Monday, August 31, 2009

End of Summer Activities

Bread & Puppet performing in S. Royalton, VT

Last week we finally got to see Bread & Puppet do a live performance. I have heard about them over the years, and last summer Mark and I drove to Glover on a day they were scheduled to perform, but we hadn't checked times and were too early, though we did see the museum and some of the preparations for the evening performance. This time we only had to go to South Royalton, which was convenient since we wanted to do grocery shopping too. It was clear that the performers were having as much fun as the audience, probably even more fun. Who wouldn't enjoy walking on those stilts?

Peter Ziek, Prentis House, and chair at Shelburne Museum

My brother, Peter Ziek, came for a visit last week. He is taking web design and Photoshop at the community college in Colorado Springs, and we spent one morning sitting side by side at my desk with our computers open to Photoshop, going over some things. He is color blind--and it was really interesting watching what he was doing. At one point he was modifying the color of his son's hair in one picture--trying to make it red but it sure looked like purple to me. It is hard enough to try to figure out color for a website, since you have no idea how one person has set their monitor versus your monitor's setting, but to try to do this when you don't see color the way other people do is really daunting.

I did learn something new by working with him. Usually when I want to make a collage of images, I open up the various images, then drag them into another image, creating layers by the move tool. Looking through menus, trying to find a template option (we think he got this from a different program), I saw "Place" under the File Menu. Trying it I found that I could just use that to bring various images into one file, each on its own layer. I always like how Photoshop has several ways to do the same thing, and when writing The Woven Pixel, Alice Schlein and I tried to give variations of method in the book, so readers would be encouraged to explore and find methods that worked for them, rather than sending everyone always down the same path.

Friday was raining, but Mark and Peter and I drove up to Burlington to the Shelburne Museum anyway. Since reading about the Kalkin House in Dwell Magazine, I have wanted to see this building, designed by Adam Kalkin, made out of a Butler Building shell and shipping containers. Right now the museum is having an exhibit of work by Richard Saja in the Kalkin House. Though I liked his central "animal chandelier" (like an early Mike Kelley), I was unimpressed by his jacquard weaving and other textiles. I think it would have been more interesting to see some of the furnishings found in the older buildings at the museum placed in this contemporary modular building. Perhaps I would have like Saja's work better too, if it had been placed in one of the older buildings, so his style would contrast more with the architecture.

Kalkin House at Shelburne Museum

Shelburne Museum was founded by Electra Havemeyer Webb in 1947. She seems to have collected everything, and wherever I looked I found another image of repeat pattern to capture with my digital camera. When we were leaving, someone in the bookstore asked me what I liked best in the museum. By then my head was dull, from seeing so many things and I couldn't think of an answer. But I did enjoy Barbara Richart's demonstration of the jacquard loom (she was so small compared to the loom and she had to lift the threads in a two part sequence--first stepping on the treadle to lock the hooks, then almost jumping on the treadle to life the threads), and I loved how the view through one old window looked just like it had been created with a Photoshop filter.

Repeat Pattern as seen at Shelburne Museum
(blueberries from Sunshine Valley Berry Farm)

Barbara Richart demonstrating the jacquard loom

Old window at Shelburne Museum

Saturday my family gathered in Stockbridge, MA to celebrate the 100th birthday of my Aunt Bess (Bess Shubin). It was a lovely event, and I have posted a slideshow of the images I took for my family (and anyone else interested) to see. Just click here. I am sorry that I didn't manage to get pictures of everyone, but there were so many cameras flashing and clicking, I am sure others got a better record of the event. Bess is the first in our family to reach 100--and as you can see, she is fully-present and with us. I especially liked seeing her with her granddaughter Leah's children--her great grandchildren.

