Category Archives: weaving

Handweaver’s Guild of America: Small Expressions show

First Place. Tori Kleinert.
Turners Station, Kentucky.
Ceremonial Semblance: It’s in the Cloth © 2012.
Tapestry. Linen, cotton.

I had the pleasure of jurying Small Expressions 2013, sponsored by Handweavers’ Guild of America, at the Fine Line Art Center in St Charles, IL and attended the opening last Saturday. I chose 5 terrific prize winning pieces.   


My juror’s statement:  

It has been an honor, a pleasure, and a great confirmation of hope to have juried this year’s Small Expressions Exhibit for the Handweavers’ Guild of America.  I always find it humbling to be put in a position of making judgment calls.  One must be particularly wary of objectivity: it is so easy to be carried away by one’s personal biases, one’s taste.  No doubt things will be read into my choices, noting that I am a handweaver of 40 years myself!
It was a joy to see the great variety of media presented within such a small format.  The old maxim is true: it was extremely difficult to whittle the selection down to the maximum number of pieces that the show can handle.  It meant tough choices.  This show is, in essense, about miniature work.  The crafting demanded at such a reduced scale must be immaculate: larger work is more forgiving.  The scale of threads is more crucial, the fineness of edges more exacting.  Simply reducing one’s usual work to a smaller size is not always satisfactory.  I am always conscious of the danger of how one places a very small piece of fabric on a very large wall:  it may well look like a scrap.  But when well executed and presented, the smallness provides a treasure that is a reward in itself.
Framing is also essential.  It is terribly easy to overpower a delicate structure with a conventional frame.  Therefore I find it necessary to include the framing or mounting within the realm of criticism. 
I respond to excellence of craft combined with a stretch of imagination.  A perfectly executed basket, simple and proud, can be as imaginative as an elaborately woven tapestry:  it all depends upon an exact, if sometimes serendipitous, confluence of material, form, craft, color, a rightness of material, scale and structure to define an idea but leave it open to thought and imagination.
I was delighted with how often I found material completing a sentence that line or form had begun; how the magic of detail could flesh out an evocative yet sweeping form.  These are the great assets of fibrous materials, and it is gratifying to find them alive and well!
I also was sometimes heartbroken to eliminate a beautiful piece which was overpowered by an ill-chosen frame, or an immaculately and elaborately structure held up by a thoughtless armature.  Once in a while a work of staggering craftsmanship was eliminated due to a subject which was not entirely original.  Although I respected all of these pieces, the search was for the best of the lot.
I am quite excitedly looking forward to viewing all of this masterful work in its 3-D reality:  frequently a photograph is puzzling because of the arbitrariness of a reflection or a shadow.  I am hugely looking forward to a couple of works which are somewhat mysterious in the photographs yet promise something surprising in terms of materials or colors or structure.  I will be truly sorry to miss some of the wonderful pieces which did not quite make it here due to any number of the reasons explained above. One of the best things, for me, about work in textile media is simply the necessity of accessing it physically: no digital substitute can suffice.  Isn’t that satisfying?”
Second Place. Noriko Tomita. Tokyo, Japan.
Twistingle © 2013.
Embroidery, original technique.
Third Place.
Vladimira Fillion Wackenreuther.
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
Baby Snake © 2012.
Weaving.
Honorable Mention Award. Saberah Malik.
Warwick, Rhode Island.
Backyard Yield© 2013.
Self-developed technique from oboshi shibori, marbling, machine and hand sewing.
HGA Award Award. Geraldine Woodhouse.
Katy, Texas.
Big Bend Post Office© 2011.
Sixteen-shaft summer and winter figural pattern
woven in tapestry.





Fine Line Creative Arts Center • 6N158 Crane Road • St. Charles, IL • 60175 • 630-584-9443 Exhibition hours:
Monday through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays. www.fineline.orgwww.fineline.org
 


meditating, or not

Well, I am still not weaving — nor am I writing very much, despite best intentions and earnest promises to myself.  But as I fuss and bother and stay far away from the studio, meditation is creeping back into my life, and that, as we all know, is the path to mindfulness.

I have never been one to sit and chant a mantra, though I have sat and followed my breathing (thanks very much to yoga training) and I know full well the value of this: the clearing out of the pipes, the increased ability to concentrate, the intensification of focus and clarity which will result.

I have always, since I first understood what meditation meant and how it worked in our lives, thought that my weaving was my meditation.  At Cranbrook, where I studied in the 80’s, Hamada’s writings about the centering power of craft were much in discussion and a formative and empowering defense of hand weaving in the face of conceptualism.

