The Old Warping Mill

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This is a picture of Jake O. Trujillo finishing up a warp on his warping mill which was kept in the attic of Irvin’s grandmother’s house.  This picture was taken in the early 1980’s, but he had built the mill soon after he built his loom in 1927.  He’s removing the warp from the mill, “chaining” it up to bring it to his loom across the road.

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This is a picture taken a few years later of Irvin and Hosana Eilert putting a chained warp on a loom.  The challenge is to have every thread across the warp to be the same length and the same tension.  This is critical to the integrity of every weaving produced from the warp.  Warping a loom this way isn’t easy.  When warping wide looms this way in years gone by, Jake would ask for help, and the three of us warped as a team of three.  I don’t remember us being a happy team, but we worked together and we got the work done.

Our weavers are accustomed to having warps made for them.  They bring us their warp beams and we fill them with warp.  This is the way the weaving dealers in Chimayo have been working for many years.  We need those warps to be long, and to be perfectly even in tension.  Any errors in warping will mean that we have weavings that won’t lay flat and aren’t very useful.  The tie industry of the late 1930’s introduced industrial-type warping techniques that were adopted by the early Chimayo weaving dealers.  The technique used was to make a sectional warp on a horizontal mill and transfer that warp directly to a warp beam.  The weaver can then take that warp beam to the loom for weaving.

Between the times when these first two pictures were taken, we moved the mill from the attic across the street to the yarn storage room of the shop.  Irvin modified the mill by adding spokes and crosspieces.  He also built in a braking system, and mounts for a tension box and a wide variety of warp beams.

placing-the-beginning-of-section-on-nail-in-warping-millThe steps to the process are as follows.

Sixteen cones (called a buñuelo) of warp are set up on a cone rack and threaded through the tension box.  We weave at eight ends per inch, so sixteen threads will make two inches of warp.

We create a cross at the beginning of each of our two inch bouts.  If you are familiar with making a “chained” warp, you are creating that cross with the figure 8 at each end of the warp.  This is done here by pulling the bout against a small section of rigid heddle reed mounted in the tension box to separate every other thread.  The cross is held in place by two lease strings (purple threads in the picture) that pass from one side of the mill to the other.  The cross will be our essential guide to the sequence of threads in the warp when we go to tie the warp to the old warp on the loom, or thread the warp through heddles and reed.  The end of the warp that we start with will be buried by the length of warp, but will come out as the accessible end of the warp once it has been wound on to the beam.

The bout is as long as the warp needs to be.  So a warp is ten turns long, or 15, or 20 turns.  It’s critical that the count is right, that each bout is the same number of turns, so that we don’t reach the end of the warp and find some sections longer or shorter than others.

The end of each bout is tied onto a nail that is inserted into the mill’s crosspiece.  As you can see in the left this picture, it’s the same crosspiece where we started the bout.

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Each 2″ bout is wound on the mill all the way across the warp.  The tension box must be moved for each bout, so that it is aligned with the right section on the mill. The warp on the mill in this picture has 20 bouts for a 40″ warp.

 

 

 

 

 

beaming-warpNow we bring the warp beam to the mill.  Because we warp a lot of different beams with a lot of different widths and different axles, Irvin has designed a very flexible system to accommodate them all.   What matters is that the warp beam is perfectly aligned with where the warp is wound on the mill.  We use flanges on our warp beams that keep the warp at a specific width.  As long as the beam is aligned correctly with the warp, it will distribute itself evenly across that width as it winds onto the beam.  If it is incorrectly aligned it will catch on the flanges, potentially breaking threads.

Before we start winding the warp onto the beam we apply a brake to the mill.  What we designed as a brake is essentially a wide rubber band with weights tied to the end that limits the rotation of the mill.  Winding onto the beam requires a great deal of effort and some patience.  But if it all has gone right in making the warp it will provide weeks or even years of perfectly-tensioned warp for creating beautiful things with.

Negotiate, Navigate, Innovate: Strategies Folk Artists Use in Today’s Global Market Place

We were honored to be a part of the Gallery of Conscience at the Museum of International Folk Art.  It was a large investment of time spent with a cadre of New Mexican and international artists, over  the space of several months.  It has been difficult to communicate what we were doing during that time, but the Museum’s website explains.  “The Gallery of Conscience is an experimental gallery in the Museum of International Folk Art where the public is invited to help shape the content and form of the exhibition in real time.

