Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus

James and the cranes

I woke up this morning not to my alarm clock playing the first few bars of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy in C minor but to the morning flight of greater sandhill cranes flying over the house and feeding in the barley field across the street.  (Of course the insistent whines of my dog in the corner reminding me that it was far past 6 am and she was hungry might have contributed.) The cranes have been amassing for 4 weeks now, the first arrivals coming just after I moved here the beginning of February. The experience of watching 1000 or more cranes feeding, circling, taking off, calling to each other, and dancing from my front window day after day has been magical.

I have lived in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado before. Four and five years ago I was here living first in the South San Juans in a mountain house 6 miles from my nearest winter neighbor and then on the flanks of the mighty Mt. Blanca on the other side of the valley--all off-grid, all an adventure. By the summer of 2008 I was trying to fit little bits of tapestry weaving in around the three jobs I was working as an occupational therapist. I had a sunny but much-in-need-of-repair apartment over a realty office as my studio and my Rio Grande loom was turning out some promising work, albeit slowly. But my therapy jobs were becoming difficult and my personal situation was also.

In October 2008 I took another workshop with James Koehler at the Taos Wool Festival. I watched the aspens changing colors at the Taos Ski Valley one afternoon and decided I was moving back home. The next day I asked James if he would still take me on as an apprentice (he had offered two years prior) and he agreed. So I quit my jobs, packed my Rio Grande loom (and my piano--this is a story for another day, but it is another reason my brother-in-law is on my personal beer-for-life program) and moved into a lovely straw bale house in Velarde, NM, 55 miles north of James' studio in Santa Fe. By February I was spending three days a week in his studio and there was a large tapestry in process on the smaller of his Cranbrook looms.

I studied with James as his apprentice until his death March 4, 2011, a year ago today. In the year since he left us, many things have changed in my tapestry world.  I started my own business in earnest, I sold some large pieces, one to the permanent collection of a college, got some commissions, and started teaching workshops. James had a large influence both on my art and on the course of my life.

James finished his autobiography less than a year before he died. In Woven Color: The Tapestry Art of James Koehler he talks about how he came to be the tapestry artist he was. As far as I know, it is only sold by Blurb Publications at this time.

And then there was the Bauhaus project. This undertaking consumed much of three years. I have written about the Bauhaus project a lot on this blog, but I have to mention it again here because it influenced my time with James. Cornelia Theimer Gardella is a good friend of mine and the project was her baby. The idea was to look at the influences of the Bauhaus, the early 20th century German art school, on our contemporary tapestry creation in New Mexico in the early 21st century. James signed on and the three of us read a lot of Paul Klee's notebooks as well as other Bauhaus material and eventually put together two shows entitled Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus. The first show was in Albuquerque, NM in the summer of 2010. The second was in Erfurt, Germany at Michaeliskirche in September and October of 2010. The trip and the project in general were monumental for me and pushed my thinking about who I was as an artist in the broader world.

I have sold the pieces I created for that show in 2010 and it is time to move on to new projects. There have been many times in the last year that I have wanted to ask James a question about a technique, a design, a teaching quandary, or even a legal issue. I have to rely on my knowledge of him and mix that with my own experiences, because the answer James might give me if he were here today might not be the path I would take. James taught me a lot of specifics, but he also taught me to look for what is important in myself and to follow that above anything else. His words from those years I was working in his studio still echo around in my head sometimes and they have definitely influenced the direction of my art and my life in one way or another.

Cornelia Theimer Gardella, James Koehler, Rebecca Mezoff
Michaeliskirche, September 2010
photo: Hamish John Appleby
photo: Hamish John Appleby

James Koehler, Michaeliskirche opening, September 2010
photo: Hamish John Appleby
Tomorrow I will post some information about his two remaining looms, a 100 inch Cranbrook and a 100 inch Shannock. They were the center of James' tapestry studio and they are in exquisite condition as they were loved by a master for many years. They are in need of new homes.

James Koehler, September 2010
photo: Hamish John Appleby
The sandhill cranes in my front yard are both a blessing and a call to awareness. Life can be much shorter than we expect it to be. We are always on a journey and I, for one, want to pay attention to where I am in this moment, eat all the barley I can while the sun is out, and prepare for the next flight north. 

