contemporary tapestry weaving

"Tapestry weaving is like cooking"

I had a lovely trio of visitors to my studio last weekend. They were picking up some yarn for their mother/mother-in-law/grandmother who is a student of mine in Colorado. They were the kind of studio visitor you always hope for when people call up wanting to visit. They were so cheerful and full of joy. They loved the tapestries, excused the mess I was in the middle of cleaning up, and asked some lovely questions.

And at one point I started talking to the mom of the group about creativity. And she said that what her mother-in-law does when creating with yarn is what she does with cooking. She talked about cooking being a creative outlet and said that people would tell her she doesn't have to cook when she gets home from work and is tired. But she says, and this is the thing that got me, she said that she has to. Cooking is her creative outlet and it helps her work through the things that have to be worked out.

This is true of tapestry for me. When there are long stretches of time when I don't get to the loom, I get cranky. And I think that is because I am not spending the time working through the life lessons that have to be figured out through doing meaningful things. So if your thing is cooking, make sure you do it. And if your thing is tapestry, then you have to do that. There just isn't any other choice.

Relocation: the final word.

Here is the news a lot of you have been waiting to hear.
Others may be mildly interested.
Some of you won't care one bit.

The long question of where Emily and I are moving has finally been answered. In a stunning series of synchronicities, we have engineered a new life to begin frighteningly soon in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We were supposed to go to Seattle. For those of you who were (or still are) certain we were moving there, I apologize profusely. My OT license in Washington state was hung up because of a minor paperwork glitch caused by their ridiculous forms my missing a small detail in the application which had us waiting another 6 weeks for the needed license before the move. In that time, three excellent job offers were made to us (only one to me actually, but Emily deserves the bulk of them as she has waited a long time for a good job) and we settled on two of them (one each).

The best news for me is, thanks to my excellent weaving colleague Cornelia Theimer Gardella, I found an amazing studio space in the Second Street area of Santa Fe. It is a place full of artist lofts and Conni and I will be opening our studio there in April.

We will have an official studio opening in September 2013. In the meantime, I look forward to many studio visits from all of you. I'll keep the teapot ready. It is time for me to weave some big tapestries. This transitional period has been long and my big looms being in storage has been difficult. They are soon to be warped again. I already have the ideas piling up. And thanks to a relocation bonus from my new part-time job in health care, I am, for the first time in my life, going to pay someone else to move those big looms into the studio. Whoo Hoo!

I grew up in New Mexico, and for me, this is a return home. Santa Fe was the shining city that we got to visit occasionally as kids when my parents went there for conferences. In fourth grade my class made a trip to visit the capital and we slept on the gym floor of the NM School for the Deaf. Besides having to learn my times tables (which were really hard for me), it is my one memory from that school year. So I'm going back to Santa Fe to make more memories (though hopefully not sleeping on gym floors).

I am grateful for a long list of events which have gone in our favor (which starts with my parents helping me get a masters degree in a popular field), moves through a great adventure as a tapestry weaver, and lands at a beautiful home and studio in Santa Fe, NM with my amazing little family. I am truly blessed.

Tapestry Class at Harrisville Designs

I weave my large tapestries on the Harrisville rug loom that my grandfather gave to me when he could no longer weave. And since I started working with James Koehler, I have used Harrisville yarns for my work. So getting a request to teach at Harrisville Designs this summer was quite exciting to me. I have an aunt who is also a weaver with a Harrisville rug loom (we're a looney loomy family) and she has taken a couple classes at Harrisville with great stories of lakes and old brick buildings and a studio full of sunshine. Now it is my turn to go there. I feel a little like I'm going home even though I've never been to Harrisville at all.

The class I'll be teaching is 5 days and will include the content from my popular Color Gradation for Tapestry class. We will have a couple extra days in this class to explore ways to use technique and color to achieve the visual effects each student is interested in in tapestry. We will explore uses of color on the loom as well as through slide presentations and discussion. We will weave a sampler to practice these techniques and all students will be able to weave a small tapestry or a study for a larger work. I revel in teaching to a wide variety of experience levels at once. As long as you know some very basic things about tapestry weaving, you'll get along fine in this class. And if you're on your 50th tapestry, come and weave with me also. There is always more to learn for both of us. We will use the Knitting and Weaving Center's Harrisville floor looms. Unlike a lot of tapestry weavers, I most enjoy weaving on a floor loom, so this is a chance for me to convert some of my students to this way of doing tapestry. (Grin)

Harrisville Design classes are taught in an old spinning mill which has been beautifully renovated. And of course what could be more gorgeous than New Hampshire in August?

More information is available on the Harrisville Designs website HERE.
The specific class list is HERE.
And the link to my teaching page on my website is HERE with more information about this class and some good words from past students.

