I’ve spent most of the past week setting up the show at Box13 ArtSpace in Houston, and touring the wonderful museums and galleries.
The few times I’ve shown the pieces it has been amazing to watch how people interact with them and something I never expected. Tonight was no exception.
I’ll be displaying 5 years of daily weavings at the Box13 ArtSpace gallery in Houston along with three other talented artists.
That equals to 1825 tiny weavings, but all put together they take up a big space. I’ve been making one small weaving from things that come into my life on a daily basis since 2005. Buying things for the weavings is against one of my self imposed rules. It has been an interesting journey. Each year comes out a little different. After all these years, I wondered if it was becoming mundane and thought I needed to quit or make a bigger commitment to the individual days. Of course, I’ve had a relatively quiet month so spending more time on each weaving is proving to be fun. I read that one day after 33 years Simon Rodia who created the Watts Towers in CA said, “I’m finished” and walked away. Each year I wonder when/if I’ll be finished.
It is not easy to alter someone else’s painting, but that’s what I did for this multimedia fiber art piece. So many thoughts ran through my head on my recent trip to Peru; so many unanswered questions about the big picture of what I was seeing. They are thoughts I have in all my travels both in the US and other countries.
In Peru, it was enough just to get used to the altitude much less put everything in perspective during the short two-week tour of a country long on my bucket list. The fact that travel often reveals unexpected surprises, events part of the culture that are not on the organized tour is what informed this piece. There is always mystery about the place: different culture, different food, different landscape, different history. All things far too complicated to understand in a few days visit. This piece is an altered painting purchased from a street vendor. His story comes to life a little at a time as the lights revolve around the hidden painting.
On second thought, maybe the title for this post should be “Trying to Understand Cultural Differences.” This is something I’ve struggled with for a number of years. I visit Thailand yearly. My oldest son lives there. I’ve innocently made a number of cultural faux pas, funny mistakes to relate when I get home. I’ll never figure out why Thailand is a third world country when I see so many parallels relating to what we do in the US. But that is for another post.
What has stood out more recently is the difference in what I saw young people learning in Peru with what the 5th grade students I taught last week are learning. Our tour traveled to five villages in Peru that are reviving their ancient weaving traditions. Children as young as 4 or 5 were handling yarn and watching their elders work. The many tourists snapping pictures could easily have reinforced the importance of their work. Teenagers were doing complicated traditional backstrap weaving and multi color knitting both far beyond my skills. Everyone in these villages comes together once a week to work on their textiles. They wear their traditional clothing. It is a feast of color.
My students last week live in an isolated rural town similar to the towns we visited in Peru. They were wonderful, gentle, cooperative kids. They’d never heard of many of the processes we tried. One or two said they’d tried knitting. Each one wove on a floor loom and by the end of the week they had woven six yards of cloth. They struggled to wind a warp around a piece of cardboard and figuring out the over under process was difficult. A few were able to learn the pick and pick pattern.
Although I didn’t visit any schools in Peru, I’ve noted the obvious difference in the hand skills of the elementary school students I teach since my days as a classroom art teacher in Atlanta. The Peruvian children I saw are growing up in a country with a strong cultural heritage. I don’t bemoan the fact that our kids lack hand skills. We are teaching them something else. I’m just struggling to define what cultural heritage we are passing on to our US children in this comparatively younger country.
Many years ago our family was traveling in the American South West. I had my drop spindle with me and sat in an ancient Native American ruin and began to spin. I felt like I was communicating with others who had spun in that place and wondered what they might have been thinking. So when I traveled to Machu Picchu in Peru last week, I once again decided to commune with the past. The roots of my craft are here and it is certainly thought provoking for me to relate to past generations in this way. I spin because I love the process, they spun out of necessity, but I still feel a connection to them.
Just getting back from two amazing weeks in Peru. These are the weavings I made on the trip with a couple of close ups.
We toured Machu Picchu and five weaving villages where the weavers knitters and spinners wrote the definition of labor intensive. Their colorful traditional clothing and skills will long be an inspiration for me.
I recently completed an entry for a show on Touch. The prospectus recognized that museum etiquette prohibits touching. Traditional craft forms – it goes on to say – are made to be touched, handled, used. A recent show on soft sculpture put on by a Facebook friend who has blogged pictures of the signs in the gallery requesting hands off the sculptures has rattled around in my brain. The works are precious not to be messed with.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about touch lately. Whenever or wherever I display my felt vessels people pick them up and handle them. Even my latest e-textile pieces with fiber optics and lights that are wired down inside a box are still handled. Another thing that has fascinated me over the years of doing gallery shows is how the curator interprets my work, a different twist I didn’t think of, what it is put beside. I love to observe the gallery visitors touching the pieces or attempting to peak behind. Who gave them permission, but touching and peaking are what I always want to do at shows.
Plus I’ve been at the making things for so long I’m beginning to question the value of the pieces I make. Who cares if they last another hundred years? Aren’t the fingerprints left on the work part of the story of the piece? To me, that story will make it all the more valuable. If it goes back to the earth sooner as a result of the fingerprints so much the better. Many of the gallery pieces I see these days are of temporary works remembered only by their photographs.
The piece I entered consists of five “vessels” inspired by what surrounds me at the Tennessee Aquarium. They are not attached to a base so that the viewer can make their own arrangement. Nothing is static in an Aquarium and these pieces shouldn’t be either. There is no right side up to the pieces. They are meant to be touched, felt, rearranged, and fingerprinted.