Always Greener

Always Greener600

 

 

Always Greener came out of my developing awareness of how the two sides of tapestry weaving, pictorial and geometric, relate to each other.  It always seems like there’s just a shade of jealousy about “the other side” having it easier, either making or selling their work, or just getting respect for it.  And I really am uncomfortable with any kind of “us versus them” mentality.

This piece was about taking naturalistic shapes and making them geometric.  It’s about how they relate to each other.  So I revisited this body shape that I’d done in a handful of pieces before.  And I let the bodies do things.  They float, they play with the lines that encompass them, and they turn into geometric shapes.  I was told that the upper right body is doing something akin to “downward dog.” I even divided bodies up for their geometric components.

It was woven in 2000.  It uses all natural dyes,  and it’s here in the shop at the moment on consignment from the owner.

Clearly we are solidly in the camp of geometric tapestry weavers.  Pictorials have been around in our tradition, but, other than things like thunderbirds and roadrunners, haven’t really been a big part of it.  It isn’t that our techniques aren’t amenable to imagery, but they really are very much designed around things like symmetry and pattern, and our techniques train our brains around logical thinking that just doesn’t much apply to naturalistic forms.  These thought process are certainly a big part of what I like so much about weaving.

Weaving imagery requires having something to say in imagery.  That “picture painting a thousand words” thing is something I have always found mildly intimidating.  And I’m sure I’d always have the nagging sense that maybe just painting it would be faster and more appropriate for whatever I would want to say with an image.

And once, a few years after I completed this weaving, I was told that what we do wasn’t actually tapestry weaving.  She had learned a different kind of methodology and apparently couldn’t mentally encompass what we do as being tapestry, despite the fact that it very much fits the definition of tapestry.

So, in my mind, getting respect for tapestry as an art form is challenging for all of us.  I’ve watched people talk about it as an issue, a challenge, for tapestry artists, but I don’t have any answers as to how such a thing is ever going to come about.  I know that there are tapestry weavers that promote their work really well, so I guess it could happen that someday a tapestry weaver, or a few really great ones, will push the envelope of artistic respect beyond where it sits today.  I don’t know that there’s any reason to think that geometric forms or traditional design should be any more or less likely to garner respect for tapestry than imagery or boundary pushing new tapestry forms.

I’ve heard from pictorial weavers that those of us weaving in a tradition have it made, that we have an already developed market.  Which is, sort of, true.  But I’d argue that, as individual artists, we have to build a market for our work in precisely the same way that any other artist does.  Our work has some credibility as an authentic outcome of an old tradition.  I wouldn’t say that that was really a simple thing to achieve, but it is something that adds value to our work based on work done by those that have gone before.  So maybe they have a good point there.

 

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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.

Dyed in the Wool – New Mexico Magazine article

Jerga

A part of the Rio Grande weaving tradition that goes back to Spanish Colonial times is called jerga.  Historically, jerga was woven as a utilitarian fabric, used as a tarp, or carrier, or for wrapping things up.  It was strictly a wool textile.  Someone with wealth might demonstrate that by putting jerga down as a floor covering.  It was woven in long strips and cut and seamed to make a piece of fabric of the desired size.  And many of the jergas that survived to the present are very large.

Old Spanish Loom

The Spanish Colonial jerga was woven on four-harness looms using a straight twill, or, less commonly, as a diamond twill.  Moving into more modern times, the jerga slowly evolved into a uniquely New Mexican variety of rag rugs.

diamond twill detail
diamond twill jerga detail
straight twilll
Straight twill jerga detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally, jergas were probably pretty colorless, but many of the examples that survive have quite lively colors.

Jerga with three widths
Three panel jerga with undyed yarns.

Moving into more modern times, the jerga slowly evolved into a uniquely New Mexican variety of rag rugs.

Jerga with rag weft.
Jerga with rag weft.
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More jerga with rag weft.

