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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Fall’s Colors

Every fall I struggle with the onset of cold weather. I don’t know if we work harder to keep warm than other people do, but it really is a long hard slog through the long winter months. And as the temperatures drop, the anticipation of that effort distracts me from the beauty that the season brings. In an effort to keep myself in the present, I can go out and take pictures of the glories of the season.

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Apricot tree at the watergate.
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From the garden up to the tree across the ditch.
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In the corral, where there are pallets that are falling apart.
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On the fence in the arroyo.
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The willow umbrella is on the wall for the winter.
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Virginia Creeper

Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts 2015

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New Mexico is, without a doubt, just packed with art and artists.  People move to New Mexico to pursue their artistic passions, and those who live here all know people who eke out some kind of living as creative souls.  I think that this place really is different than other places in that way.  So it isn’t a surprise that over the years our Governors have awarded recognition to small groups of artists.  This year Irvin Trujillo was so honored.  That’s Governor Susana Martinez standing next to Irvin in the back row in this picture.

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Irvin has received honorifics before, but he continues to be surprised when they come to him. This award is one that he was aware of long ago, when his father was nominated for it repeatedly. His father never was honored by the Governor. This makes this award a little bit of a bittersweet experience for Irvin, as he has always regarded his father as a great master of weaving. 20150918_191903[1]

It was an even more memorable event because we were able to celebrate with the whole family!

DAM Opening of Creative Crossroads: The Art of Tapestry

Irvin Trujillo in front of the Denver Art Museum on the night of the opening.
Irvin Trujillo in front of the Denver Art Museum on the night of the opening.

Once upon a time I taught about our weaving tradition to a group of weavers who were all tapestry weavers from a guild in a distant part of the country.  I totally enjoyed the experience, but one thing about it stands out in my memory more than all the joys of that teaching experience.  We all were at the old Victorian-era home of one of the students for dinner.  The hostess was very gracious, but made the statement that what I was teaching, and what the group was learning at that workshop, was not tapestry.  I was pretty taken aback.  By all definitions of tapestry weaving, it is what we do.  That is, we weave a discontinuous weft.  To my knowledge, most of the other students agreed that we were weaving tapestry, but I have wondered why she felt that way ever since.  Most of what we do is geometric tapestry, and we simply don’t use a lot of joins that other tapestry weavers do because we have to have both sides be equally useful, but it is definitely the same weaving technique that people have used for many centuries and within a wide variety of cultures all over the world.

Sadly, most of the tapestry shows that I have been aware of have been put together by tapestry weavers.  I don’t want to think that nobody else ever thinks to put together these shows, or that shows organized by other tapestry artists somehow have less to offer.  But a show curated out of a love of the art form by someone whose expertise is in a full range of textile traditions across the centuries, and who can present it in the context of a world-class art museum is a very special thing  I haven’t ever experienced such a thing before

Here is the text from the opening invitation.

Creative Crossroads:  The Art of Tapestry displays more than twenty tapestry-woven wall hangings, rugs, furniture covers, garments and sculptural forms that illustrate the creative possibilities of this technique.  The selection includes historic European tapestries made by large ateliers, twentieth century collaborations between artist and weaver, and works by solo artist-weavers who use tapestry as their creative medium.  While some designs are culturally specific, others borrow from, transform, or transcend tradition.  Contemporary tapestries join historic weavings from Europe, Turkey, China, Peru, Mexico and the American southwest in the main gallery, complemented by a selection of smaller tapestries in the Nany Lake Benson Thread Studio.

 

And Irvin has not one, but two, tapestries in the show.  2015-05-29 11.10.16

 

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Here are some other magnificent tapestries from the show.

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This is an English tapestry about the five senses.
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And a detail of the center panel.
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This very large tapestry was from Belgium, if my memory serves me correctly.
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And an entertaining detail.
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Detail of a Peruvian tapestry.
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A Rio Grande Saltillo that has been identified as a “slave blanket”, because it has “lazy lines”.
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These three pieces are from contemporary, Santa Fe area weavers. On the left is an early piece by James Koehler, in the middle is one by Ramona Sakiestewa, and the one on the right is by Rebecca Bluestone.
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A Navajo weaver created this from the artist-provided image seen to the right of the weaving.

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Why this Weaving Thing is So Much Fun.

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(This may be heavy on hyperbole, but it’s hard not to hit the high notes when talking about something this good!)

1) There is a proud history to Rio Grande weaving.  There once were a lot of people here in New Mexico weaving blankets for trade to far away places.  And that was over a period of hundreds of years.  At any one time at least some of those weavers were trying new things – designs and techniques – and their legacy remains for us to explore.

2) The old pieces are things of beauty.  The time we get to spend closely examining historic Rio Grandes is time we really enjoy.  There are always exciting details to pay attention to, and new things to be learned from them.

3) The design process and the weaving process are one and the same – and it’s magic.  Okay, sometimes we are working from pictures or things that are pretty well planned out.  But even if we plan things out on paper, there are lots of design decisions that need to be made during the weaving process.  For the most part, though, when we’re weaving a traditional design we get to design it while we are weaving it.  It’s a very dynamic and exciting process that makes standing at the loom and weaving a mind-stimulating adventure.

4) Sometimes I can be all alone and weaving and never feel lonely.

5) Sometimes I get to weave and talk to the most interesting people at the same time.

6) I get to meet every kind of person there is.  People come here from all over the world and from every walk of life.  And they are almost always relaxed and happy when they are here ’cause they’re on vacation.  And people are the most interesting things imaginable.

7) There are so many processes and skills that apply to this business that I am always learning new things.

8) I get to live in the prettiest place around.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  Clearly I need to get back to my blogging.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.