Thursday, May 28, 2009

Three Times Longer and Twice as Hard

My father was a building contractor in Ponca City for some 60 years. He used to say that almost every job wound up taking three times as long and costing twice as much as the original estimate. That was because people kept adding to the list of things they wanted done.

It turns out that he was exactly right.

Wow, does the shop look great! Carl got the lattice up and the back wall painted. Rena, Tori, Donna and the two of us got all the looms moved around and the storeroom straightened up. Then Nora came in and did her decorator thing and suddenly we have this gorgeous, sophisticated studio with weaving stations and a spinning station and the yarn all organized. We hardly know the place.

We can’t stay out of it! What a wonderful place to work. It looks so nice that sometimes during the off-hours we just go out and stand in it and breath deeply.

Last Saturday, the 23rd of May, was our Grand Re-Opening. We had a lot of fun, had a lot of friends and customers come by, and ate more cake than was good for us. Our young friend Amanda ran the shop during the afternoon while we went to the Southern Plains Fiber Guild meeting where Nora gave a talk on Japanese dolls. It went over well and Donna, Tori, Patti and I ate even more cake.

It hasn’t all been perfect, naturally. Yesterday a piece of my loom that wasn’t properly bolted down got sprung. Turned out that it just needed a few more bolts that had somehow been left out in the first place. So it was an easy fix, although Donna did stick her finger in my eye in an attempt to help. (Don’t ask!) However, the eye will be fine just as soon as the swelling goes down. And the loom is fixed.

Dad was right about the time and effort it took to get Tres Hermanas Wool Works Weaving Studio up and running. And we couldn’t be happier with the results!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Use It or Lose It

Panculturalism in Artistic Expression

I had an odd experience at a fiber art show once. I had entered a small, Navajo-style wall hanging, which was rejected on the grounds that I was not Navajo. (How the judge thought she knew this, of course, I have no idea.) An Amish-style piece by a different (non-Amish) artist was accepted to the show, however. The judge proclaimed it was accepted because it was a “tribute” to the style.

At the time, I had not heard the term “panculturalism.” To this date, I have been unable to find a dictionary definition of the term, but to me it means the intersection and blending of cultures, in life as well as art. “Panculturalism” is still not yet widely used, but I think, in our ever-faster evolving modern society, it will become an important addition to understanding artists’ underlying concepts.

Nearly fifty years ago, Firesign Theater, a comedy group with amazing prescience, said “Ecology means echo – everything bounces off everything else.” The same could be said of panculturalism as I understand it. Everything about weaving is borrowed from other cultures, from the spinning wheel to the very idea of warp and weft. Weaving truly is the “tie that binds” all of human society together. Every group weaves, knots, or ties, in some way. In many modern societies, old ways and old arts are dying out. Many artists in these places who do ply these arts are anxious to teach someone – anyone! -- if their own children are not interested. Thus, panculturalism will be the salvation of these arts, which otherwise could be lost forever.

Panculturalism implies a deep and abiding respect for the cultures from which the motifs, techniques, or both are drawn. I truly think that anyone should feel free to use motifs from another culture; and for the sake of ethics, the artist should acknowledge the culture of origin in some way, perhaps in the title. These artifacts are a deep-time part of the human lexicon, many of which are shared unchanged from culture to culture. It is fascinating to see how many similar motifs arise in cultures that are completely separated in time and space. Some must be the logical progressions of the weaving process. Others are more complex, and yet they crop up in cultures as diverse as the Rio Grande weavers and the weavers of the Caucasus Mountains.

For myself it is difficult to know what my true cultural references are. My mother was German, Scots-Irish, and English. My father was half-Italian and half-Melungeon. Even the Italian was diluted somewhere, many centuries in the past, by the Greeks who originally founded the little village of Cisternino, County Bari, where my grandfather was born. My paternal grandmother was a triracial mixture of Black, Native American and White. I think this qualifies me, if nothing else does, for a pancultural approach to art! As I have mentioned before, my Navajo weaving teacher, Sarah Natani, once said to me, “Remember, you are not Navajo.” When she saw how startled I was by this simple, obvious, but blunt truth she laughed and said, “You can use these ideas to weave other things, too.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Work in Progress

There comes, in every project, a point when you look at the chaos surrounding you and say, “What on earth am I doing?!?” Your new work is not yet fully shaped and the shards of the past are all around you. Vision trembles, if it does not fail altogether. Like Sam Gamgee, if you take one more step you will have crossed from the fields that you know into a new and wider country.

I think it takes more courage to take that next step than it did to leave your doorstep in the first place. Our landlord came by today, asking if we are ever going to open up again. We assured him that yes, we certainly are, another week later than we originally thought. We hung the three way mirror today, and the triangle looms are on their hanger now. We’ve got the wall painted and we’ve moved the finishing table. But there are still pockets of uncleared areas all over the shop. They are smaller, but they are still daunting. We are tired of working so hard every day and getting “so little” done.

And yet… and yet, a friend came by this afternoon that hadn’t seen the shop since we got well and truly started on it. She was thrilled with all our progress! She loves the new color on the wall. She loves the door (which still needs a bit of touching up). She loves the new mirror. She loves the new lattice work that separates the house from the shop and creates a barrier to ban the cats from the customers.

Bless her! I think without her encouragement at just that precise moment, I might have just thrown my hands up and said, “We will never finish this!”

We have had so much wonderful help with this huge project. Tori and Donna, two of my students; Terri, Claudia and Linda who’ve had so much input; Naomi, who has given so freely of her twenty years of retail experience; my wonderful sister Nora; Carl and Rena and Amanda who have all worked so hard to get us up and running again. It isn’t just their hard work that has kept us at this exciting task. It is their belief in our vision that sustains us. The encouragement and confidence they and others, like my dear friend Kip, have shown us buoys us up and carries us forward when we feel weak.

We will open on Saturday, May 23rd. Of that I no longer have any doubt.

“A body of work never ceases. It deepens and broadens with every day of effort, but it is never done [and we] try harder, to dig deeper, to discover gifts we never knew we had – to find the greatness that lies within each of us… Don’t stop adding to your body of work because it is never complete… That is what building a body of work is all about – it's about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up to a lasting legacy.” – paraphrased from President Barack Obama’s Commencement Speech to Arizona State University, May 13, 2009