planting cycles

I love vegetables — I love to eat them, I love to grow them, I love to draw them. When I first saw the vegetable garden at Monticello, first designed by Thomas Jefferson in the late 18th century, restored under Peter Hatch at Monticello in the 1980s, I was mesmerized by its beauty and its long, ribbon-like proportions. At about 80 fet wide by a thousand feet long, it seemed like a giant, patterned textile just unfurled from the loom. So I set about making a series of tapestries trying to describe the scope of the garden, from seed-sprouting and seed saving, through a woven catalogue of dozens of vegetables planted there.

the vegetable garden at Monticello

detail, “Harvest, 1992”. 1993, hand woven. copyright Laura Foster Nicholson

This last piece, “Harvest 1992” (1992 was the planting year I referenced, it was woven in 1993) became a lexicon for me of woven form which I have referred to over and over again ever since. Long after the tapestries had been exhibited and sold, I designed a ribbon with some of the vegetables which we still produce’ Crate & barrel licensed that design for kitchen towels for several seasons too. And most recently I was contacted by The Battery Park Conservancy, who have now licensed the design for use in fund raising efforts for their Urban Garden, due to open this spring.

From their website,
“The Battery Conservancy presents the first Urban Farm at the Battery since the Dutch planted their cottage gardens in New Amsterdam in 1625.
This innovative project began with a request from students of Millennium
High School’s Environmental Club to plant a vegetable garden in the park.
Saying YES launched a farming initiative that now includes EIGHT schools with over 450 students (K-12).
The Battery Conservancy is expanding the program to include community groups, residents, and the neighboring workforce who long to give their hands and hearts to cultivating and harvesting home-grown food.” How cool is that ?

Valentine Red, color of the month

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.

burned and done

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″.

burning on

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.

a new exhibition

I was recently invited to show a group of tapestries at the art galleries at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, as part of a group of 3 textile shows: “Quilts from the Collection of Judy and Tom Morton”, and “Stitches in Time: Samplers from Private Collections” flank my show, “Stone Tapestries”. In selecting a group of tapestries for the show, Katherine Waters and I decided to focus on my Stones series which spans two decades It is always helpful to stop and view a group of works together, and to formulate a synopsis of the ideas which one was attempting to express. Here is the statement I wrote for the show.

“I have long used a recurring motif of stones in my work. It began as a way of making an equivalent of soil in the garden tapestries I was weaving many years ago. I found I enjoyed making the many small, multicolored ovals which, at the time, I viewed as pebbles. Much of my work is grounded in recognizable imagery and I viewed – still view – the woven marks I made as an equivalent, or approximation, of something which actually existed in the world. In other words, most of my woven work is created with the intention of making a recognizable equivalent of something which I have witnessed in the real world.
One day, as I realized how much I enjoy making those colorful little oval marks, I asked myself if they could hold enough interest in and of themselves to cover a field with no other visual reference. From that day my Stones work has become a way of exploring space, color, depth of field, and surface in textiles. When I make a tapestry which is simply a field of stones, I become mesmerized by the process of laying in the colored threads. Every detail counts. I might choose a red thread for a space and decide it has totally thrown the direction I was going in, as all color relates to the colors it is surrounded by. I watch as a field of color evolves incrementally and every color choice I make is spontaneous and critical. The resulting work, I feel, has great depth, movement, texture, and an emotion which have been made thread by thread in a meditative and intimate conversation between myself and my loom.”

The Red & the Black

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…

Color & Metaphor

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)
and Breathing.

Here is the photo of the warps as threaded through the reeds.  More as it happens.


I am afraid my average photo skills simply can’t capture the number of birds in the air.  Zoom on these, and you will have some idea.

Glory be.  When I stepped out of the cabin this morning, I heard a sound like a mighty wind, and looked up to see millions of black birds swirling through the clear blue sky sky.  The cabin is just a field away from the Wabash river, and 15 miles from the confluence of the Wabash and the Ohio, so it is on a flightpath which frequently provides waves of birds on their seasonal migrations.  The sight was thrilling and the sound was everywhere.  Each branch of every tree was articulated with a line of perching birds, then they would whoosh up again and off they would go to the next treeline.  I love to see flocks of birds head in waves in one direction, settle into the trees, then swirl up and off in an arc in the opposite direction.  It was a gift, I felt, of joy and fullness to savor throughout the rest of this cold December day.

slow work

Have faith, I am still working! but slowly.  I am happy to say that I like what is creeping off my loom, and hopefully things will calm down shortly — I have been traveling a lot, and then of course there was Thanksgiving — and I will get to the Barn on Fire tapestry that is in my head.  But for now, here is the second in the set of three portraits I have made this fall of my inner state. (you may see “Beset” here)

Bemused, 2010, wool with metallic & rayon

Art Institute of Chicago Textile Collection Opening

Tomorrow I am going up to Chicago to attend the re-opening of the Department of Textiles at the Art Institute.  The department has been closed for five years to repair structural problems.  There are two exhibitions featured in the re-opening: June Wayne’s Narrative Tapestries, and Contemporary Fiber Art: A selection from the Permanent Collection.  The latter exhibition includes my Grey Stones weaving, which AIC acquired two years ago.  I am so honored to be included in this happy show, and was delighted to learn that Grey Stones is pictured in the current AIC magazine article about the exhibition.

Art Institute of Chicago publication, 2010