Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A new home for the blog

I have finally gone and done it. I have updated my website and have moved the blog to its new home. For those of you who love Blogger, I apologize. But my little digital world will run a whole lot better with the blog living on my website.

You can find it HERE.

You will be able to sign up to have new posts emailed to you soon. Currently my domain host is wrapped up in some corporate merger and I have been unable to get the necessary codes to make this happen. But it will! In the meantime, please use your favorite blog reader or just check now and then for new posts.

You'll know you've arrived at the right place when you see this:

I have had a few posts that didn't show up on Blogger already, but from now on I will only be posting to the blog on my website. Yesterday's post is about my visit to a tapestry I wove six years ago which is hanging in a college in northern Colorado. You can read it HERE.

I will leave this blog up so if you have particular posts bookmarked, you can still return to them on Blogger. All the content also exists now on my website.

Thanks for following me!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Middle aged white woman in a Mustang

When you fly into Memphis very late at night, Budget may well be completely out of Kias. The agent asked me (rather skeptically I might add) if I could "drive a stick." Heck yeah, I replied. Shortly thereafter I was driving away in a 2016 Ford Mustang headed for the Mississippi Delta. I was a bit self-conscious about the car. I got a lot of looks and most of them seemed to say, "hey, what is that middle-aged white lady doing driving that Mustang?" My brother-in-law did enjoy it during the ten minutes I gave him the keys. (I held my breath the whole time.)

The photo is offered as proof that this story is true.

It was that kind of a weekend.

We went to Mississippi for a niece's high school graduation. I enjoy being part of the couch dog pile since my labrador died a few years ago. Quite literally a dog pile. There were nine dogs in the house while we were there including this little guy who was being fostered until he was old enough to find a new home. His name is Al (or Owl if you're the four-year-old from Nashville).
Family vacations being what they are, I had to make an emergency trip to Oxford which has the nearest yarn shop to the Delta. Three hours alone in the Mustang (no barking, children, or video games involved) might have had something to do with it. I came away with the yarn and a bonus trip to one of the best bookstores anywhere, Square Books.
Most of a hat was knitted over the next day, what with the barbecue by the lake and all. I did stop knitting long enough to steer a canoe around the lake.

On the return trip, the catering truck ran into our plane parked at the gate in Detroit and we got to spend a few more late-night hours waiting for another plane. I can tell you that the frozen yogurt place closes at 8:30, much to my disappointment.

We made it home in the wee hours and I am happy to be back in my studio surrounded by yarn and books and ideas and possibilities.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fine art tapestry: found at the Denver Art Museum and your local thrift store

You don't expect to find fine art tapestry in a thrift store. At least I don't.

But one day last winter, I happened to check my email at 9:50 on a Monday morning and had a note from a friend in Santa Fe about two tapestries by James Koehler that were spotted over the weekend at a thrift store called Look What the Cat Dragged In. After I got over how mortified James would have been to have his tapestries in a store with the word cat in the name, I looked up their website. They opened at 10. A quick call later and I owned this tapestry.
Jeremy Koehler, unknown title, 1995, 60 x 60 inches, tapestry
Let me back up. James Koehler was my teacher. He was a tapestry artist working in New Mexico. He taught me about craftsmanship, honed my dye skills, pushed my design skills, and pretty much made sure I never got lazy. I might have heard a few too many Broadway musicals during those years working in his studio, but I learned to be a tapestry artist. James died in March of 2011.

At the thrift shop, the people who drove over looking for those tapestries that Monday morning were disappointed. The store was in Santa Fe and I now live in northern Colorado. Another student of James bought the other tapestry and I decided that a little pilgrimage to Santa Fe was just what I needed. The next day I drove down to pick up those pieces. My sister has a deep freeze, and after wrapping the piece in plastic, it lived in and out of the freezer for a couple months. It is my policy that anything fiber that comes from a thrift store must have some moth-management before it comes into my wool-filled studio.
I rescued the piece from the freezer in February and brought it home. At some point soon it'll make a trip to a photographer, but for today, the snapshot above gives you an idea of the work.

