Thursday, November 7, 2019

For tapestry--a great gift and a great loss. RIP Archie Brennan

October 31, 2019 marked the passing of one of the most influential voices and hands in tapestry weaving: Archie Brennan.

His tapestries and writings have affected thousands of people worldwide for decades. The insights and wisdom he shared made tapestry accessible to those who wanted to dabble in the process. He didn't downplay the weaver who wanted to "play" with the process. In fact, he said that he felt the grassroots movement of learning about tapestry in workshops and informal settings would be important to keeping tapestry alive, especially in the U.S.

Of course, he also challenged and aided in enhancing the abilities of those who were skilled with the medium. His ideas as written in catalog essays, articles, and discussed with workshop participants caused one to think carefully and critically about tapestry as an artistic medium. He was always questioning and yet always moving ahead with his own tapestry weaving.  Much more about his approach to tapestry can be found in the essays by Anna Byrd Mays who curated an online exhibit of Archie's work at the American Tapestry Alliance website. The link to that is here.

Over the years I have been fortunate to have had five learning experiences with Archie and his partner, Susan Martin Maffei, as I grew in my tapestry abilities.

My first exposure to Archie's brilliance with tapestry came in 1988 when I saw the World Tapestry Today exhibit that the American Tapestry Alliance had organized. It was in Chicago and his tapestry was called Princess Di meets a Medieval Lady. I remember standing in front of that tapestry for what seemed like hours, taking in each square inch of it in amazement at the technical virtuosity of the weaving. I was thoroughly taken with the juxtaposition of Diana and her first born, William, as if in a snapshot superimposed over a part of an ancient tapestry.

It was 1990 when I met Archie Brennan in person and for me, that was like meeting a rock star! That was in Washington, DC during the Handweavers Guild of America Convergence. I was working with Noel Thurner at her Norsk Fjord Fiber booth that summer. First Susan Maffei came by the booth and noticed the Norwegian Spelsau yarn that Noel sold. Later Archie and Susan both came through to look at the yarns again--did they buy any? I don't remember! I was so awestruck to meet him that the fact I'd seen him in person was all I recall.  Later during the week we were able to see an exhibit of his work at a gallery in the city.

In 1994 I finally had an opportunity to study with Archie. TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England) hosted a retreat at Harrisville, New Hampshire with Archie and Susan. I was able to get away from my job for the short workshop. During that weekend I realized I'd found who I must study with as often as I could. Before I left I asked Archie if he and Susan would come to the South to teach. When he said, Of course, I immediately started thinking about how that might be able to happen.

It turned out that the Hambidge Center was hosting a few workshops during their off-season for residencies. I helped arrange for three tapestry workshop during the mid-1990s and in 1995 Archie and Susan traveled to north Georgia to teach a workshop at Hambidge.

Susan standing with Archie near Garden Studio at Hambidge
Over the next decades I took several more workshops with Archie and Susan. The most important experience with them came just a few months after I'd retired from full-time teaching at the university. They taught an eight-week session at Spring Concentration at Penland School of Craft  in 2001. Having that extended time with both of them was very important to me as I moved from full-time teaching employment and became what I'd wanted to be when I was eighteen--a full-time artist who used tapestry as her medium. I just had to wait thirty-two years to make that happen.

Archie working on one of the several tapestries he wove during Penland Concentration.
In 2010 I was happy to be asked to be part of the tapestry postcard project he invited 72 people to participate in. We each received a postcard he'd woven and were asked to write a message and return to him through the mail. More about that is described here.

My husband has long known how important my experiences with Archie Brennan have been. For our thirtieth wedding anniversary he said: "Do you think Archie would have any tapestries available for sale?" He wanted to give me one for the anniversary. I was thrilled, to say the least. Susan sent pages of slides of tapestries to choose from and after much deliberation, I selected the one that we both liked the best: Vacationing Wrestler.

And as an extra surprise, he also purchased a second of Archie's tapestries for that anniversary! I treasure both of the gifts so much. I continue to be amazed at Archie's command of technique. I also really love his approach to design--straight forward, direct, clear and graphic. Always acknowledging the weave structure and what tapestry can do best. Having both of the tapestries with me I can look closely, study the effects, and be inspired--and still amazed at the virtuosity--every day.

Although I haven't seen Archie in several years I was aware that his health was in decline. He was approaching his late eighties and everyone knew he wouldn't be with the world forever--none of us are. Still, getting the word on November 1 that he'd passed away the night before was sad news. I miss thinking that he's there at his loom weaving tapestries and sharing stories with friends. I am so grateful for what he gave me. And for what he shared with thousands around the world for over fifty years. My thoughts of sympathy are with his partner of many years, Susan Martin Maffei and the rest of his family. He will be long missed by many. 

