Artist-in-residence, Petrified Forest National Park

I am the current artist-in-residence at Petrified Forest National Park. I earned this spot, but I can’t help but feel intensely grateful for the opportunity to be here. To be able to watch the sunset and the sunrise over the Painted Desert and bask in this quiet place is such a gift.

I have used my hiking superpowers to find places that are only vaguely noted on sketched maps and in printouts you might get a ranger to give you if he or she feels you are up to the challenge of cross-country, off-trail travel in rough terrain. I have sat on the top of remote mesas and watched the sun set while sketching hoodoos and mesas.

And I have marveled continually at the colors of the petrified wood. I can scarcely believe the story of that wood. 220 million years ago, this bit of Arizona was 10 degrees above the equator, about where Costa Rica is now. It was a tropical jungle and these trees were mostly log jams in huge rivers. They were silted over and then their cellular structure was replaced by minerals.

They look remarkably like trees, but they are not trees and haven’t been trees for at least 216 million years. I have, more than once, reached over to dive my hand into a pile of what looked exactly like wood chips, to find that they were stone. Iron and manganese oxides give the stone its amazing color. Those trees were then buried in the Chinle formation until erosion exposed them.

One of the things I wanted to do while here was a sort of tapestry diary. But instead of making one larger piece that I wove a little bit of every day, I wanted to make separate pieces. So I have woven a 2 x 2 inch mini-tapestry every day here so far. It has become something I look forward to… how will I translate something I saw into fiber? And there is the added challenge of the limited number of colors I have with me. Limitations breed innovation and I have figured out ways to make colors I wanted with mixing yarn or with various colored fleece I brought.

I thought I would share the first 8 days of my tiny tapestries and what their inspiration was. They were all woven on Hokett looms either at 12 or 8 epi. Warp was cotton seine twine or linen. Weft was Weavers Bazaar wool, Harrisville singles wool, Harrisville Shetland (painted by me), and handspun wool (dyed by me or natural). They have not been steamed or finished. Many of them have their warp showing and will be mounted that way, others will have hems.

Here they are.

Day #1. My first full day at the park. I drove through the park and was a little overwhelmed at the vastness of the landscape, the variety of sights, sounds, and smells, and the colors. So many colors. 

Day #2. I arrived at the park in a rainstorm. My last blog post has an image of the rainbow I saw shortly after arriving. I had to spin the yarn for the rainbow in this piece as I didn’t have any other bright colors. I used my drop spindle.

Day #3. Layers. This place is all about layers. Layers of time, rock, stories. There will be more tapestries about this nature of the park.

Day #4. Election Day. I wove this as I sat in my casita by myself and watched the returns. As I finished it, I cried. Many days later now, I am still torn apart by the divide that is evident in this great nation. I believe we need to love each other. The only way to heal is to listen, try to understand, hold hands when we can’t understand, and continue to respect and love each other no matter what our political beliefs are. Those political beliefs are grounded in personal beliefs which are pretty unshakable in most of us. So we need to figure out how to work together despite our differences. We have to.

Day #5. The blackest day for me. Interestingly, I didn’t have black yarn, so this very deep purple is actually a sign of hope. The bits of color are reminiscent of a petrified log round I sat by for awhile in the Black Forest.

Day #6

This was a hard day. I thought all day about my two little nieces and all the little girls in this country who would not, as I had hoped, get the message that women can do anything. And of course I needed that message myself.

Day #7. It is hard to see in the picture, but this is a gradation of red-violet with a little glint of orange… colors in the petrified wood.

Day #8. I watched both sunrise and sunset in the park. This handspun gradation reflected the brilliance of those moments. I really enjoyed how the thick-thin nature of the handspun created different textures and lines. Because it was a singles, the piece also twisted. It will flatten with steaming and mounting, but the playing with materials was so much fun. This is yarn I bought as raw fleece. I scoured it, dyed it, combed it, spun it, and then wove it. I made this thing and that is helpful and powerful. 

Last night I was hiking out to the car just before sunset and turned around to see the almost-full moon rising above the mesa behind me. The cycles continue day after day, year after year, age after age. We are but a blip of time on this planet. Let's make the best of the brief breath of a moment we have. Go make something.