 

TC28
Weft-faced rag rug with spun rags used for weft.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF RIO GRANDE WEAVING

OldRioGrandeThe five thousand or so churro sheep that came to New Mexico with Coronado’s expedtion in 1540 were too valued as food to these original settlers to survive and become established flocks in the new territories. New Mexico proved to be a hospitable place for churro, and the sheep thrived to become an important part of the Spanish colony’s economy. Wool in an unprocessed form would be too difficult to transport (other than on the backs of sheep) to be of value as a trade item. Blankets, however, were in great demand by surrounding trading partners, and by 1840, records show tens of thousands of weavings traded out of New Mexico. Of course, they were used in New Mexico, to ward off the cold of mountain nights, and, in early years, as a wearing blanket. Domestic use as well as those for commerce caused a substantial industry to develop, employing sheepherders, spinners and weavers. Although there was a variety of woven goods produced as part of this trade, the single item in greatest demand was what came to be called the Rio Grande blanket, a general term encompassing the entire weaving tradition of Hispanic New Mexico.

 

Lisa's Moki Mundo is a very traditional Rio Grande with Saltillo-derived tapestry elements
Lisa’s Moki Mundo is a very traditional Rio Grande with Saltillo-derived tapestry elements

More specifically, it describes a weft-faced, striped blanket, longer than wide. They are woven on a European floor loom with the weaver standing at the loom, his weight on the pedals serving to open a path for the shuttle. Before the industrial revolution brought metal reeds (the comb part of the loom) to New Mexico, handmade reeds limited the width of the looms to roughly 30 inches. A suitable blanket width was achieved by a double weave using four harnesses, essentially weaving a folded blanket leaving a telltale center ridge; or two pieces sewn together with a center seam.

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“Saltillo Shadow” shows the bordered Saltillo style, with a scattered element field and diamond center

The Saltillo serape employs the two-pieces-seamed approach. These incredibly fine and detailed tapestries were produced under the auspices of the wealthiest landed hacenderos in Mexico. As these weavings became a source of great national pride in Mexico, weavers here in New Mexico emulated their southern counterparts. What was woven here is much coarser, but follows the style of a bordered rectangle with a serrate diamond in the center. Rio Grande Saltillos demonstrate great variety in design, seldom adhering to any formula. The Mexican Saltillo is the likely source of the use of tapestry in Rio Grande weaving tradition, which resulted in the inclusion of Saltillo-type elements introduced between stripes becoming a distinctive style in Rio Grande blankets.

Grape and Lime
“Grape and Lime” includes all of Lisa’s favorite Vallero characteristics.

The first style that actually develops here in New Mexico is a form evolved from the Saltillo. It adds an eight-pointed star element to the Saltillo’s vertical border and central diamond. This becomes a distinct style called Vallero. This development takes place in the mid-nineteenth century, as Americans first come to the area. The star may have been copied from American quilts, or perhaps derived from old Moorish architectural elements. Vallero weaving evidenced the impact of the industrial revolution, as commercial Germantown yarns and synthetic aniline dyes were adopted by local weavers. As a result of the availability of brighter colors, Valleros are typically very vivid, unlike the more sedate colors produced by natural dyes used earlier.

Irvin's Indigo Chimayo
Irvin’s Indigo Chimayo

Other changes began to make their way to New Mexico as well. New breeds of sheep were introduced that were more productive meat and wool producers. Their wool, however, was difficult to spin resulting in a somewhat lumpy effect. Milled lumber made looms less bulky and metal reeds made a wider loom possible. In 1880, the railroad brought cotton “string” warp and commercially spun wool, making spinning unnecessary, but the finished piece was less durable with a cotton warp. Most threatening for the Rio Grande weavers was the train’s cargo of mill-woven blankets, making their cottage industry largely obsolete.

Of course weavers still wove. They wove to produce blankets for their family, as Irvin Trujillo’s grandparents did. Before long curio dealers in Santa Fe put their skills to use and a new industry developed, weaving the Chimayo style. Begun in the early years of this century, this style is basically two stripes and a center design. The stripes are clearly derived from the Rio Grande blanket, and the center design is an outgrowth of Saltillo tapestry techniques. Along with a uniform texture obtained by the use of commercial yarn obtained from a standard source, the style becomes distinct, recognizable. A commercial wool warp replaces the inferior cotton warp. Sizes in the industry become standardized and over the years new products develop.