Thank you for what you gave us all.

Rest in peace, Archie.

Monday, October 21, 2019

October is nearing its end

I haven't posted in quite awhile. It's been a strange last couple of months. Good in some ways and very bad in others.

First, the good things. The memories of the Penland class I taught in August are ones that are definitely good. I've been hearing from several of the class participants in the weeks since then and seeing the results of tapestry work they've been doing. I hope we'll be able to keep in touch for years to come and see how everyone is developing their tapestry to new levels along the way.

Another good thing is that a book manuscript I've been working on was completed and turned in to the publisher by the September 30 deadline. There's more work to be done before the book is published (probably in late summer or early fall of 2020) but it's out of my hands for some time. And I have to say this was about the hardest thing I've ever done! I hope it will be worth it once published.

I have another book manuscript that's in the next stages with another publisher. Work on both of these books has been consuming most of my time in the past year and especially since January when I learned that both had been accepted by publishers. Once I know more about when they will be available I'll be writing about that.

Bad things now. First--the sudden and unexpected death of the husband of my friend who was helping me in the last two months of intense work with editing and preparing the manuscript for the publisher. It is so sad that their marriage of over fifty years ended without warning. Figuring out how to adjust to life without that long-time partner is heart breaking.

My husband and I also had a death to deal with--not of a human beloved but of our almost 20 year old cat, Raymond Purr. Some may say, "Well, it's only a cat... get over it." And those who say that probably have never experienced the total trust of an animal. Most likely have not had a relationship with total understanding without speaking the same language in words--but definitely communicating through actions.

Raymond was a shy "scaredy cat" sort of little fellow. He came to live with us as a tiny kitten from a home where he didn't have the best of times or treatment. And that seemed to affect him for the rest of his life. Yet somehow he put his trust in us. We were his family, his tribe, his clan.

I was away for an artist retreat in the last days of his life but was able to get home about an hour before he breathed his last. And he did it on his own. Lay there on one of his favorite blankets and left us. He will be missed forever.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

August is finishing its 2019 version

... and so am I with my tapestry diary for the month. This time around it is a small flower. 

It's a small image for the month because I only had a little bit of time to work on it.  The area for the month was just 3" by 3". I started it yesterday and finished today. I guess I have about an hour and a half of weaving time between the two days devoted to it. It will most likely be the smallest and simplest of the floral images I'm doing this year.

I took a photo of a little flower on the last day of the Penland class, one I saw while walking to Northlight for the final show and tell event of the session.

The flower was quite tiny in an expanse of grasses and weeds. I didn't know what it was and later identified it with an app I have on my phone. Turns out it was a Whitestar morning glory

My goal is to have a larger flower for the upcoming month to show in about 30 days. But I also have a large and scary deadline coming by the end of September. So there may be no flower at all! But there will be days. Yes, there will be weaving into the tapestry diary on each day--even if only a couple of pick each time.

There will be days to come and this month will pass and this deadline will be met. And then I'll be back to weaving most of the days of my life!  

Sunday, July 28, 2019

2019 Tapestry Diary

It's almost the end of July and I've finished my self-assigned duty of doing a flower each month in this year's tapestry diary. I selected this flower, one I'd photographed in the neighborhood earlier in July. Is it a black-eyed Susan or a small sunflower of some kind? I haven't yet taken time to find out. I was entranced with the shape and color, though. I always think of yellow flowers in mid-summer. Maybe that's because I see a lot of them then?

I'm sure you'll notice the little representation of the American flag at the right side--yes, that was woven on the 4th of July. Every year since I've been doing the tapestry diaries I've included the flag in some way. I'm proud to be an American in spite of the ugly political climate now. Better days will come. I have to keep believing that. 

On another note, I'll be teaching my last class soon at Penland School of Crafts. I'm scheduled for session six, August 11-23 and I'm eager to get back there again. 

I took a class in weaving at Penland in the summer of 1975 that was a life-changing experience. That was when I met Edwina Bringle, who was the teacher for the class. She was an amazing resource of information and I've continued to learn from her through the forty-five years since then. Edwina, along with Bob Owens, Archie Brennan, and Susan Martin-Maffei are who I consider to be my mentors. One day soon I'll devote a blog post to each of those people. 

It's been a slow year for blog posts. I've been writing, though, just not in this format. I'm hoping I'll soon have some news about that. In the meantime, I'll be daily going through the tapestry diary until the end of this year--my tenth. More about that soon, too!