But I had a significant conversation with a dear friend, who lives and breathes a meditative life, earlier in the week.  I told her how much I felt unbalanced because I was disconnected from my artmaking, in particular the meditative weaving process.  I asked her if weaving was, as I had frequently claimed, a true form of meditation, and to my chagrin, she replied that it certainly has great meditative qualities, but the attention required from time to time for the motion of the hands or the decisions one makes along the way remove it from the total detachment that is the goal.  Aaaaahhh.

No, I have not yet dug out my zafu and begun pure meditation in earnest.  But as I was weeding my gravel garden this morning (how Zen!), my mind roamed elegantly around and formed such beautiful, clear associations about art, life, gardening, spring.  What to do?  Interrupt it, run in and write it all down?  Or keep going and savor the experience, knowing that it will slip from my memory by day’s end (now)?  I chose the latter, valuing the experience over the recording of it.  Kathleen assures me that when I start meditation in earnest I can, in effect, have both: the beautiful experience and the reclaimed memory to write about it later if I choose.

The Half-Life of Words

The internet sometimes spooks me.  Your words can literally come back to haunt you!  I subscribe to Google Alerts to find out what people say about me (call me vain or paranoid, it is useful!), and today and alert about an article mentioning me came up, so I went to it and found the abstract ot a talk I gave to the Textile Society of America in New York in 1998, when, if I remember rightly, I was asked to speak about making textile things.  I should note that I was practically schooled to understand that weaving was plenty old fashioned (or call me paranoid!).  Here is the abstract.  As for the talk, it was probably ad-libbed, used slides, and if I stored it on the computer at all that was a few crashes ago.

Making It the “Old-Fashioned Way”

“It is tempting to consider the process I am about to describe as the result of a point of view which is subjective and maybe even romantic. Although the adjective “old fashioned” as used in the title carries a certain amount of ironic wit, in fact my method of weaving is ancient and timeless. I chose it because it is the only way I can adequately convey the majority of my ideas about the textile world. I also work this way because I love the process itself I have tailored my ideas, and risked hobbling them, in order to continue to indulge in a way of working that suits me eminently.
I weave objects which I call tapestries, although technically they are compound twill fabrics with images composed of discontinuous inlaid wefts. The structure is a three harness twill; the ground is warp-faced and the inlaid areas are weft-faced. I selected the structure after studying the three-harness twill tapestry of Kashmiri shawls. The structure confers the ability to express acutely refined detail while yielding the drape necessary for a shawl’s function. I adapted the weave to an inlay structure in order to economize on the time spent in weaving. In fact, I weave quite rapidly as a result, often more than 12″ a day. I am also able to exploit both warp and weft as design elements. The sett of my warp is relatively fine, 30 epi, which gives the work good detail and yet is a large enough scale to be able to see easily the interaction of colors between individual threads.”

And here is a detail of something I was weaving around that time.

detail, “Pear Tree”, 1996 hand woven textile

contemplating weaving again

It has been a really long time since I have done any weaving — I cut the last tapestry off in September last year, shipped them all out to Patina Gallery, and heaved a sigh of relief at the close of a cycle of work.

Most times when I do cycles of work, they are focused on something external: a historic garden, perhaps, or the contents of my kitchen.  When the sequence makes sense,when the story has been told, it is over.  The last body of work was different in that it recorded an internal state of personal transformation.  What marks the end?  It was not a deliberated logical sequence, so much as an intuitive one.  When I finished Beatrice, my muse, the work was complete.

So the remnants of specific warps — with enough left to weave more! — have hung limply from my looms’ reeds, chiding me that it is wasteful not to weave them off, while I have busied myself with projects of an entirely different nature: reading about climate change, working toward bringing local food to our tiny rural town, learning to screen print and using that to make direct statements about these issues in terms of household items.  All the while wondering, Will I ever weave again?

Bee Nice hand printed Linen towels, 2012

Weaving to me is a centering process essential to my well being.  I don’t make useful things, witty things, toys on my looms (all of which I love to make in other craft media): I reserve it for my alpha state work, when my hands and heart and head are connected in a way that still the chatter of thought and manifests deeper realities.  I now that sounds hyperbolic, but that is how I define the art-making state, and it deserves the highest respect in my own chain of work: the weaving studio is uncluttered with any of the other things that crowd my work day: no sewing, no paperwork, no computer, nothing but yarn, space, and my looms.  When I set foot in there it is like entering the yoga studio: no shoes, mind stilling.

I haven’t been there much lately so the mind is clamoring.