Aunt Bess holding the cake weaving I made for her

Bess Shubin cutting her cake, flanked by two of her great grandchildren

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A New Weaver in my Family

Barbara among her ancestors in Stowe, VT

My sister-in-law, Barbara Blount Ziek, was visiting this week, on her way to Felters' Fling at Snow Farm, Williamsburg, MA. Barbara and my brother Peter own Wild Hair Alpacas, just north of Colorado Springs, CO. They met many years ago while being ski bums at Stowe, VT. At that time Barbara knew her ancestors had lived in the area, but not much more. We drove over this week and found the gravestones of her great-great-great-grandparents, and other relatives, right in the cemetery in the center of town. This is such a nice aspect of Vermont--there is always another small cemetery just around the corner. I like this reminder that life is fragile, fleeting, and finite--and that there is continuity too--one generation yields their space on earth to the next. It was very moving to take this photograph of Barbara, who has actively searched out information about past generations in her family. It is not something I have done (basically I think we are all related--so why bother with details)--but it did interest me that she knows the names of my grandmother's parents--and I have never even considered that my grandmother had parents.

Sister-in-laws weaving

We spent several days driving all over central Vermont (I am trying to woo them here) but yesterday I spent teaching Barbara how to weave. I like felting (even did a workshop in Turkey once) but I can't shake the idea that they should be spinning their alpaca fiber into yarn for weaving. Since we didn't have any alpaca yarn, I had her use chenille. She triumphantly cut off her scarf this morning.

Barbara wearing her first weaving

I have been wanting to try out the braid twister that Edith House gave me and this was the perfect opportunity. I felt just like Trudy Otis in the picture I posted on my blog--well, maybe not quite so proficient, but pretty good. Thank you Edith!

Bhakti using her braid twister

Finished twisted fringe with twisting tool

My brother comes for a visit next week. Wonder if he wants to learn how to weave?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Finally Summer

The weather has been beautiful all week and everyone is saying, "finally, summer has arrived!" Along with the good weather has come visits from friends and wonderful gatherings, great dinners, and deep laughter. It has been a week of great joy. It also brought birthdays on August 13th for two friends, Hisako Billings and Ken Gross. I was able to weave "birthday cards" for them, and further my attempts to create cloth as sublime as the Safavid and Ottoman textiles I have been looking at again. I am not there yet, but I feel I am getting closer.

Birthday weaving for Hisako Billings (note her name written in Japanese thanks to internet and Akemi Nakano Cohn sending me three versions to choose from)

Birthday weaving for Ken Gross

Gerhardt Knodel and Ken arrived in Vermont on Monday and we had a gathering at our house. Marianne, Liz and I all were students of Gerhardt's at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Marianne was pregnant with her son, Rex Horner, during our last semester. You can see Rex in the corner of the image on the porch, and second from left at the dinner table. He is going into his third year of college this fall. It is such a wonder to sit and hold interesting conversations with him and the Sacca/Billings teenagers, and to realize we have known them all their lives. It was also terrific to catch up with all that Gerhardt has been doing since he left Cranbrook (he was Director of the Academy for many years) and has returned to full-time studio work. His enthusiasm, optimism and celebration of life is contagious. Life is always more vivid in his presence.

Gathering at our house on Monday

On Thursday we celebrated Ken's birthday from morning to night, starting with pancakes and Vermont maple sugar, and ending with champagne and many toasts. Liz and I plotted with Katarina Weslien to surprise Gerhardt and Ken by having her "bump into them" at the Indonesian textile exhibition at the Hood Museum. It worked perfectly and we got the advantage of hearing the three of them, world travellers, discuss the textiles in the show (greatly admired) as well as the textiles in their collections. Then we went to Liz's home for the big birthday bash--drinks, a pinata, chile rellenos, an amazing cake baked by Marianne. The pinata wasn't the ordinary store-bought Mexican variety but homemade by the Sacca/Billings clan--and almost indestructible. I had forgotten to charge the batteries in my camera so I can't show you all, but I am not sure even if I had the batteries whether I would have been able to hold the camera. The champagne was that good!

Toasting and Pinata

Katarina had her dog Mason with her. The photos don't do him justice. He is a deep mahogany brown and full of good energy--and he is obedient too. He had us all laughing in amazement when he wanted to play catch with a tree sapling. He wasn't just bluffing, he really did run and fetch the pole.

