Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kent Trip and Movie

I had a quick but wonderful visit to Kent State University to give a lecture on the history of woven figured textiles, i.e., drawloom woven, jacquard woven, and thread controller woven, and also spent time talking to students individually. The lecture was well-attended (the lecture room in the museum seats 130 and it was full), which is always gratifying. I was worried that my talk might be too basic for the fiber students, so was relieved when an art history class filed in. I was also pleased that J.R. Campbell, the new director of the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising at Kent, and his wife attended the talk. We met before at a Surface Design Conference where we were both teaching. He is an expert at digital print and engineered garments and if you click on his name it will take you to his blog where he has posted some good images. Kent is very lucky to have both J.R. and Janice Lessman-Moss on their faculty, and I can imagine that they will figure out interesting ways to have their students collaborate. Fashion and its main players are always more prominent than the designers of the cloth that is used to make the clothes. I don't know if I even knew that there was such a thing as a textile designer until my mid-30's; I just assumed that the fashion designer created the cloth they were using.

Before lecture, people looking at some woven studies by Bhakti Ziek

Visiting with Janice and her husband Al, an artist and musician (member of the Hillbilly Idols) is stimulating and reinforces my commitment to live a life focused on making things. Janice is one of those super women who is juggling many commitments at once, and doing them all well. She has built an amazing department at Kent and the exhibition downtown of jacquard work by herself and her students was definitely a highlight of my trip. She gives to the larger field by activities such as being on the board of Textile Society of America. Most importantly, she is an active practicing artist and her studio is full of inspiring work. You might own a copy of Ideas in Weaving, and have seen an image of Janice's Macomber loom, which she modified in order to create shaped weavings. Her ability to conceive of what she wants to do, and then figure out means to achieve her ideas, is staggering--and this is one of the impressive skills she manages to pass on to her students. In her studio I saw large, well-conceived, time-consuming weavings--and in the fiber department and downtown gallery I saw works by her students that showed that they too have learned to think beyond the expected and put in what ever effort is necessary to execute big, detailed projects. Below is a picture of Janice standing near a few of her new weavings, and below that a detail of her and the work.

Janice Lessman-Moss with some of her recent weavings

Janice Lessman-Moss in her studio

It is fun for me to go into a university program and talk to the students. To catch a bit of the energy of hope and exploration and ambition that is present in a good department, like the one at Kent. The facilities are very good--large well-equipped rooms for both weaving and surface design, and the equipment, which is kept in good shape, includes two TC-1 looms. Below are images of two of the seniors that I met, Katie Rothacher and Lauren Mangeri. Katie's recent jacquard in the downtown show, made with hand dyed weft, is not just ambitious, but mature and successful work; Lauren has just begun working with plastic interlaced with other yarns, and already her initial study shows the work is going to become captivating.

Katie Rothacher in her studio at Kent State University

Lauren Mangeri showing her recent TC-1 jacquard in weaving studio at Kent State University

I was only gone three days, but in the words of Dorothy, "there is no place like home." I used to be a movie fanatic, sometimes going to three different theaters in NYC on the same day to catch films playing only on that day--but that was a long time ago and now it is a rare treat to go to a movie. Julie and Julia is playing at the local Randolph movie theater, the Playhouse, so Mark and I went tonight. I didn't expect to like it (dare I admit that I don't like Meryl Streep)--but I loved the movie. I loved everything, especially all the talk about blogs and blogging--and of course all the food--and for the most part, Streep didn't annoy me. It felt so good to sit in the dark, and laugh, and be absorbed by a big screen. I came home and pulled out my copy of Child's book (13th printing from 1966) and maybe I will make that chocolate cake with almonds tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lectures, Mine and Others

I am going to Kent, Ohio this week to give a talk on woven figured textiles (drawloom and jacquard production) at the Kent State University Museum. The poster above has all the information of date, time, place--and if you are in the area, please come hear the talk. It is free and open to the public. There are several exhibitions of work on view too that I look forward to seeing, as well as seeing the work of the students of Janice Lessman-Moss. It is always good to see Janice, so I know it will be a great trip.