I have been distilling thoughts, though, about how the art end of my work can begin to confront the same ideas I have been so absorbed with in the rest of my activities.  I have the idea, but not the visual yet.  Often a body of work begins when I see something out there which might as well have a halo around it: I see it and it marks me and demands I do something with it.  The last cycle was without the exterior stimulus, but most other things are clearly about a place.  Genius loci, is that the phrase?

“Cold Frames & Fruit Trees” from the English Garden Series, 1989

Now I have been thinking about gardening as not just a metaphor for life, but as central to a new sustainability, and I am re-discovering old thought (such as my English Kitchen Garden series) and combining them with exciting new ideas being tested in the world, such as the zero-waste urban farm I saw in Chicago a few weeks ago.  I have the ideas spilling out, but have found no centering visual focus yet.  Nearly there!  Watch this space.

all images copyright Laura Foster Nicholson

the relevance of the Victorian Kitchen Garden

Over the last six months I have been doing a lot of reading on fairly hair-raising topics concerning the end of oil and climate change.  I take these things seriously though I admit to a kind of hyper-excitement about the direness of all of the predictions.  I have spent the last several months pondering how my art could make any difference at all in these critical times.  How will we survive at all?  I wonder.  What good can art even serve?  Will making more stuff even begin to address the stuff problem that has gotten us here?

The home making part of me has fared better: ah! resourcefulness! self-sufficiency! local food! frugality! victory gardens!  I am inspired by the issues to hand.

And life is so lovely: there is always some serendipity that reminds me of what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious, what others think of as karma or our simple interconnectedness.  So it happened that a couple of weeks ago my partner in ribbon, Edith Minne of Renaissance Ribbons, mentioned to me that she had been watching an old BBC TV series about the Victorian Kitchen Garden, did I know it?  I wrote back that I had used a book, based on an 80’s TV show, The Victorian Kitchen Garden, by Jennifer Davies, as the extensive resource for my series, the English Kitchen Garden, which I wove in the late 80’s.  Yes, that was the series.

The English Walled Garden, 1989, hand woven tapestry

She sent me the link, and I have been able to patch it together on youTube.  What a wonder it has been for me!

It is such a slow and gentle kind of program, dated even by the time of its making, let alone its subject.  A leisurely conversation between two gardeners, lingering shots of beautiful and unusual produce.  But the reality here: the goal of the kitchen garden was, of course, to provide food for the house.  If it was a big house, it needed a big garden.  Little question of anyone of relying upon imported food: one ate what was grown at home.  If one were very rich, and had at hand 14 gardeners, glass houses, and acres of land to till, one could have pineapples brought to table, melons, bananas even.  So what? a trip to the supermarket will get us all that — brought in from Costa Rica or Mexico, whenever we want (at the cost of oil and our climate) — but this was all grown in chilly, grey, rainy old England.  The hunger to impress, to have a variety of stimulating and exotic foods was theirs, as it is ours, but the ingenuity required to perform all of this magic without today’s comforts of ready electricity and plumbing is simply breathtaking.

The Vinery, 1989, hand woven tapestry

This takes me back to my work, then & now, as it were.  In 1988 or so, I witnessed what remained of an English walled vegetable garden at Holkham Park, in Norfolk, England, in the dead of winter.  It was glorious:  patterns of trained fruit trees etched on pink brick walls in the low and golden December sunlight; bluish glassed houses and cold frames with sheltered vines and fruit trees, rectalinear patterns of quiescent gardens awaiting spring.  I took photos and flew home inspired.  I took up the Victorian Kitchen Garden book for reference.

Cold Frames & Fruit Trees, 1989, hand woven tapestry

I look back at that work now, after watching these sweet programs, and wonder at the relevance. Here it is.  I have been reading — and ranting — about year round gardening (per Elliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm, for example).  I have been chivvying up our reluctant gardeners here in the mildest southern Indiana climate to try growing vegetables all winter.  I have been working hard to convince people that our farmer’s market is worth building and worth shopping at.  So I look back at my old tapestries and think,”yes, there is an answer, and I have known it for many years”.

The Root Cellar, 1989, hand woven tapestry

All photos and artwork copyright Laura Foster Nicholson, 1989-2012.

Being Here at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe

I am so excited — the show and all, but next week I will be THERE, in marvelous Santa Fe, surounded by friends, family and a totally supportive gallery!  All the work I have been writing about this year will be on display, in my show, Being Here.