Visitors notice the Gallery of Conscience looks different than the rest of the museum.  In this gallery, visitors are invited behind the scenes to participate directly in the creation of an exhibition.  That is why the space looks informal and unpolished- it’s on purpose.  The Gallery of Conscience team seeks to make visitors feel welcome to write comments, leave thoughts and participate in the exhibition’s creation.

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Negotiate, Navigate, Innovate is about contemporary folk artists and their relationship with their patrons, buyers and collectors. We are especially interested in understanding the pressures they might feel to keep their traditions alive in the face of modern technological advances and new consumer demands. Visitors will see a kind of “mock up” or series of idea sketches. The artworks will come at a later point in the process- after we have heard from visitors, artists and local community members.  Even the exhibition title itself is up for grabs- so be sure to vote on which title you like best, or suggest your own. Come back often and see how the exhibition has changed in response to your ideas.”

There were a number of opportunities for us to interact with the other artists involved.  We also were encouraged to take on an apprentice and create a video documentation of the experience.  That is what you see above.  These experiences have given me a lot to think about over the last several months, and I’ve been anxious to record my thoughts.

About selling traditional arts in a big, well-connected world.

Obviously there are countless approaches.  We were all involved in one of the big summer markets in Santa Fe: the International Folk Art Market, the Spanish Market, and Indian Market.  So we all were aware that there were people who decided who was in, and who was out, of these venues.  It’s not easy to be allowed to show in any of these, there are rules involved, and policies to navigate.  We talked a lot about interacting with the buyers of the products we made, and how those interactions affected our work, and how it affected us on a personal level.

Most interesting to me was how our selling of our work influenced how we understood our traditions.   A list of questions I’d like to explore further in the future, emerges.

  • What do our traditions mean to our community?

Some traditional arts are essential threads of connection in communities.  Others are more pragmatic expressions of comfort, communication, or personal expression.

  • What is the economic role they play? Is it serving to empower community members by providing employment, a creative outlet for self expression, or a role in a community’s sacred interactions?

This is, of course, a question of survival for these art forms.  We met women from countries where creating these goods for sale served as a vital connection to others beyond the walls of their homes.  And their cooperatives created leaders who played essential political roles as voices of the women involved.  For many artists, these forms connected them to their personal and community histories.  Others created objects that were important to a spiritual community beyond themselves.  Some traditions, like ours, have always been primarily in a commercial realm, created for trade beyond the local community.

  • Does it inform and express culture to those within the culture,  or to outsiders?

What I think I heard in our discussions is that this was a very personal question, and how we communicated with those who were interested in our work was at the heart of this.  Who we sold to could be only people who were sincerely committed to the art form or the community, or it could be anybody willing to pay for the product.

  • What about the traditions are sacrosanct and what is changeable?  Are we comfortable with new techniques or different materials, and why?

Again, this is a very personal issue.  But some folks dealt with rules imposed by others regarding what is defined as traditional and what is not.  And others were faced with choices as to how to respond to pressure to make change.  Sometimes change meant making a markedly improved product, like drum heads not damaged by changes in humidity.  Other times market changes might mean using color to appeal in a new market in a way that might go against the community of origin’s intentional use of color.  There were new approaches that helped speed up the process and make it less work intensive, and there was clearly some conflict over the appropriateness of that kind of change too.

  • Do we make changes because of the pressures of outside economic forces?

These forces seem likely to continue to affect these traditional forms, but individuals may choose where they will bend and where they will not.

  • How do we respond to “cultural appropriation”?  And what is our appropriate role in guarding traditions?  Who “owns” these traditions?

As a person who grew up outside of the culture whose weaving tradition I am devoted to preserving, this is a very personal question.  I don’t have any answers to this one.  But I confront it regularly.

In the end, each one of us has to draw boundaries for ourselves, and these questions can help guide our choices.  These are issues that we are often deeply emerged in, and the answers for us have probably grown more nuanced as we have been at this for some time now.  But it was the work we did with our apprentices, and the videos that were made to document that work, that brought me to one conclusion.  Traditions will, and must, change over time.  They are in flux because new people must take them up in every generation. 


There is still an underlying question too, about who supports these traditions, and why, and how.  We have always had moral, if not a lot of financial, support from institutions of various kinds, some governmental and some private.  We are always grateful when these kinds of acknowledgements of the value of tradition are made.  It would be impossible to measure what these things have meant to our ability to keep up our efforts.