The class is August 5-9, 2013.
Mark your calendars!

Yarn waiting for tapestry weavers at the Michigan League of Handweaver's Conference in August 2012

James Koehler, 2 years gone

It has been two years now since I got a phone call on my way to Chaco Canyon that James Koehler had passed away. It seems like a lifetime ago, and like yesterday.

Harmonic Oscillation HOLXIII,

James Koehler

I have been thinking about James and my time studying with him over the last few days. I learned many things from James, both positive and negative. I am sorry he is gone as there are still questions I would ask him. Here is the original post from shortly after his death:


The art of tapestry needed people like James.

Stay safe.

Take care of yourselves.

Keep weaving.

The thing about fiber art... that it does something important for the maker.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that the baby blanket featured at the end of this post is art. I knitted it from a pattern and quite frankly, there were some mistakes along the way. But I think back in the first wave of feminism that fiber pursuits were discounted as something demeaning to women and perhaps some of those feminists forgot that the making does something positive for the maker. At any rate, I know that knitting keeps me sane some days in ways that little else besides hiking lots of miles does. Tapestry weaving is my passion, and as such I am emotionally invested in making something that I truly believe is art, and so though the weaving can be relaxing if I get in a rhythm, it still holds some tension for me psychologically.

Knitting has no such hold over me. I really couldn't care less most of the time if I mess it up. A baby hat that is a little lopsided can still keep a kids head warm, though art, I'd say, it definitely is not.

I have thought more about the June Wayne blog post I wrote last and about how June in her essay in the Art Institute of Chicago catalog was trying to say that tapestry was something different than fiber art, and I still wonder about this. IS tapestry something that isn't quite fiber art? I am fascinated by much of the fiber art that is out there. I am interested in seeing current fiber art whether it be the sculptures of Sarah Hewitt or the bead art of Jennifer Schu, or Iviva Olenick's embroidery shown on her blog, Were I so Besotted. (For some reason those were the three I thought of first. I could have named a million others, and I never never exaggerate.) Thoughts on this? Is tapestry different than what we generally label fiber art because it is perhaps better able to portray an image? Does that make it more like painting for example?

I found a new yarn store in Santa Fe that I had never gone to before. This place has been on my radar for a few years as it is for sale and I have wished I could buy it, not to sell yarn but to have as a studio and home. Unfortunately, I don't have an extra two million lying around (it is not far from the plaza and prices in Santa Fe go down depending on how many feet you are from the Palace of the Governors). If anyone wants to be a patron to a great committed tapestry artist and does have a couple extra million to bandy about, please let me know!

Miriam's Well (Emily thought for years that the place was named for the owner, Miriam Swell... perhaps I don't articulate well) has a great location on Paseo de Peralta, but the entrance is in the back of the building and you have to take a circuitous route through a couple alleys to find it. Never fear, there are signs.

I believe the Santa Fe School of Weaving used to have a lot of looms, but now it is primarily a knitting shop. When she found out I was a tapestry weaver, the delightful owner Miriam Leth-Espensen showed me the beautiful churro from Los Ojos she is carrying now. It is sensational stuff. I have a stash of churro already though and had to leave this bit behind. I was sorely tempted by many beautiful knitting yarns at this place, but my knitting yarn stash is literally busting out of the storage spaces I have been allotted for this kind of thing. I can't cram any more in until I knit some up and get it out of the queue. Miriam learned weaving in Denmark from two Bauhaus teachers and moved to Santa Fe 25 years ago from Vermont. Maybe she'll adopt me and give me the place for my winning smile.

In a stash-emptying move (who am I kidding, there will always be more yarn) one project I finished this week was this Lace Blanket from 60 More Quick Baby Knits. This blanket gave me a run for my money. There were errata and I didn't realize it until I had ripped out the border several times. Even after seeing the errata I had trouble getting it right. Eventually I did what all of us are forced to do from time to time lest we be tempted to rip out the whole thing; I fudged it. And it came out okay. As Emily so pointedly made me realize, it is just going to get covered with baby spit-up anyway, so what does it matter if the corners aren't perfect? Perhaps she has a point.

So we can probably agree that following a pattern for a baby blanket from a pattern (and check for the errata before you start a project like this for goodness sake!) is probably not fiber art. But what really is? Or does it really matter that much? Perhaps art can be anything that is engaging and makes us think. Let me get some knitting needles while I ponder that.

June Wayne's tapestries in Santa Fe

I took a trip down to Santa Fe Saturday to hear a talk about the two solo shows at David Richard GalleryJune Wayne The Tapestries: Forces of Nature and Beyond and Judy Chicago: Woven and Stitched.

The primary speakers were Elissa Auther, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Janet Koplos, a New York City-based art critic, writer and contributing editor for Art in America. David Eichholtz, the curator at David Richard Gallery, gave a great introduction of the artists and mediated the discussion. Judy Chicago herself was in the audience and gave a lot of feedback about her work.