The work was more emotional than much of my work has been in a very long time, and I used the making of it to transition from a deep sadness to a feeling of transcendant expectation of a new future.  Beatrice, the strange lady about whom I wrote last month, a culmination of a personal journey: the inspired artist, or the muse herself, smiling through her tears toward a new day. (It is a good thing I am a visual artist rather than a poet, as I cringe at the inadequacy of my words here!)

After Beatrice came a floating cloud of bees, freedom of spirit, entitled Being Here.

Here is the handsome card Patina has prepared.

Being There

I have completed the last tapestry in this cycle of Bee thought.  All of this new work is going off to Patina Gallery in Santa Fe next week for my show there, opening October 7. 

This piece, “Being Here”, just flew off the loom, as opposed to the earlier piece on the same warp, now named “Beatrice” (after Dante’s muse), who worried me to death all summer (so much for the power of a Muse!).  I felt that a cloud of energy, diffusing upward, was a good and fitting point to rest this inner search.  It feels good and peaceful and there is more than a promise of joy to come.

Being Here, 2011.  41″ x 34″, wool with silk & metallic

strange lady

Having finished blocking and hemming this piece, I finally got her on the wall, the only way I can actually evaluate everything about the composition, proportions, and aura.  I have to say, she is growing on me!  She feels like Buddha, like a fairy, like a serene and happy lady.  Floating.  As yet, untitled.

children

People always like to compare one’s artwork to children.  “How can you sell that? It must be like your child!”  I am thinking about this comparison today as I gaze at the completed tapestry I wrote about yesterday — as yet, un-named.

Like your children, your art is part of you.  You created it: without you it would have no life.  But what I am thinking today is that, like with your children, it is impossible to be objective.  You love it to pieces; you are overly critical.  You learn to speak less critically, to give pure love, then you worry you will spoil it.  And it is now about to gain its own independent life, your work with it is complete and you have to let it go.  But it is easier to do that if you understand it first.

So I look at this piece which seems incredibly flawed (no photos today!!) and wonder what I have wrought, was it worth all the anxiety?  All the loving care & time lavished on it?  And I have to learn to look at it with love before I can actually see what — who — it is.  (I will tell you this: she is really odd!  that might be good.)

how to weave a smile

I am working on another large figurative tapestry. I should point out here that before last fall, when I began this current series, the last figurative piece I wove was in approximately 1974 when I was ridiculed at Kansas City Art Institute for using textile to depict something which should be painted.  This was the era of fiber for fiber’s sake, large expressive textural and NON-OBJECTIVE weavings were de rigeur. 

I spent my time at Cranbrook Academy of Art, working on my MFA in Fiber, trying to justify weaving at all, making sure that my subject matter had a direct relationship with the means of execution.  I spent years making tapestries of garden and architectural subjects, both of which used the woven grid as a common language.  Pattern, grid and surface texture were the language of textiles I became most fluent in.

So last fall when I conceived this body of work I was so aware of this old argument in my head.  I set out to make weavings where the thread was as important as the image; the overall simplicity and bluntness of the compositions and spatial relationships were consistent, I felt, with my woven directive of producing textiles which need to be textiles, not paintings.  The most difficult piece to date was last spring’s “In My Mind’s Eye I am Fine” a nearly full size woven silhouette of a figure.  It was nerve wracking to weave, row by row, bottom to top, as I worried continually about how I could control the form, how expressive my lines might be, whether my lack of skill in rendering this form would become a part of the expression.  It took me months, as worry is the thing that slows me down the most.

I am now nearly done with the next step in that battle.  A few months ago a close friend related her dream to me: that she saw me lying on a bier, as if dead, but I was weeping continuously and smiling.  I was also wearing a fabulous suzani dress, as it happened (my friend is a textile person too).  What an image!  I set about immediately making the warp for  this piece, made scale drawings, threaded the loom, embarked on the project.

First issue: was I going to weave the suzani flowers?  Was this about making my own suzani? (very appealing! but I was concerned it would not do justice to the embroidered reference)  Or was it about the narrative?  Would making an awkwardly woven suzani distract from the real story, the smiling-and-weeping self?  I saw this story as my next step: I am sad but I am fine!  So the flowers were left behind.

Then there was the form itself.  More difficult hands! that stopped me for weeks.  Got them done and then unrolled and saw a comically distorted body.  That threatened to stop the project, but I finally sat down, made a full scale drawing, and got back on the horse.  And today’s work, at last, is to weave the very important smile.  One might have noted, my earlier heads have had ears but no faces.  Here we go.  So it is woven, she is my Mona Lisa with, I hope, an ambiguous smile.   I took a break to write this, and now I am off to weave the top of her head.