Takako Ueki, owner of Habu Textiles, talking to the VT Weavers Guild

Saturday morning I heard a wonderful talk by Takako Ueki, owner of Habu Textiles, at the meeting of the Vermont Weavers Guild. Takako sells the most amazing yarn and is a wealth of information about the materials she sells. She is a natural storyteller, and each time she picked up another skein, she would take us on another fascinating journey. I realized that so many of the processes she was describing have been embedded in cultures for generations--knowledge handed down from parent to child--identified with families and villages. Sadly much of this knowledge--making bamboo dents, splitting ramie into fine almost invisible thread, making double sided gold paper yarn--is being lost to the current generation who has found more lucrative professions. As I listened I wanted to try everything--but of course the skills of the masters she was describing come from dedication to one thing--the person who could make the incredible ramie did not know how to make the woven ikat weft. I don't have time to master any of these skills, nor do I have the discipline to focus on one thing. Trying to become a better weaver is enough for me. Still, it was a wonderful morning listening to her stories, and dreaming about places where people have valued special yarn and the cloth made from it. Each time Takako would hold up a roll of plain weave--incredible plain weave--I would take in a deep breathe and sigh in appreciation.

Six residents of Randolph area reading memoirs

Idora Tucker reading from her memoir as her daughter, Sara Tucker, looks on

Last week six residents of this area who have been meeting weekly at the Senior Center gave a reading from their memoirs. My neighbors, Sara Tucker and her mother, Idora Tucker, are both my friends, and they invited me to attend the reading. When the original organizer stepped out of the picture, Sara, a writer by profession, stepped in to help guide and encourage the others. She is very proud of their writing, as she should be. They did a beautiful job of interspersing their stories, doing three rounds where they each read sections of their stories. I definitely wanted to hear more, and it gave me a deeper appreciation for the people in this community.

Mark starting to paint the house

We are having a new roof put on our house, and while there is some staging on the roof, Mark has started to paint the house. Though we have been discussing potential colors for months, suddenly we needed to make a decision. Choosing color is so hard--especially from a 1 inch x 1 inch color chip that is representing an entire building. We bought some blue green paint but before it even got on the wall we both got cold feet. In my mind the entire house looked like an overly sweet decorated cake. Then we decided on gray, with dark gray trim--and bought those paints. Then we bought a small sample size of green, very similar to the current color. I am not sure how it will end up, and the main part of the house won't get painted until next spring, but we will see.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Weavings

Birthday weaving for Holly

detail of Birthday Weaving for Holly

Two of my closest friends had birthdays yesterday, which is nice. What is even nicer is that we live near each other so we could have a big celebration with noisy poppers (that scared my dog who was shaking under the table), delicious food, and good conversation which included many facts about September 14th and fifty years ago, since Liz turned that magical number. Did you know that Barbie turned 50 this year? Or that the first "successful" Russian moon landing happened on September 14th when the craft crashed into the moon?

While I was in the middle of weaving these two birthday weavings, I told Liz I wasn't going to weave any more birthday weavings--and I remember thinking, she knows I am bluffing. But apparently not. Both Holly and Liz were appropriately surprised, and appreciative. Me too. Going along with my theme of gratitude from the previous blog posting, I am so grateful for these two wonderful friends who encourage me in many ways, especially to stay positive and to remember to laugh--so making weavings for them was a pleasure. I tried to consider what I thought was appropriate for each of them, at the same time to develop my idea of weaving the flowers in my garden. I called Holly my garden guru, since she has taught me lots about these flowers, and she is the one I will go to when I need more information.

Birthday Weaving for Liz

Weaving seen on an angle

detail of Birthday Weaving for Liz

In the summer between first and second year of graduate school, at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Liz and I presented several lectures/hands on demonstrations of weaving processes used by Safavid weavers in conjunction with the exhibition, Woven from the Heart, Spun from the Soul, curated by Carol Bier, shown at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Remembering that Liz loved one of those textiles that had poppies, I decided to do my own version, starting with an image of poppies from my front yard. Weaving on a 60/2 silk warp (I did get this confirmed by Redfish Dyeworks) and using metallic wefts (gold for Holly's weaving and silver for Liz's), as well as silk wefts, I achieved a quality in these fabrics that shimmers and changes depending on the angle at which you view the weavings. It means that different viewings will reveal new details. I thought it was like a hologram, but another friend said it reminded her of a computer screen, a simile more people will relate to today.

