February certainly was a memorable and eventful month. Mostly memories of events I would prefer not to remember. I wrote about red a few times recently, including about weaving on this dazzling red warp. I had to abandon it for a while due to moving into my new home and various other activities (that sounds light!), culminating in a week with my family in Virginia. The last night there, I managed to fall down the stairs and break my right wrist, so I am now sporting a lovely RED cast and yesterday I took it over to the loom to see how it works.
I am so relieved to tell you that I can weave! The brocading part is a piece of cake, as my fingers are totally free and relatively nimble, if stiff & swollen. Throwing the shuttle is trickier. I can manage it but must watch how I pull my arm back — can’t twist the wrist, and don’t want to throw wrong and break threads. Fortunately, with brocading work, the motion is slow & interrupted anyway and the real facility lies in the fingers’ work, so all will proceed smoothly, albeit more slowly than usual. When I finish this piece — which is “In My Mind’s Eye I am Fine”, I have one left to do before shipping all of them out to Hibberd McGrath Gallery in Colorado, where I have a one-person show opening April 2.
As I have written recently it has been hard to stay on task at the studio due to complications in my life. Last week, I moved out of the home my husband & I had made together, and into a beautiful little Harmonist house built in 1820. The day before I was to close & move I suddenly needed to weave, went to the loom I had tied up (See “Burning On”, January 21), and wove most of the tapestry — up through the roof of the barn — in a heat before having to leave to go home & finish packing. I realize that the passion to get it done was the reality leaving one life behind. Though I knew when I planned it what this piece is a metaphor for, I still can’t believe the direct line to the heart artmaking follows. I think it is a strong piece. I feel stronger having made it.
This afternoon I finished weaving the Burning Barn. It is now washed and pressed and waiting to be hemmed but I was excited enough to begin writing about it before I completely wrap it up. This photo shows a detail, the overall size will be roughly 32″ x 30″.
The life that inspires me also conspires to keep me from making my art. This burning barn, my life, is flaming on, sometimes smoldering sometimes raging full force, and there is not always enough energy left to get over to the loom and interpret it.
Nonetheless after experiencing an immensely frustrating delay yesterday on something rather large in my life, I am able to go to the loom now and begin winding on the yellow warp I wrote about several weeks ago (meanwhile the red warp languishes, bound at the feet of the forthcoming figure). The sun is shining in my 8 foot windows and the colors are alight.
Very Stendhal. I have to leave the loom every 30 minutes or so to rest my eyes!
It puts me in mind of my new Sheila’s Roses ribbon, in a very uncharacteristic red-and-black damask. Where is all this leading? Now I wonder if it influenced my choice of warp…
Most of my color use in my weaving has been, admittedly, tied to a limited palette of landscape & architecture and fairly literal. I won’t say it is not inspired or even lyrical, as I often begin in my inspiration for work with the color that comes into my line of vision. But it is dictated by some grounding in an exterior place.
My most recent work has been tied to an inner, metaphoric landscape of emotion that is linked to reality by a figurative silhouette and animated by bees, which have always been the animators of all of my landscapes. In this time of pain I have found my bees to be the language of engagement that works for me. Surrounded by bees when I am safely zipped inside a bee suit, the air is alive with their language and they crawl with great energy all over me. This would be threatening without my protective clothing, but inside the suit I can enjoy their nearness and not worry about imminent pain. My woven bees are, similarly, simultaneously benign and threatening, my protectors and my adversaries.
But the color now can be informed by an interior dialogue of emotion and metaphor. So in winding warps last week for 4 new tapestries in the series, I thought, hmmm, what color? I looked at the yarn shelves in my studio and intuiutively chose carmine reds and sulphur yellows. Out of these will come these stories:
The Burning Barn ( I wove the study two weeks ago)
In My mind’s Eye I am Fine
The Bees Always Swarmed When We Argued (working title)
Here is the photo of the warps as threaded through the reeds. More as it happens.
