Every drawing session reminds me of the importance of brushes. Depending on the surface used- fabric, slick paper, toothy paper or fabrics — different brushes perform differently and are a simple yet vital part of the toolkit. And of course, those luscious orange colors of late Roma tomatoes from the garden, picked green and ripening slowly indoors. Handbuilt ceramic bowl by Eric Jensen.
In November 2016, Gatlinburg, Tennessee suffered a devastating fire that destroyed hundreds of homes, businesses and tree-covered acreage. As news broke on social media, we watched the unfolding story as it related to Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, a beloved crafts school with a network of artists, fans, and workshop attendees spread across the globe. The stories of escape from quickly advancing flames were horrific. We were frightened for Arrowmont’s staff and families, and we worried that nothing would remain of the school. When morning came, the dormitory I’d stayed in just one year earlier while attending a Surface Design Association conference, was one of two buildings destroyed in the fire, but the rest of the campus had mercifully been spared.
So, when I was invited to attend Arrowmont’s Pentaculum 2018, a gathering of 80 artists and writers working in clay, metal, fiber, 2-d, and wood, I felt both delight and reverence. I wanted not only to inhabit this loss but pay homage to renewal. I’d make a piece in my Tarp Series, in which I position my expressive textile paintings as metaphorical tarps. I see tarps as protective, versatile and adaptive. I’d start with drawings on campus, translating them to cloth, then photograph the piece outdoors in select settings.
Upon arrival, inevitably I recalled a much earlier connection to the Great Smoky Mountains. During very formative years as a 19 year old, I spent two months at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, then known as the Maryville College Environmental Education Center. It was 1973, and I leaned into the wildness, leading school children on hikes, learning about material culture, foodways, harp singing, launching myself into the art making and community arts career that has been a part of me ever since.
At Pentaculum 2018, we did not anticipate the very unusual cold weather, which made outdoor drawing impossible and photography challenging. But I let my eye be “open,” with doodles and observations on walks and out the studio windows.
The imagery in the resulting piece, Sorrow and Renewal, is more representational than is usual for me. Colors are black, grey, —and red. Red for pent-up passions, energy, sorrow, fire, joy and heat. But it is in the context of the forest, streams, rocks, gnarled trees, that this red makes the most sense and feels right.
Scouting photography locations in 13 degree weather, I explored the woodpile of huge downed trees, there perhaps not from the fire but adjacent to the hill where remains of the fire are visible. And also there, grapefruit sized piles of bear scat from visits to nearby dumpsters. But it was a place along the river that truly allowed this piece to find its singing voice. Renewal is apparent, gratifying, and not to be taken for granted. Pentaculum 2018 was a wonderful experience. And Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts continues to be a magical place.
On a rainy weekend while traveling, I had the unique opportunity to collaborate on an art piece with my gifted cousin, Nele Braas, who is a professional photographer plus crochet artist and author. After a trip filled with so much sensory opportunity, the hands-on experience was an added, and welcome, thrill.
In this series, I position my expressive textile paintings as tarps. Metaphorically, I see tarps as protective, versatile and adaptive. They embody the best attributes of textile with the potential of sculptural form and expressive gestures through painting, printing and mixed media.
The Tarp Series asks what is the role of art in our modern world ruled by technology and fraught with serious issues? What does it mean to be a maker under these circumstances where political comment, identity and narrative is the primary conversation? Is there a role for creative expression in non-narrative ways, much like the role that music performs? How can we play more, separating the essence of creativity from the serious presentations of art found only in museum and gallery settings? These are wonderful, rarified, beautiful, but do not tell the whole story and lead us, as artists, to a more commercial view of our work. How can we lighten up?
For me, the concept of the Tarp is a reminder to express the powerful inner light, to shelter, to fulfill the important role that inspiration provides in order to make the rest of the oughts and musts of the world happen. To remind us of our humanity and inspire compassion. And, perhaps to remind us to play, to sail, transporting us elsewhere. Being outside.
These are examples of recent quilted, stitched works from 2017. All my work utilizes fabrics that I print and paint myself.
More textile discoveries at the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico. Several exhibitions of historical and indigenous textiles were featured at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, with spillover exhibition areas in the San Pablo Cultural Center.