Vernissage: 5.9.2010 Michaeliskirche

The German opening for Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus was September 5th in Erfurt at St. Michael’s church. The show and opening was the reason I went to Germany, but I came home with so much more than I expected. I thought when I decided to do this project three years ago and ultimately go to Germany for the show that it would add something international to my resume and garner me some recognition for my tapestry. It turns out that none of that was important.

People and culture, friends and collaboration, language and communication…

The opening was different than an art opening in the US. Of course most art openings here aren’t held in buildings that are 900 years old. Michaeliskirche is a rather oddly shaped church which may at one time have been a synagogue. I believe Martin Luther preached there, and Frau Hecker showed us the slot where people put their indulgences before the Reformation (see photo below). It was cold in there and somehow that made it seem older. Gravestones that probably used to be on the floor of the church now line the walls and are set upright in the courtyard. There are so many layers of history not only in this church, but in the entire city, it is difficult for an American who has not done much traveling outside of the US to understand the accretions of time and layers of history in all the buildings in the medieval city center. The constant exposure to buildings that had been used and reused over the last thousand years and were beautifully renovated and used still today was humbling.

Our opening began at 5pm with an organ concert given by Andrea Malzahn which lasted most of an hour. As a former student of organ, I greatly enjoyed the reverberations of J.S. Bach coming from the tracker organ in the choir loft. I thought it a fantastic way to celebrate the church, the music, and the beginning of the show. The church was filled to capacity with standing room only. After the concert, Frau Hecker (the woman who takes care of events at the church and accepted our show there) gave a short speech. Conni translated for me while she was talking and I found it fitting that she was officially declaring the show “open”! It was like the concert and ceremony were an hour-long introduction of our work and now the show was ready to be seen. Conni thanked people in German and then I did so in English. Frau Hecker gave us a small gift from the city of Erfurt (hand-made chocolates!) and then we were all ready to drink champagne.

It was a beautiful evening and people stood around drinking and talking for an hour or so in the sun-streaked courtyard lined with gravestones and stone monuments. There were so many people who I did not know with various levels of English proficiency who told me how much they enjoyed the show. (I appreciated that even people who spoke very little English told me they liked it in my language.) When we were completing the hanging of the show earlier in the week there was a German woman who was touring the church. I was standing on the ladder adjusting Contemplative Garden and she looked up at me, gave me a big grin and a thumbs up and said, “Super!” And at the reception, my favorite compliment came from a 6-year-old named Leonard who does not (yet) speak English. He dragged his mom over to tell me that Contemplative Garden was his favorite piece in the entire show and that his older sister agreed with him.

There was so much love and laughter shared in those days. The friends who were there from the US and the new ones I made in Germany were all so supportive and warm-hearted. The good words from Maria Wilson who (along with her husband Quentin) attended not only our show in Albuquerque, but came to Germany to see the show there were especially important to me. Maria is a talented tapestry weaver and colcha artist whose powers of perception in many areas of life are wonderful. I also gained so much from my collaboration with Conni. Having a colleague who you can bounce some of your more unconventional ideas off of and who will tell you what she is thinking about her next project or about art in general is a great gift. We may well do another show together, so watch for us in Weimar in 2012! And it was good of James Koehler to make time in his busy schedule to come to the opening in Erfurt and to bring his work to display along with his students.

An experience like this project and international show pushes my boundaries. That is, I hope, the real definition of education. I gained a much larger (though still definitely nascent) understanding that there is an art world out there much broader than the one I have thus-far experienced in the US. I can learn other languages and about other cultures and I can benefit from the work of tapestry weavers and artists in other mediums outside the confines of my American world. (Thankfully! though there will always be much for me to learn on my home turf.)

My goal for the last few years has been to do things that broaden my world and make it bigger. This show has definitely done that.

**Due to multiple factors involving a car fair in Frankfurt, bratwurst, schnaps, Austria, bronchitis, and Thuringian newspaper reporters, I did not get a chance to return to the church and take some good photographs of the show hanging. Fortunately Cornelia is a much better photographer than I and I am sure she will share some of her photos with me and allow me to post them here soon.

Emmy paying for some future sin... ?