Another thing I will always be grateful for about getting to engage with all these artists in this program is that it engenders a sense of common ground and unity of purpose. Each of our opportunities to share with one another were seriously uplifting.  I don’t think I am alone in feeling that way.  For me that is a powerful spiritual thing.

 

 

This was the group of artists and staff who stuck around after the videos were premiered at the end of our project.

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This was a group of us deeply involved in learning how to make videos.  I am grateful for the immersion in a whole new creative process, and hope to apply what I have learned to future projects.

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The Art is the Cloth

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We are honored to be participants in an exhibit called “The Art is the Cloth”.  The opening at the New Hampshire Institute of Art was attended by 20 of the artists in the exhibit, whose smiling faces you can see in the above picture. It is a tapestry show meant to explore that central reality of tapestry, that we aren’t manipulating a piece of cloth to create our art, we are creating the cloth as we create our art form.    There are a few other components of the art form that are pretty much a given, i.e. warp and discontinuous weft threads.  But beyond that, we are clearly thinking differently about how we approach this art form.  We saw tapestries made from all kinds of different fibers, variations on thicknesses of yarn, and every color imaginable.  The exhibit was divided in an appealingly logical way.  But I’ve been thinking about it differently, about how these tapestries diverged from my comfort zone, or didn’t.  Which is to say, why would or wouldn’t I have woven a piece like that?  So I thought I’d share my thoughts and see if I can learn anything about my own thinking/philosopy on tapestry weaving.

Rectangles and the Perpendicularity of warp and weft-.  The two groups of weavings that have “eccentric” weft are the wedge-weave pieces and the 3d onesAnd when you do these things you leave behind the familiar rectangle that most of us weave.  The rectangle is the natural way things come off of a loom.  But some of these pieces had edges that followed angles and curves, and a couple were particularly three-dimensional.  Although Irvin has a piece here in the shop that has a stepped bottom side, neither of us has purposely done anything much that isn’t a flat rectangle.  There is a logical reason for that, because the equipment we use constrains the side-to-side movement of warp yarns.  We’d have to abandon the use of the reed/beater to do most of the not-flat, non-rectangular possibilities.  There’s infinite possibilities in the non-rectangular world, but I’m not sure that I’m particularly curious about what lies out there.

Weft-faced-Almost all tapestries are weft-faced.  There weren’t many exceptions to that in the show, but Irvin and I have both tried out tapestry in the context of twills, but haven’t pursued that idea much.  A balance weave could also easily accommodate tapestry, and there was a gorgeous example of that in the show.  Still, having warp visible means all weft yarns have to blend with the warp color/s and that will actually limit color use pretty significantly.

Story-telling-Story telling is definitely a long-standing part of tapestry tradition.  Maybe it’s even an inevitable part of tapestry weaving.  After all, tapestry weavers are artists and have lots to say about things, and they have plenty of time to think about what to say while they are executing this slow process.  All of the 20 weavers present at the opening spoke briefly about their piece.  Some of them actually weren’t so brief in their presentations.  Some of the pieces had a lot of images and clearly were meant to show a passing of time, others depended on symbols and other elements to communicate more than just a pretty image or simple idea.  I suspect that none of the pieces there were devoid of meaning to the weaver, although a passing observer might not recognize the content.  A tapestry’s ability to communicate what the weaver intended is dependent a lot of things the weaver can control, and a lot that they cannot.  In this way, tapestry is like other art media.  Observers need to put some effort to see a story, or they may just see something visually appealing.  Or not.

Design medium-This is, I think, where I have some strong feelings.  People ask us all the time about how we come up with designs for our pieces.  Actually, what they ask is “where is your pattern”.  I’m not entirely sure what the underlying assumptions are for the people that ask that question, but they tend to be surprised when we tell them that we don’t have a “pattern” to work from.  And most tapestry weavers certainly don’t work from a “pattern”.  What they might use is a “cartoon”.  A cartoon is a plan for the tapestry weaver to execute to create a specific image.  Conceptually they are like a “paint by number” thing, with outlines of color areas being specified in a drawing.  That reference, the “cartoon” is kept at hand in a variety of different ways, depending on looms and personal preferences.  Executing the cartoon’s design takes a great deal of  skill, and designing the cartoon can be separated from the weaving process.  In fact, historically, these things were entirely separated.  Modern tapestry weavers tend to do both design and execution of the piece.  The design medium can be paper and pencil, paints, charcoals, collage, Photoshop…whatever.  And sometimes it’s kind of obvious that the design came from a different medium.