I read Elissa Auther’s book (String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art) a little more than a year ago as part of an American Tapestry Alliance study forum I participated in about increasing the visibility of tapestry in contemporary fine art. I reviewed the parts of the book about Judy Chicago and Auther’s conclusion before going to the lecture. I very much expected to hear a talk connecting the ideas in the book about history of fiber art and its place in contemporary fine art to contemporary tapestry art. We were, after all, sitting in a gallery full of large contemporary tapestries. Unfortunately, there was almost no mention of tapestry at all from either Koplos or Auther in their talks.

I purchased the catalog from The Art Institute of Chicago’s show of June Wayne’s tapestries in 2010-2011. At this point June was still alive and she wrote a short essay for the catalog. June is best known for her lithography and New Mexicans might recognize the name Tamarind Lithography Workshop which is now housed at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. For four years from 1970 to 1974, June focused on creating 12 large-scale tapestries, 11 of which were realized. All are currently exhibited at David Richard Gallery.

Here is a quote from the beginning of June Wayne’s catalog essay entitled, “Sufficient Unto Each Day is the Myopia Thereof.”

In 1973 the International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne, Switzerland, rejected one of my tapestries. Mildred Constantine, the curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the chairman of the Lausanne jury, told my Paris dealer that Lame de Choc was “too old-fashioned to show alongside fiber art.” Over the years I have ruminated about the differences between fiber art and tapestry and have come to believe that they are conceptual opposites, although they share the rubric of textiles.
In the 1960s fiber art literally “jumped over the convent wall” into mainstream aesthetics, distinguishing itself from tapestry by the adoption of “fiber” as its key word, which it had a genuine (and practical) need to do. Semantically and factually, tapestry had become a misleading label for the new directions that were being taken in weaving by artists who paired themselves with painting, graphics, collage, assemblage, and all the other artistic subsets that gave the ‘60s its reputation for freedom of expression…. But my art had an agenda that did not fit the goals of fiber. I needed and wanted tapestry techniques whose methodology echoed both benday dots and computer grids, just as it offered me a type of image making through the accretion of modules that I had found in the pores of lithograph stones….

I found it more than a little ironic following this quote and given the fact that the talk was in a gallery stuffed with huge tapestries, that the lecturers did not show one slide of a tapestry, did not talk about June’s tapestries, and that the entire talk was centered around the fiber art of which June says her tapestries had nothing to do with.

Here are some quotes and highlights from the talk. There was a lot said about Judy Chicago’s work. I was excited to hear more about her history and work while looking at one of her tapestries (The Creation). I also appreciated hearing Judy speak a little bit about her career as an artist. (There is a lot of information out there about Judy Chicago and I will leave it to you to research her show.) I heard far less about June Wayne’s work.

Janet Koplos at the very end of her 20 minute talk and the only mention of tapestry by either speaker until the question period: 

Tapestry, the technique central to the two bodies of work that brought us here today, have somewhat more relation to drawing and painting and thus more easily accommodate specific statements of meaning. It seems that people trained in fiber often looked for ways to work beyond the expectations of that material while people trained in other mediums and techniques looked at fiber and saw the emotional, tactile, and associational values of fiber and use that toward ends that may be also present in their other work such as painting or printing. Interestingly the same thing seems to be happening in clay today…. and it is a reminder that there is never just one approach and even a single medium that can have many facets, it all depends on the ideas and the impulses of the artist.

At the end of the two talks, there was a period for questions. It was clear that the gallery had a large number of fans of Judy Chicago which was not unexpected since the creator of The Dinner Part (and many other famous works of art) was sitting among us, and she does live in New Mexico after all. We were an hour and a half into this experience and I had yet to hear anything substantial about tapestry from anyone except David Eichholtz, the gallery owner and curator who introduced June Wayne’s work at the beginning and the brief statement Koplos made at the end of her talk. So I stood up and asked Koplos and Auther what they thought the connection was between the issues of fiber art’s place in modern art to contemporary art tapestry production. The answer from Janet Koplos was that there isn’t anyone doing contemporary tapestry art any more. This was stunning to me. I sat down with my head spinning… and then all the things the ATA forum I participated in last year rushed back to me and all I could think was that these are the current scholars and curators of fiber art and even they don’t know what we do. Or rather, they know what we do, but they don’t think anyone of consequence does it any more. Here is the exact conversation.


I am just wondering if you have any comments about contemporary tapestry in relation to the development of fiber art and its place in the art world today.


