Myself, James, and Cornelia Gardella at the opening at Open Spaces Gallery, July 2010.
Copyright The CTB and SHR Trust, used by permission

James and his newly released autobiography, Convergence July 2010
James Koehler passed away unexpectedly March 3rd, 2011.  He taught until the day he died and I think that says something real about him.
(Update 3/4/13: James actually died on March 4th in the early hours of the morning.)

James occupies a complicated place in my heart.  He was a committed and exceptional teacher and was generous with his time and talents.  He loved teaching and felt that passing on the knowledge of creation – of making things especially in tapestry – was important.  My journey with James, which has come to an end before it should have, is marked by my own struggle to find my way as an artist while learning from an accomplished teacher who had some very specific ideas about tapestry and art.  We agreed on many things, and disagreed on others.  But one of the most important things that James taught me was about getting to the essential nature of something.  He believed that you have to question and ponder (and perhaps meditate) and understand who you are—and from that place you can express something that is meaningful and useful in the world.  I think that James was able to do this in his own art and he encouraged me to do this in my work.

I think of my years working in his studio and often remember things in pictures and in feelings—the brilliant wall of yarn that is in so many photos of his studio, the well-used student looms, the Cranbrook I used, the worn weaving tools the apprentices used to wind warp and yarn, his particular dyeing process so different from my own… I hear him calling from his 8 foot loom, “just let me know if you have questions!” And one older student saying, “I’m coming to a question now.”  James would invariably reply cheerfully, “I’ll be right there.”

James often said, “That’s bizarre!” and I hear his voice every time someone uses that word.  He loved stories and the studio was often full of chatter.  Other times he was focusing on something and only the classical music station would accompany the loom beaters clacking.

The door to Koehler studio was always open.  James welcomed visitors regardless of who they were and when they were showing up.  He could be hard-pressed to make a deadline for a commission but would stop weaving to give anyone who knocked on his studio door a tour.  He was unfailingly open-hearted with strangers and the pages in his studio guest book were frequently filled.

I was fortunate enough to get to do a three-year project with James and Cornelia Theimer Gardella.  We were hanging our tapestry show, Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus in Michaeliskirche in Erfurt, Germany 6 months before he died—to the day.  There are some links to my posts about the two shows we did together, including photos, below.

James touched many people’s lives—perhaps we each knew a slightly different person.  But I know that the people who worked with him the most took something away from their experience with this extraordinary man which will live on even though he is now gone.  I have received many emails and phone calls from people expressing their condolences.  I want to thank you all for that.  I will miss him as will many many people. 

I believe that this is an opportunity to look at James’ life and ask ourselves, those of us who benefited from his influence, what we can do in the future to carry on his work.  He was a strong supporter of tapestry as an art form and worked hard to have tapestry accepted as a mainline medium instead of being just a craft pursuit.  I believe that we as fiber artists have a long way to go to finish this work.

James, no one can replace you.  I thank you for your time and tireless energy and for being my teacher.  I hope that I can continue some of the work that you started especially since you had to leave so soon.

James at Michaeliskirche in Erfurt, Germany, September 2010
James in Erfurt at the Interwoven Traditions opening, September 5th, 2010
photo:Hamish John Appleby

I have written about our project, Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus before.  Here are some links to those posts:
The photos of the opening at Michaeliskirche, Erfurt, Germany.

Further photos of the opening in Germany.

James, Conni, and I hanging the Germany show.

Some photos from the Albuquerque show.

James' website is here.

All content copyrighted Rebecca Mezoff, 2011 unless otherwise stated.