And my feelings about that are kind of mixed.  I want tapestry to be true to its own medium.  A part of me believes that tapestry shouldn’t look like watercolor or photography or collage, because the result of it being woven isn’t necessarily a step up from the original rendering.  After all, watercolors, photography or collage are lovely art forms in their own right.  But tapestry is time consuming.  And it conveys a depth of color and texture that other art forms don’t.  And it’s cloth, which we humans have a very special relationship to.  I’m sure that the weaver feels that the tapestry is well worth the effort they put into it or they wouldn’t do it.  But I think that what we produce from our looms ought to be true to the process of weaving first and foremost.  So I’m happy with my process, which rarely uses any medium beyond occasional sketching things on paper.  My process is very much about all kinds of variations of logic and math and color and energy.  And I’m happy with that.  It feels true to me, and to my loom and to the cloth.  I want to explore more about my own process in future posts, because I really want to clarify what it is we do.  I hope very much that what every weaver sent to that show is true to them and their process.  And we all grow and change and our design and weaving processes grow and change too.  Which is an apt analogy for tapestry weaving…it grows and changes as we lay our bits of colored weft into our warps.  And beautiful things come out of it.

 

 

Dyed in the Wool – New Mexico Magazine article

Art from the Fire – 2000

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“Flame 2000” by Irvin Trujilllo

 

In May of 2000, the Cerro Grande fire burned through the Jemez mountains across the Rio Grande Valley from us.  It resulted in a huge column of smoke which would descend on us for days at a time.  The wind blowing incessantly only made things worse.  It burned out a lot of homes in Los Alamos and caused both Los Alamos and White Rock, where our kids went to school at the time, to be evacuated.  For those of us in the valley, it was just extremely frightening to watch the fire destroy so much, so fast.  Here, in case you want to revisit the event, or don’t remember it because it wasn’t traumatizing to you, is the Wikipedia entry on the subject.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerro_Grande_Fire

Both Irvin and I wove pieces after the fire.  It was something that we, and probably every artistic soul around us, had to process in some way, and in our case, we process things via our weavings.  Here is what Irvin wrote about “Flame 2000″, when it went to its buyer.

Irvin’s  weaving was made at the time of the Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos, New Mexico May-June 2000. 54” x 54” design is by Irvin . The piece was started two weeks before the fire took place and had to be abandoned due to the evacuation of White Rock, New Mexico during the fire (the piece was woven in a private studio at White Rock).  After residents were allowed back into White Rock, the piece was completed. The design for this piece was from a sketch I drew in the 90’s.  It is a coincidence the the fire happened while I was weaving this piece. The design looked like  a fire in the heart and thus revealed its identity.

The dyes used for color were all natural; cochineal for reds, cota for orange/yellows, chamiso and peach leaves for yellows and yellow/greens, black walnut for tans, madder root/black walnut for orange/brown, indigo for blues, indigo over chamiso for dark greens and blue/greens.. Irvin did the dyeing at the Chimayo studio.”

 

Consequences Fire
“Consequences Fire” by Lisa Trujillo

I did “Consequences Fire”  a few months later.   It has a lot of stuff buried in it, so I’d like to try to explain it here.

The mountains at the bottom are the Jemez mountains, which I have already mentioned in a previous post is prominently on our western horizon.  So the fire in the mountains on the bottom portion, which are oddly geometrically represented, are the most realistic part of the image.  The fire cloud arises from there.

The shape of the geometric elements of the fire sort of evolve into the geometric shapes of the fire cloud.  The big cloud face idea was not mine.  I had connected, in my mind, the Cerro Grande fire to an album that had come out while I had lived in Los Alamos (actually, White Rock) as a high-schooler.  It was an album by some of my favorite musicians, and it was all about weather destroying the world.  Fire is just one of the methods of destruction.   Just in case you are interested, I want to provide you a link from Wikipedia for it too.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequences_%28Godley_%26_Creme_album%29  You can see the cloud face from the album cover.

From there the cloud shapes evolve into the ashes and “burnt toothpicks”, which is what trees look like after fires.  There is a number 17 in those trees.