I think in the art world today there is a place for absolutely anything anybody wants to do. I don’t think there is any limit on it. But the real movement in tapestry, the attention to tapestry, came with the Lausanne Bienniale in the 60s and lots of artists were paying attention to it then but not to the degree that these two women were. You know, they were just somebody who did a cartoon and handed it over to somebody and it was executed by another person, so it was a superficial engagement. But there was engagement with the thing. And now… [she trails off and Auther picks up]


The only way I can answer that is I went to the recent College Art Association meeting in New York which is the big interdisciplinary conference that artists and art historians come to. I noticed there was a panel on tapestry and I thought that was really fascinating, but as I looked at the individual papers as the conference came closer, it was really really stuck in 17th and 18th century. And I still feel like scholarship is … there is not the scholarly interest in contemporary tapestry that there should be.

David Eichholtz talked some about the use of digital weaving done by people like Chuck Close and Robert Indiana and questioned the differences between this kind of weaving and the one-of-a-kind hand weaving that created June Wayne’s tapestries. And then Eichholtz mentioned a digital weaving studio in Belgium.

Audience member:

A very well known artist in California these days is a woman named Pae White who does the thing with Brussel’s tapestries and she creates immense installations with Brussel tapestries.  [...]


I am glad you brought up Pae White because it just occurred to me that yeah, she is probably the only contemporary artist I know that is doing large scale tapestry where she initiates the process and she is showing in museums that are exclusively devoted to contemporary art. I saw a series of her works in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and also I saw a series at SITE [Santa Fe], that must have been two years ago I think? 

Audience member:

They are knock-outs.


They are huge and they are really interesting and I have never had a chance to talk to her about the motivations or why she is going into that realm but before that time she worked generally I think with a great interest in fiber and craft traditions.

Unfortunately, Christa Thurman, Chair of Textiles at The Art Institute of Chicago was not able to make it to the lecture as originally planned due to a personal emergency. I would have loved to hear what she had to say. David Richard Gallery has some interviews planned with her and promises to post a series of podcasts and videos with all this information including the talk I heard online. I look forward to Christa’s response to my question.

David Richard Gallery did an excellent job getting these speakers and I appreciated the well-attended event. The owners of the gallery were engaging, knowledgeable, and seemed exceptionally supportive of tapestry. I want to thank them for hosting this beautiful show and I hope they will consider showing contemporary art tapestry again in the near future.

Please visit David Richard Gallery's website and look at the June Wayne tapestries. Or better yet, if you can, go see the show. The tapestries are very large and several of them were stunning. They were woven by three different French studios in the early '70s. My favorite two are The Fifth Wave and VerdictThe Fifth Wave (Cinquieme Vague) was inspired by one of her lithographs, Wave Five. The background consists of irregular blocks that look like they are full of a design from tree rings. I love the color gradation use in this piece.

Verdict is 73 by 117 inches and was woven by Giselle Glaudin-Brivet at Atelier Giselle Glaudin-Brivet, Aubusson. The imagery in this piece is also based on Wayne's lithographs and contains references to DNA molecules and mountains. She uses two different warp setts in this piece, adding spots of color through much of it with a double sett.


For more information:

(1) Here is a video of Elissa Auther speaking about her book, String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art.

(2) Here is a link to a series of photos of Pae White's Untitled, Still from the Whitney Biennial in 2010, a massive "tapestry". I am unable to find much information about her fiber works online but can only assume that these large pieces are digitally produced, possibly in Belgium as people in the talk suggested. This work is what Elissa Auther thought of when talking of contemporary tapestry.

Pae White, Untitled, Still; Whitney Biennial 2010

(3) More information about Judy Chicago at Artsy:

(4) David Richard Gallery has a series of videos posted on their website. They have a few of June Wayne talking about her work. Here is one of them:

Cinquieme Vague, June Wayne, 86 x 78 inches, Tapestry, 1972

Need a dye class?

I have had many students ask me lately when I am teaching in 2013. I have some classes in the works, not to mention the online class I'll be launching this year. It looks like I will be teaching in New Hampshire this summer for sure and probably somewhere in Colorado. I am still searching for a New Mexico venue if anyone has any requests...  Those dates will all get worked out in good time.

In the meantime, for those of you who have asked me about whether I teach dyeing, consider a class coming up very soon at Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center. Cornelia Theimer Gardella weaves wonderful tapestries and is also a master dyer. She is teaching a dye class March 1-3 based on Itten's color star and incorporating a lot of color theory. I really recommend her if you want to start dyeing your own tapestry yarn. Sign up quickly! She doesn't take many students and March 1 is right around the corner. Look at this link on the EVFAC site with a description of the class and a great bio of Conni. And even if you don't want to take the class, click on the link because the tapestry pictured there is stunning.

Cornelia Theimer Gardella, Tomorrow II, 32 x 51 inches; hand-dyed wool tapestry
Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center: Phone number is (505) 747-3577