Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Chief Blanket-inspired tapestry of James Koehler's at the Denver Art Museum

It has been four years today since my teacher, James Koehler passed away unexpectedly at 58 years of age. I started a tradition of posting on the day he died and I think I shall keep it up. You can find the links for the last 4 years below including the post I wrote just after he died. I also wrote an article about him for the newsletter of the American Tapestry Alliance, Tapestry Topics. It is in the Summer 2011 issue which is now available for free on their website HERE. Perhaps the best part of that article is all the voices of his students, apprentices, and friends.

I had the opportunity to visit the conservation department at the Denver Art Museum last month. We looked at some large 16th century tapestries that are being stabilized for the upcoming tapestry exhibition and then, when the class had dispersed, textile conservator Allison McCloskey pulled out the James Koehler piece that is in their collection.

James Koehler, Chief Blanket piece, in the collection of the Denver Art Museum
He wove these chief blanket-inspired pieces before I knew him and I had never seen this piece before. But as soon as she unrolled it it was clear it was a James Koehler. His signature weft interlock join was there along with precise, unwavering craftsmanship. And the thing that made me chuckle and convinced me no one else could have woven this piece was something my camera was just able to capture.
James Koehler, Chief Blanket detail
He loved to put things together that you couldn't really see in every light. See the purple square in the diamond? From him I learned to tag my butterflies because the colors are too close to reliably decipher. But when you stand back and look at the finished weaving, you can tell the difference. I think life is like that a lot of the time. We can't see things up close that if we just got some distance from, would be obvious.

If you'd like to see what I wrote in years past, here are the links.

2014  Three Years Passes in a Flash
2013  James Koehler, 2 years gone
2012  James and the cranes
2011  James

You can now buy James Koehler's autobiography, Woven Color, on Amazon. It is a beautiful book and a well-told story of a journey lived in tapestry. The book is self-published through Blurb Publications and you can also buy it directly from them.

James loved teaching. In his book he had this to say about that part of his career:
I want to continue to teach because the world of tapestry has enriched my life in so many ways. I want to pass on that gift to a new generation of weavers who are willing to learn from me. Tapestry weaving is an art form that does not get a lot of attention from the mainstream art world. I hope my work will help to change that…. [Tapestry] is an art form that enables people to enter into their own creative process where they can explore the medium and expand the possibilities that are inherent in it… I like to live my life from the vantage point of considering unexplored possibilities, and I am passionate about approaching my work in the same way. (Koehler 253)
I also love teaching. I didn't learn this from James, but I do understand it. I have been teaching various things since I was a kid playing school with my little sister, but teaching tapestry is the best thing I have ever done. When I look back at the last four years of my studio career, I sometimes indulge myself a little bit and think, "James would be proud."


Koehler, James, & Carole Greene. Woven Color: The Tapestry Art of James Koehler. Blurb Publications, 2010.


  1. I went back and read all these tribute posts you've written and they are all beautiful. I saw a picture of Jame's tapestries hanging on the wall in the post with the crane's and I wanted to know how did those tapestries get framed that way? They are amazing. In particular how are the corners done so there is not an excess build up of weaving?

    1. James had a carpenter make a complicated frame for each piece and then he sewed another complicated attachment system with black cloth (the tapestry only goes to the outside edge of the frame--it is flat and doesn't go over the corner) and velcro.

  2. Trish at Tangled ThreadsMarch 4, 2015 at 9:55 PM

    Very proud!

  3. You should be proud!........I took a workshop from James Koehler not long before he passed and I was so shocked.......sad to know his hands would not be weaving these beautiful works of art anymore......(well maybe he is!) of my favorite parts of the workshop was watching his hands doing their thing!

  4. I didn't know James Koehler but saw his tapestries online through your postings about him. I was thinking about him last night and his awe-inspiring Harmonic Oscillation series. Thank you Rebecca, for keeping his spirit alive -- Hitomi

  5. He would be so proud of you....your own growth and ongoing commitment to growing the tapestry community. Joanne

  6. That's very interesting. Thank you for your reply.

  7. I received this comment on the blog 3/6/15 and hit the Delete button on the moderation accidentally: Miranda Hewitt, I apologize.
    "I very much enjoyed reading about J Koehler as your blog. I appreciated the blue diamond/square but could you explain about butterfly tabs?"
    Miranda, I'm not actually sure what you're asking?! I don't know that there was any extra meaning to the form--just what he wove. It is all flat-woven tapestry.


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