Above that there is fire in the desert, that happens to also be a goldfish, and there are pyramids and icebergs.  Those are more important bits from premise of the album, but they also worked to create an aesthetic balance in the piece.

Like all my weavings, the process was very good for getting past that time and its somewhat traumatic affects on my life.  We have watched more terrible and destructive wildfires in our neighboring mountains since then, and they are still terribly frightening, even if they are becoming more familiar to us.  But the Cerro Grande fire inspired art.

 

 

Irvin Trujillo

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This is from an interview done with Irvin.  The interviewer gave Irvin the chance to correct and add to the original interview.

Irvin:  “I started when I was 10 years old. My dad showed me how to carry a design.  He didn’t draw pictures. He didn’t have sketches when he did his weaving, and he didn’t take pictures of his weavings to document what he had woven. So I had no source of design other than verbal instruction from my father. That led me to look into Navajo books because I could not find any books on Hispanic weaving. There was very little written about Spanish weaving. There was usually a one-page description to compare Spanish weaving to the Navajo weaving.

When I got older, I started to wonder. I said to my Dad, “You’re a seventh generation weaver–what did these other generations do?”

And he said, “Well, my grandmother’s pieces were striped.”

And they were in the crib in the next room when we stayed at my grandmother’s house, and my aunt would put it on us as a blanket during the winter.  These are simple, striped, hand-spun pieces.

There was a book published in 1976 called The Spanish Textile Tradition of New Mexico and Southern Colorado. This opened my eyes to the Saltillo serape’s influence, which I hadn’t seen before. Another great influence on my weaving has been the Spanish Market, a crafts fair started in Santa Fe in the 1930’s, which encouraged the use of hand spun and natural dyes in weavings, and other Spanish Colonial crafts. The Spanish Colonial Art Society in Santa Fe revived the market in 1965, and my father was invited to show his weavings because they knew him from when he taught as part of the WPA project in the 1930’s. I started to show my work with him at the Market in 1976 and I was able to see what other weavers were doing.

After getting married to my wife Lisa in 1982, we decided to become professional weavers and open up our own weaving studio. We started studying Rio Grande weavings in museum collections. We participated in the repackaging of the weavings, probably about 200 pieces, at the Museum of International Folk Art collections in Santa Fe.

Lisa and I started to look at other museums to see what their collections had. The Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Taylor Museum in Colorado, the Albuquerque Museum, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, the School of American Research in Santa Fe, and many others. What we saw is there wasn’t one design reproduced over and over. There were individual weavings made by unknown artists. It led us to study their forms, how they developed the design ideas, materials and finishes. Not necessarily copying the designs exactly, but taking notes for ideas. So that kind of helped us to start designing more complex pieces. We started to explore these influences in our weaving.

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We got to help curate a Rio Grande textile exhibit for the Albuquerque Museum and Lisa and I we were able to make comments on the pieces that would be is exhibit.  The comments showed up in the catalogue of the show.  There, I also helped them put together an old loom which was basically a bunch of sticks in a box. From my knowledge of looms, I got to put it together and I wrote a procedure for putting up that loom for the museum. The study of looms is an ongoing interest of mine. I’ve constructed looms and seen different details found on looms that I’ve helped people put together and get working. This has been in general, not just in museum owned looms.”

There are some other things Irvin would like people to know about him.  One is that he is a drummer.  He probably would’ve liked to have been a professional drummer, but that hasn’t ever been offered to him.  So he’s been drumming with all kinds of different bands playing different kinds of music.  He has tried his hand at doing the recording and mixing side of the process too.  His work as a drummer and his work as a weaver don’t often have much of a connection, but once we held a party here in the shop, with music.  So we have this wonderful picture.  And a few CD’s from projects that he has been involved in.

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The fact that he’s an engineer is also important.  He worked as a civil engineer for the Corps of Engineers in Albuquerque after getting his Bachelors of Science degree from the University of New Mexico in 1979.  He actually got his Professional Engineer’s license in 1983.  Although he gave up the PE license years ago, Irvin continues to engineer things for Centinela.  Our warping systems and the giant loom we have here in shop are both engineering accomplishments, as are his various sets of architectural drawings over the years for our house and shop and sheds on the property.

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His drumming and engineering education and skills are integral parts of who Irvin is and how he weaves.   They might seem like three very different kinds of thinking.  All of these things are mathematical and logical with room for great creativity.

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