Perhaps the most intriguing exhibit centered around a mystery textile discovered by at a flea market in the 1980s. Entitled The Plumed Weavings, its centerpiece is, quoting the Textile Museum signage, “the ‘tlamachtentli de Madeline’, thus named in honor of Madeline Humm de Mollet, as it was she that discovered it in a Puebla flea market towards the end of the 1980s. The tlamachtentli is only a fragment of what must have been a most extraordinary huipil; notwithstanding, among its threads we were able to discern the technical sophistication and the aesthetics of indigenous art from over 300 years ago. Only five other textiles with similar characteristics as this weaving have been documented; three of them are located in Mexico, one in Rome and another in New York. All six are Mexican… and share a very special peculiarity; each one has different varieties of cotton thread that have been twisted or spun with duck down.
…While it is possible to find the use of feathers in other regions of the world (like the Andes, the Amazon, the islands of the Pacific and even in western USA) all indications are that plumed threads are exclusive to Mesoamerican culture, and in particular, to the cultures that established themselves in what we now know as Mexico.”
The research into these textiles was then shared with current day weavers from Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca. The exhibition displays examples of modern-day pieces resurrecting these almost long lost techniques. An excellent set of videos documented the process.
Additional exhibits focused on the use of resist dye techniques globally. Here are a few favorite pictures. Many other pieces were just as sublime.
As part of the 10th International Shibori Symposium, we took a day-long tour of the area and visited with the Chavez Santiago family in the local weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle. Federico (Fe) Chavez Sosa is a master weaver who has been weaving for generations, adapting traditional designs with his own color combinations and patterns. Son Omar spoke gave us an introduction in English, and then we were shown quite a big selection of rugs of all sizes.
Like many of the 2000 weavers in the area, he had been using aniline dyes in his spacious studio attached to his home. But since the processing of these dyes was in tandem with a home and living environment, he decided to return to natural dyes used by his ancestors, including his grandfather. Federico’s wife Dolores (Lola) also weaves, as do other family members, including son Omar, Janet and Eric.
Looms are built locally, with carved wood ratchet and wheel (wow- contemporary looms elsewhere use metal for these critical parts) and take about a month to complete.
The family also operates Galeria Fe y Lola, a small, well displayed shop at 5 de Mayo 408, Centro, Oaxaca. It’s located behind a storefront with other shops, as is often found in Oaxaca. Well worth a visit as these are excellent works using natural dyes only.
One of the unexpected surprises of the International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca was the exciting proliferation of small printmaking collectives. Most of them are focused on large scale wood- and lino- cuts, often in political themes. I visited many of the ones located in Oaxaca centro. For this, I used a “Pasaporte Grafico” walking tour guide containing a map, something about each of the ten venues, plus an opportunity to receive a “stamp” at each venue visited. Passports are available at each venue. The entire walking tour was easy to accomplish and inspiring in its discoveries.
The Instituto de Artes Graficas was founded by famed Mexican artist Francisco Toledo, who also played a hand in many other Oaxaca cultural institutions, like the Ethnobotanical Garden. The Instituto has an exhibition space, gathering spot, library, shop and more. Taller Oaxaca Grafico is located near the Instituto de Artes Graficas and focuses on showcasing prints by founding members Edith Chavez, Dario Castillejos, MK Kabrito, Alberto Cruz and Ivan Bautista.
Espacio Zapata “arte popular” is awesome and exciting for those of us who have done printmaking and screen printing. It has mutiple rooms and includes a small restaurant. On the walls are wood or linocuts used for printing, some nearly 2 meters long. It seems more a working space; the “sales” area is smaller by comparison and has a T-shirt shop feel. Its mission is “a political graphics production workshop for artists who consider and utilize art as a tool to support the struggle of our people.”
At Estampa, I spoke with with H.L. Santiago Martinez, a painter. Estampa was once home to multiple artists, now just two and is evolving into more of a community arts space where conversations about graphic and visual arts promote national and international artists. It has a coffee shop. Later this month, it will host a book arts event.
Gabinete Grafico has a wide range of work displayed in a way that is easily accessible for viewing and sold. A very small space with one press and one work table, it makes excellent use of walls and loft to display an exciting array of work. When I was there, one of the artists, Celi Irving Herrera, was working on cutting a woodcut. Visit them on Facebook.
I also visited Oaxaca Subsuelo, which exhibits and sells local Oaxaca art work, and Taller Siqueiros Gallery, mentioned as a space “dedicated to spreading Oaxaca and international street art.”
Not on the passport, but noteworthy is the current exhibition at Oaxaca’s cultural museum, the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, located in the converted Dominican Abbey next to Santa Domingo and the Ethnobotanical Garden. It featured a huge show of graphic art by Leopoldo Mendez.