I love the slight color shifts between shades of blue-violet. In true James fashion, he was using a large number of colors just slightly different in hue and value. Subtlety in color was one of his favorite things to play with.

Yesterday I was at the Denver Art Museum again to hear a talk by a dear friend of mine, DY Begay. While there, I visited the sixth floor to see the tapestry show yet again. The piece in the collection of the Denver Art Museum by James is from the same era as the one I just bought. It is one of his Chief Blanket pieces.
James Koehler, Chief Blanket, collection of the Denver Art Museum. Piece to the right is Ramona Sakiestewa.
Later in the evening I sat and listened to DY Begay speak about her work as a contemporary Navajo artist working in tapestry. DY's work springs from her connection to her home, Tselani, in Arizona. Her process reflects her life as a Navajo woman, and her quiet insistence on her methods of materials collection for wool and dye inform everything she makes.

On my long drive home I thought about how both of these artists working in tapestry exert a quiet, steady influence on my own tendency to follow every little mouse trail off into corners, distracting myself from the work I would most love to do. James was a persistent anchor for years--until he was gone. I realized that I have other anchors now. DY and a few other tapestry friends remind me to follow my call to create woven art. My own practice of tapestry weaving, including designing and preparing materials, grounds my work. The doing of it I mean. The practice becomes its own entity over the years and it becomes one of the most important forces in the creation.

I still don't think James would be happy to have his tapestries sold in a thrift store, but I am grateful that I saw that email and they are now appreciated by two of his former students. This piece, the title of which I have not yet found, can be a reminder of where I came from and the principles that James taught me, both the ones I cling strongly to and the ones I have rejected. It will also remind me of the importance of focus and doing my own most important work every day.
Jeremy Koehler, unknown title, 1995, 60 x 60 inches, tapestry
If you don't know the story of James, he published an autobiography with Carol Greene before he died. You can buy a copy HERE. When he wove this piece in the mid-90s, he was still going by the name he took as a Benedictine monk, Jeremy. a few years later he went back to his given name, James. He did these pieces in series. I don't know if other pieces of this design exist out there somewhere since this was number one. If you have one or have seen one somewhere, please let me know!

Do you have a piece made by someone who has influenced your artistic practice or your creative life in some way? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rookie mistake

I've been dyeing for a long time--over a decade. I use acid wool dyes, sabraset and lanaset dyes from Earth Guild and PRO Chemical and Dye. They are the same dyes, they just have different trade names. And of course the colors are slightly different. For some reason, the last time I did a lot of dyeing, I decided that I was going to start using just one company, PRO Chemical and Dye. I guess I thought it would be easier and a little cheaper to source my dye from one place and I was using Deb Menz's dye books and formulas for some of my experiments and she uses their dyes.

However, this led me right into this weekend's rookie mistake.
That beautiful blue yarn is made in part with Blue 2R, a dye made by Earth Guild. I have been using this lovely dye for a decade. I love it. Why would I abandon it?

I started dyeing the blues for the next tapestry late last week. As I began measuring the dyes for the first eight colors, I started to panic a little bit because the jar was almost empty. Searching through my two small boxes of dye powders, I realized there was no new jar.

No. New. Jar.

Then I remembered the aforementioned clearly delusional decision to stop using Earth Guild dyes.

I realized I had enough for the eight colors, and thought, oh great, I'm going to make it!
Only to remember that I had nine more blues to go for this piece and there was no way any other dye could be substituted.

And this was all I had left.
Thankfully Earth Guild was fast. Yesterday this little box was on my doorstep and I'm off to dye the rest of the blue.
In penance I promise to continue to use Earth Guild's Blue 2R for all eternity... or at least until another delusion steps in.

Thanks Earth Guild.