Cornelia Theimer's Tomorrow I and II and Contemplative Garden

Cornelia Theimer's work: Topography, Abiquiu Lines, Passage

Hanging Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus in Erfurt, Germany

We arrived in Erfurt, Germany on Monday, August 30th. The jet lag was severe and I picked up a cold on the plane (from now on I'm flying internationally with a bag full of antibacterial wipes and I don't care if I look like a freak wiping down the seat and tray table on the airplane), so gelato was in order right away. Here I am with Conni eating my daily (sometimes twice daily!) ration. The poster on the door of the Erfurt tourism office is for our show.

We hung the show on Friday September 3rd. Michaeliskirche is a beautiful building which is now close to 1000 years old. I really enjoyed hanging my tapestries in such an amazing place.
Below, Conni, James, and I talk about the placement of tapestries. The woman in the salmon sweater is Frau Hecker who accepted and arranged the show for us.
Germany TV did a 90 second spot on the Saturday evening news about our show. They were at the church filming us for several hours and the resulting clip looked great! (Especially because I don't speak German and don't really know what they said.)
Conni had a banner made for the outside of the church. It was fun to walk around the corner and see it hanging there. We got a lot of publicity in Germany thanks to Conni's hard work.James hanging one of his Wheelmaker pieces while being filmed for the TV spot.

There was a wedding in the church Friday afternoon and we had to leave for a couple hours during the hanging of the show. This is the wedding party leaving (we were waiting across the street to get back in there and finish hanging the pieces). This church is so busy with events, we had difficulty finding time to prepare for and hang the show. Finally Frau Hecker loaned us her keys so we could go in on Sunday morning when they weren't open and finish the final details.
Tapestry is something that begs to be touched. As much as we'd like people to be able to do that, all the gelato and bratwurst walking around on people's hands isn't the best for the artwork. So these little signs went on the floor in front of the pieces.

James Koehler's Harmonic Oscillation series.

It was a relief to get the show hung and we celebrated with more good food. And by the way, what is the etiquette regarding hanging your work next to a tombstone? (Emergence II)

Antibiotics and other miracles

Emily and I flew back into Albuquerque from Frankfurt yesterday (well, that is a gross oversimplification. We took 2 trains, 3 planes, various trams and shuttles, and a car ride--as well as a 36 hour day and a night sitting in the Frankfurt airport before that!).

The trip to Germany was fantastic. I can't believe how much I enjoyed it. There is much to tell and hopefully I'll find some time to post photos of the show (Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus) in the coming week as well as some photos of Thuringia and the Bavarian Alps of Austria.

A big big thank you to Cornelia Theimer Gardella and her husband Kurt Gardella for being at the train station when we arrived in Erfurt, for endless translation of menus as well as talking to chefs about what I could and couldn't eat, for having the patience to teach two German illiterates some language (though I'm still not sure I can spell eisbien correctly--and I'm not entirely sure it is a word I will need to use again when I return to Germany for that matter), for showing me how to buy the right train ticket and warning me how not to make a fool out of myself, for taking us to a fantastic place in the Bavarian Alps, and for being such generous, kind, and engaging people.
Bavarian Alps--Austria

The poster of our show on the door of the Erfurt tourism office.

The show opening was wonderful, the food was excellent (gelato has added 5 pounds to my belly, but it was SO good!), the towns and scenery were one marvel after another, and the friends were lovely. I will post photos of the show and our travels soon!

Right now I am glad for antibiotics and am going to return to sleeping off my jet lag and bronchitis.

Off to Germany

On August 29th I am flying to Germany. I have not been out of the United States since 1997 when I took a trip to Prague. This is a shame, but I am ready to remedy the situation. The Bauhaus project show is coming down in Albuquerque next week and we are taking it to Erfurt, Germany which is Cornelia's home town. It will be shown in St. Michael's church in the city center. The opening is September 5th at 5pm and it will be up through the month of October. The show is called Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus. We had a wonderful run in Albuquerque at Open Space Gallery and are excited about showing the work in Germany. Thanks to all you fabulous people who came to see the show in Albuquerque! We got so much good feedback and a couple great newspaper articles also.

I plan to enjoy excellent libations (drink beer, or wish I could), eat regional cuisine (stuff myself with bratwurst), and visit many of the towns in Thuringia. I also hope to see the Bauhaus museum in Dessau and visit Bauhaus sites in Weimar. I'd like to go bicycling in the forest and see the Austrian Alps. And I think we might just have time to do those things. I am bringing some tapestries, my walking shoes, a rain jacket, my favorite sweater, and some socks to knit.