I was really into baking yesterday. First I made a poppy seed cake (to go with the poppy weaving). Then I made an apple pie. Then I made ginger carrot cupcakes with marzipan carrots on top of ginger orange cream cheese frosting (recipes from Deborah Madison and Martha Stewart). If I had more time I would have kept going (banana cream pie sounded good, something chocolate came to mind). I thought it would be nice to have an obscene amount of sweets like some over the top wedding celebration. Fortunately time ran out and we just had abundance.

Apple Pie, one of three desserts

Friday, September 11, 2009

Gratitude, Health Insurance

Horse & Cart Thank You Weaving

detail of Horse & Cart Thank You weaving

While the debate rages about health care in this country, I thought I would weigh in with my own experiences and a statement about gratitude. At various times in my life, often to the horror of some people, I have lived without health insurance. In general I have good health, but I have had my share of exotic illnesses, including malaria. Without insurance, my doctor in Brooklyn could not admit me to her hospital--even though she was sure I was having an ectopic pregnancy. She sent me to Bellevue, a public hospital that would accept patients without insurance. It took almost 20 hours to be admitted, but once admitted, they immediately performed surgery and saved my life. For that I am grateful. More recently we have had insurance, usually through private plans, whose costs vary greatly from state to state. The same provider, offering the same services, charged one-quarter the amount in New Mexico than it charges in Vermont. I should have asked for the name of the person working for them who told me, when I inquired about the Vermont plan, "You don't want it. It is too expensive." So we didn't have insurance until we heard about Catamount Health, Vermont's plan to provide health insurance at reasonable cost. A wonderful woman at Guifford Hospital helped us with the paperwork, and once again, insured, we feel more secure, even though we hope we will rarely need to use it. For this I am grateful. I wove the weaving above as a statement of my gratitude--thank you in several languages.

I just can't understand why this country is so unwilling to help its own people, especially since this unwillingness generates higher costs than if everyone was covered. I do hope a national health care plan passes and everyone can see a physician when they need help. Or buy the medicines they need. If my malaria had showed up in China or India, I could have gone to the local pharmacy and gotten a few pills and been fine. But it didn't manifest until I was back in the USA. Not only did I have to suggest to the doctor that it might be malaria, but it cost over a $1000 for one night in the hospital so they could observe me taking those pills. I paid that bill off over years, each month remembering the doctor who told me malaria was his specialty but he had never seen it in life before. Without insurance I had to stop taking a monthly bone density pill, because buying it as an individual would have cost more than $100 a month. What will it take for the people who are fortunate to have compassion for the less fortunate?

I have never understood the inequity of pay in different professions. Most of my friends are artists--educated, serious, professional, and hard working. Obviously I believe in the importance of creative work, that the benefits of such a life out-weigh the fact that such activity is often not paid work. In New Mexico I was able to trade weaving for dental work. That was a rare, and wonderful experience. I know that what I do is valuable, yet that value just doesn't seem to translate to money. Should I stop doing it then? I know that many artists ask themselves this question--and many do stop. I am going to write more about this, but for now I just want to say that I am grateful to live in a state that helps its population have quality health care for all.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Finishing Projects

Holes drilled in house for blowing in insulation

Insulation blown into this hole

September is here and school has started for the children in this area. That means many adults have returned to work too. The evening air is cool (down in the 30's and 40's), pleasant for sleeping, and the day has that distinct smell of summer into fall. I even saw a tree down the street in full red/orange/gold fall colors. Seemed a bit early to me, but this is only my second season in Vermont so what do I know? It definitely feels like the time to finish projects, and shift to a more internal, indoor life. Our house is being weatherized through the Energy Smart of Vermont program, and I had to find something to do while people were drilling holes and blowing in insulation.

It seemed time to finally get that slide show of the summer class at School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) online. It took all day to get the images resized, in order, and labelled. I was very erratic in my taking of pictures, so I apologize to the students if I have left out work, or the quality is poor. I haven't edited things--just put them all in a slideshow. If you click here you can see the work. It was an amazing class and months later I am still in awe of all the work these students produced in just three weeks. While I was working on the images this morning, I received an email inviting me to teach at SAIC again during summer 2010. It is almost as if the energy I was putting into the previous class evoked a response from the universe for the future! (Don't you like how superstitious and willing I am to believe in miracles?) I won't even think about repeating the wonderful experience from summer 2009--I will just imagine a different wonderful experience for 2010.

Ashley Townsend presenting her work this summer at SAIC