Mason playing fetch the sapling

This morning I went over to Sunshine Berry Farm with Holly and Katarina, who have many friends in common through Watershed, to pick blueberries. In an hour, between the three of us, we picked almost 25 pounds of berries. As I was picking, listening to the birds, looking at the beauty of the berries and these bushes just laden with ripe and ripening fruit, I felt sure that the Garden of Eden must have had blueberry bushes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Each Day a New Arrival

"This being human is a guest house, each day a new arrival..." is how Rumi's poem The Guest House (as translated by Coleman Barks) begins. Well the other day the new arrival was not as sweet as some of them. The exhibition on Indonesian textiles scheduled for Bard, and all the events surrounding it, including the demonstration of weaving processes that I was to do, have had to be cancelled due to construction delays on the gallery. I am so disappointed, but it did introduce me to some interesting colleagues as well as increase the books I have on Indonesian textiles. And while I was ordering them, I also found an amazing book on Indian printed textiles using mordants. So always some good, along with the bad.

I am reading Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, which is going to be the next book discussion at Kimball Library here in Randolph. It is fiction but every word resounds with the truth of a lived life. It is making me think about how we construct our stories, cast ourselves in both good and poor light, carefully editing to create the picture we want others to see. So what I include or don't include in this blog is a form of posing. No matter how honest I want to be, through inclusion and exclusion, I am fabricating a public persona.

From left around the table: Liz, Anne, Mario, Mark, Marianne, Derek, Isaac, Susanna

Of course I want to include the wonderful dinner party we had the other night in honor of Anne Lindberg and Derek Porter. Anne just installed a new large piece in an exhibition H2O in Newport, NH--close enough for them to visit and for us to see her work. Anne was second year to Liz, Marianne, and I being first year at Cranbrook. Age has nothing to do with being the elder here. She was a great role model in school, and has continued to be an inspiring and cherished friend. Mark and I were able to get to spend time with her and Derek when we lived in Lawrence, Kansas (2000-2002) since they are residents of Kansas City. It has been wonderful to watch their lives bloom in terms of creativity and success. Since Derek is also the Director of the MFA Lighting Design Program at Parsons/The New School, we can figure out some NYC gatherings, or try to draw them back to Vermont.

Saturday Mark and I drove to Boston for the day, to meet my sister Robin, and her children, Daniel and Molly, up from Maryland. This really was a widening of the circle for us. It is three hours to Boston, a reasonable one day trip. When we lived in New Bedford, MA, we went up there sometimes--usually to the galleries or museums, but we had never been to the Peabody Museum at Harvard. So we met Robin and Daniel there. The fourth floor, with its old cases, wood silky soft from the touch of so many hands over the years, is totally inspiring. Each case is full of objects; many are textiles. it is the kind of exhibition that is out of fashion, as one can see when contrasting it to the exhibits on the other floors which have computer-screens and videos and lights and whistles and lots of visitors with children. This floor was empty except for us--a real treat.

Mark looking at objects on 4th Floor of Peabody Museum

On the third floor, the Peabody is connected to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and we went across to see the Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants, made by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka from 1886 to 1936. They show that their makers paid careful attention to the smallest detail of the living plants, and used the most careful craftsmanship to execute models that seem to breath. Since I am enjoying all the colors and variety of the flowers around Randolph this summer, and trying to capture them in my weavings (will post images soon), I was definitely awed by this room. We might have missed this wonderful collection if Laurie Sverdlove hadn't mentioned it to me when I told her we were going to the Peabody.

Mark, Robin and Daniel studying the glass flowers

One of the Glass Flowers in the Ware Collection at Harvard Museum of Natural History

Now that we have gone to Boston once, I think we will go back soon to see the other museums and galleries. Going into town from the north seemed really different than from the south. We did manage to get lost, both going in and out of town. Next time a good map will be our companion. When we got on I-89, I felt a great sense of peace--ah, the road to home.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Surprise Day Trip

Detail of 4-weft lampas by Bhakti Ziek

Isn't it lovely how each day has a different surprise. I was upstairs weaving a four-weft lampas this morning, very pleased with the results, when my phone rang. It was my cousin, Matthew Shubin, and he was near White River Junction on his way to Cornish, NH. Realizing he was probably close to us, he called to see if we could come to the concert he was playing at 2 p.m. at the Saint-Guadens National Historic Site. It is always nice to see Matt and Helen, and their dog Uma--and it was especially nice to sit out on the portico (we had our dog, December, with us) and listen to the Latin Landscapes Trio (flute, bassoon and guitar) playing while looking at the incredible view through tall flowers and soft rain.