One of the few things still blooming in the garden are the marigolds, which I do love. Something about their peculiar scent, but also the color. I am not a yellow person per se, though all of my preferred colors are yellow-based and yellow is the first toner color to run out on my printer…
But this morning I began ruthlessly harvesting all the bright yellow blooms as I am going to try natural dyeing once again. I have been using a few more dye processes in my weaving lately, and had thought it would be nice to use natural dyes from my land rather than acid dyes from a bottle. What tipped the scales for me was Dominique Cardon‘s lecture last week at the Textile Society of America conference. Her talk was titled Natural Dyes: Our Global Heritage of Colors (she gave a site seminar and a natural dye workshop as well, neither of which I was able to attend) and she spoke compellingly of the role of natural dyes both as traditional pollutants and as a way to bring textiles in to a new greener industrial process. Of course just because a dye is plant based, does not mean it is safe to ingest; the effluent from dyeing has long been a serious environmental problem, largely because of the metal salts used as mordants. As industry looks toward reinvesting in the old technologies and finds mordants that are safer (alum, for one that I know about) the question also comes out about overuse of plant materials– for example, brazilwood which is now very scarce. The answer has been to example industrial processes involving agricultural products and lumber by products to find new dyestuffs that are actually by products of other industries. All fascinating.
So I have denuded the plants of their brilliant plumage — they may yet bloom once more after this heavy deadheading — and now am spreading the blossoms out to dry on a screen in the warm October sunshine. I would much prefer to throw them in a pot and boil them up now — I like this process as it is another form of cooking, after all — but I have a heavy workload in the studio right now that can’t be derailed by a new investigation. So I hope that the yellow from dried blossoms will be as good as from fresh.
I have been commissioned by a Chicago architect to weave a set of six pillow faces, white on white. “…I have the constraints of all white and no image, so I know it is not your signature work, but I do want the weave to have character,” he wrote. I have had so much fun! luxury yarns which I ordinarily don’t employ in wall hangings, (bamboo, silk/merino, and linen on worsted wool) and the subtlety and restraint of expression with out resorting to color, such a nice change of pace.
Three have brocaded faces based on my Alders weaving of a few posts ago (we are calling it the Birch design); the other three are all over textural weaves. Woven in my signature 3 harness twill with simple variations in weight and treadling, they have been a pleasure to weave.
I spent this quiet, cold, snowy day washing, pressing and hemming the last tapestry from fall. I have always loved goldenrod; I made a dye from it when I was at Cranbrook long ago (the last time I fussed with natural dyes) which made the most memorable, vibrant yellow I have ever used. I also made a pale yellow with it. Two tapestries resulted from that dyebath: Angel’s Walk, with the pale yellow, and Ornamental Garden, with the thrilling yellow. Sadly, the latter yellow has lost its thrill over the years and has faded. As this piece belongs to an important mentor of mine, Gerhardt Knodel, I will no doubt re-weave it for him. I am actually looking forward to that process — imagine re-making as carefully as possible something one made 30 years ago! That was a time of radiant discovery in my artwork: I wonder if the re-making would stir that sense again.
This current goldenrod tapestry came out of a startled observation one day as to how it grew. Having plucked if over & over for years, made dye from it, and thought about its color, I had never actually looked at how it grows — which is vaselike, originating from a single stem and branching out. Between the sturcture and the color I had to weave it.
It has been a while since I posted here; my weaving work has been curtailed a bit by what I suppose must come down to a frame of mind that simply has not been present enough to make good work. When I used to teach, I would rail against the idea of inspiration; Thomas Edison’s comment about success consisting of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration needs to be reinforced when one is beginning the practice of studio discipline. I have usually found that the way out of a block is simply to start making something and while the hands became active, the mind will begin to work in its old creative pattern again. My recent history would indicate that the 90% perspiration is useless without the initial 10% of inspiration.
But getting out the the studio can provide a jolt of, yes, inspiration. Last week a number of fallow fields in the area were shockingly PURPLE with a weed called dead nettle. It is scraggly and you would never want it in a bouquet, but masses of it seen from a distance blurs to intense purple for a short period. My friend Sally who knows everything about plants says it is dead nettle — dead meaning that it doesn’t sting — and I have also been told that it grows particularly well in fields where the other weeds have been killed off by RoundUp. Yikes. Anyway, an amazing sight!
November was always a month I dreaded. While I lived in Chicago it was that dull grey space in between the beauty of fall and the reality of the coming hard winter. Cold, chilly, colorless.
But here in southern Indiana I find this time of year quite beautiful: the air, though cool, is refreshing, and the colors fascinatingly subtle.
Here are a couple of recently woven pieces. I have just sent Treeline, November to Hibberd McGrath Gallery for their winter show.
top: Wabash River, November; 33″ x 36″; wool with rayon, metallic & cotton
bottom: Treeline, November; 16″ x 60″; wool with rayon, cotton & metallic