Be well.

P.S. If you read the last post and wondered about the dinosaurs, I would like to offer proof that there IS a coelophysis quarry at Ghost Ranch. But you must go find it for yourself. The search is half the fun.
*Part of the movie City Slickers was filmed at Ghost Ranch. The cabin they built for the scene at the end of the movie when they ride into the ranch is still there. I have always called it the Billy Crystal cabin.


  1. Loved reading this. Thank you for sharing the treasure that is a Joan Baxter class. One day...!

  2. And thanks for sharing your gorgeous photos of the treasure that is Ghost Ranch! This post is a great preview for those of us in Georgia who will study with Joan next week. I hope I'm ready!

  3. What a great post this was. I felt at the end I could understand why you cried. It also inspired me to keep working at making my tapestry technique better so I can also explore those wonderful yarn mixes.

  4. I really enjoyed your words Rebecca! I'm getting ready to head to Georgia for Joan's workshop there. It is such a privilege and pleasure to have the opportunity.

  5. What an inspiring and emotional blog, Rebecca.

  6. Trish at Tangled ThreadsOctober 2, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    After "feeding" all of us out in cyberland for the last six months, it is wonderful that you had this opportunity to "feed" yourself. I am so glad it lived up to expectations.

  7. Thank you Rebecca....Your blog is truly inspiring.

  8. Great to read your blog and to know that you too have your ups and downs!! I love Joan Baxter's work and dream of going up to Scotland to one of her workshops....maybe one day! I also love your work...thank you for sharing it.

  9. Thank you for sharing your experience so eloquently, Rebecca-- especially your questions. I think you got to the heart of it all with those questions.

  10. Thanks, Rebecca, for this post...for all your posts, really. Your words are vivid, concise and inspirational. Happy weaving!

  11. What a wonderful experience! And your samples look lovely.

  12. Thank you so very much for all the photos of Ghost Ranch land, and of your workshop and thoughts. And thank you for a wonderful workshop in Golden several weeks ago. It was great. Thank you also for your blogs and for sharing your work and thoughts.
    Helen Hart


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