Latin Landscapes Trio playing at The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

View from my seat as I listened to the concert

We had never heard of this National Site, but it turns out to be the only national park in NH, and a very interesting place for artists to visit. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a famous and successful sculptor (1848-1907) lived here many summers, and then full-time at the end of his life. He did the kind of sculptures you see in public spaces where a person is never just a person, but the embodiment of honor or justice or truth. As I mellow (sort of) I find I can enjoy work, that I wouldn't want in my home, for its own sake, and this new tolerance even allows me to appreciate what I am seeing. I especially liked the reliefs of Saint-Gaudens, which reminded me of the beautiful Assyrian reliefs I had seen recently at the Hood Museum. I think the way image is rendered in relief is similar to the detailing possible in a weaving. I was also drawn to Saint-Gaudens use of language in his reliefs.

Detail of relief sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The issue of ways of drawing that are appropriate to weaving has been on my mind. There are certain time periods whose style especially "speaks" to me. Safavid textiles and Ottoman textiles both have strong natural elements that are rendered particularly well for the elements of weaving. When I put on the 60/2 silk warp (though maybe it is 20/2, I am still not sure) I decided to try harder at achieving a quality that appeals to me. I pulled out my copy of Ipek: The Crescent and the Rose (a glorious book with beautiful illustrations of Ottoman weavings) and have been flipping through the pages, exclaiming about the beauty of these fabrics. (We lived with our books packed up for so long that just having them out on the bookshelves here seemed enough for awhile. Now they are starting to come off the shelves, showing up in different rooms, my choices and Mark's, intermingling and inspiring.) These textiles always have clean flat areas of color, often outlined by another thin line that adds to their crispness and clarity. There is enough detail to distinguish the motif (usually a type of flower) but not so much that it gets lost in the pixelation of warp and weft.

Ipek: The Crescent and the Rose

Detail of Ottoman lampas photographed from Ipek

So I am trying to work my imagery accordingly. Starting with digital images of my flowers, I am drawing on top of them in a new layer in Photoshop, keeping some lines of information, but not too much. In the image below you see the threads quite clearly, but this image is taken an inch from the cloth. When you see the cloth at normal range the threads blend into a field of color. I am using four wefts (one ground and three pattern). The ground weft works both as a 4/1 satin and a 1/4 satin, and the other three wefts weave as 1/2 twills, but because their binding warps are spaced further apart than the ground warp (ratio 3 ground warp to 1 binding warp), their floats are longer than the floats of the ground weft. (All of this is explained in detail in The Woven Pixel chapter on lampas.)

Detail of a 4-weft lampas by Bhakti Ziek

I am questioning the type of silk I am using for my pattern weft. I would prefer a softer yarn--a silk floss. I will have to do an internet search to try and find appropriate weft. I have lots of tightly wound silk on my shelves (mostly white--I always think I am going to dye it but....) which is good for warp, but I want pattern wefts that pack tightly but loft and cover when floated. The damask liserie that I wove at Lisio in 1997 had silk wefts with these characteristics. There are always two wefts working in this fabric, but the colors change as you move up the cloth so it appears as if there are more weft systems than two.

Damask liserie woven by Bhakti Ziek

Detail of damask liserie by Bhakti Ziek

One last comment about the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site: they have a small gallery called The Picture Gallery which is currently showing work by Claire Watkins, on view until August 16th. She has amazing work and one piece, Flock of Needles, really enchanted me. She has a group of threaded needles where the ends of the thread is attached to a wall, and the needles hoover in air near a moving magnet. They are like a family of fish gathered around bread. If you click on her name you can see this piece and some others.