Anything else I need?


This is my statement from the show Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus in Albuquerque (minus the Germany translation which you'll have to ask Cornelia for if you want it) at Open Space Gallery. A few people have asked me to post it so they could see it again.


i can't tell you who I was yesterday
everything i made this morning changed who yesterday was
today i made a tapestry while wondering about change and seeing
tomorrow's explorations may have different endings... or beginnings

a learning about collaboration
a movement through fear
a gleeful laugh of discovery
lifting a marvelous new color out of the dye pot
holding my breath as i pull a tapestry off the cloth beam at it's cutting off ceremony

i like putting individual threads together to make a crafted object that is also art
But mostly I revel in the journey.

The Bauhaus Project has been part of a creative three years for me. I have worked closely with other artists and learned about finding new paths together and apart. From the Bauhaus study I have learned about the importance of making things, of starting at the beginning, and of getting your hands dirty in the craft of the thing.

The Bauhaus was a school that challenged the way art was conceived and created. It was a place of people like Walter Gropius, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Gunta Stolzl, Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, and Anni Albers. They were giants, and they were just people. They are still challenging me today.

Home from the party...

Convergence ended yesterday afternoon. As the funny-man from Texas who volunteered to watch the entrance to the vendor hall much of the weekend kept telling me, "at 4:01 you won't be a newbie any more!" I had a first-timer sticker on my badge and he called me "newbie" every time I walked through the door. I warmed to the appellation after awhile. It is good to approach the world with fresh eyes.

There is much to say about the past week and I am not sure it is at all possible to get it down in any sort of coherent order. So here are some highlights for those of you who couldn't attend, and for those of you who did and perhaps had different experiences than I did.

I met many wonderful people this week. Many of them I had gotten to know a little bit online and it was a great deal of fun to attach a face to a blogger or body of art I had seen on the internet. I was also able to reconnect with some weavers I had met at Intermountain Weavers Conference and chat with old friends and teachers such as Northern NM College Rio Grande weaving instructor, Karen Martinez.

I enjoyed the ATA forum on Sunday. Lynne Curran and James Koehler gave lectures about their work. Mary Lane also did a digi slam with work of about a dozen tapestry weavers. I have some new perspectives on international tapestry weavers (okay, artists who are not American--I KNOW this is a long time coming, but sometimes it takes a lilting and lovely voice like Lynne Curran's to jolt my brain into recognition of a new perspective) which I will post more about after unpacking the dirty clothes and giving my new spinning wheel a whirl.

I took some fun classes which I talked about briefly in a prior post. Gregory Case's photo classes were extremely useful and I regret that I couldn't hear the last hour of the class Saturday afternoon. I did have an opening to get to.

Here are some photos from the Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus opening Saturday night. The gallery was keeping track of people coming in for the first couple hours and then the volunteer staff left and we don't know how many people came after that. At last count which was about 6pm I think, there had been 150 people to see the show. As the opening lasted another 2 hours, I think it likely we had over 200 people in one evening. I find that amazing considering how busy Convergence was and how far from the convention center the venue was. I was also so pleased to have people from other parts of my life attend. To those of you who came from places as far flung as Ojo Caliente and Gallup, thank you for coming! It meant a great deal to me to see your smiling faces and hear your words of support.

The following 4 photos of the show were taken by Chris Barber for the gallery. He graciously shared them with me since my camera stopped working about 5 minutes into the opening (yes, the new Nikon). His photos are likely better than any I would have taken anyway and it was a relief not to try to take any photos while at my own opening.
Thank you so much Chris for sharing these shots.

Copyright The CTB and SHR Trust, used by permission

Sunday evening we stopped at the Enchanted Pathways opening at William and Joseph gallery in Santa Fe.
This is Megan Swartzfager. She did the cartoon for the Mystic Moon tapestry (she also named it)
of the unicorn we had in this show. She was the artist. I wove the piece. I am happy to report that Megan has begun learning tapestry weaving herself and I hope that she may have a piece that she designed and wove herself in the next small format show. She is a young lady of many interests and talents, so it remains to be seen which ones get her time and attention.

I am sure that I will have much more to say about Convergence at least in my own head over the next week or two. Whether any of that makes it to this blog remains to be seen. The most important things are hard to capture in words or photos and my heart is full of gratitude for all the people who shared bits of themselves with me this week.