Today I celebrated my 70th birthday! Tomorrow clustermaps flips over marking 5 years of blogging. (give or take a couple of weeks). I plan to celebrate all year! There will be more on this in the coming weeks.
I recently wrote a piece for the Missoula Weavers Guild newsletter for their “meet the members” column. I decided to reprint it here as it tells a good story.
WHY WEAVE—REFLECTIONS UPON TURNING 70
As long as I can remember, I liked playing with string and was always “good in art”. When the time came for college, I was accepted at Rhode Island School of Design and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. I had never really considered weaving. I don’t know where I thought cloth came from, although I used to watch my mother knit, embroider, and braid rugs.
On my way to meet a fellow student for lunch, I took a wrong turn and ended up in the Textile Design Department. I confronted a jaw-dropping spectacle: a room full of 10-foot high dobby sample looms left over from the industrial revolution.
I turned on my heels, went directly to the admissions office and changed my major to Textile Design without ever having picked up a shuttle. To this day, I can’t explain the feeling that overtook me on that fateful day. Sometimes the littlest things can mark a major fork in life’s journey.
I have encountered untold bumps and pitfalls. Although the list is much too long to recount, I do have two blips I would like share. Both of these happened early in my weaving journey.
One of the assignments we had during my junior year at RISD was to design an original overshot pattern and weave a coverlet. I had completed all three panels of my coverlet and decided to sew them together during the winter holiday break. I packed the coverlet in a suitcase with my clothes and shipped it from Rhode Island to Baltimore by bus. The suitcase never arrived.
My weaving instructor felt so bad for me that she gave me an A. I had already put over 100 hours into the piece and there wasn’t time (even if I’d had the heart) to remake the coverlet.
Above: One of the samples from the lost coverlet project. “I can’t recall exactly what the sett was, but I know the warp was cotton, the tabby was a very fine silk and the dark blue was a wool of some sort, very soft. When I came to weaving the actual blanket I used beige wool (believe it or not) with a fine gold silk tabby, so the coverlet was a subtle beige-on-beige (so not like me) and the pattern showed more as texture.”
Although it was many years before I made a blanket again, now they are my favorite thing to weave. And since then I have never had to worry about what I would do if one of my weavings got lost in shipping.
The next blip concerns my first loom, a 4-harness counterbalance Hammett. I had shipped the loom to Montana in 1966 when I first came to Missoula. After my then-husband completed graduate school, we moved back to the East Coast. The shipping costs turned out to be greater than expected and we were unable to reclaim it. My first loom ended up as firewood. The list goes on, but I don’t want you crying into your computer.
Above: At the loom in 1971, during my 9-month stay at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana, setting up the first and last weaving studio there. “I remember the studio was in an unheated garage, and when winter came, I left.”
It truly is a mixed blessing to know at age 19 what you want to do with your life. Whereas there is great satisfaction in knowing, earning a living as a studio weaver is not a “get rich quick” scheme. I was told once that the definition of success is not becoming discouraged in between failures. So I can say, without a doubt, I am successful.
I moved back to Missoula in 1970 and opened the first weaving shop in Missoula called Cat’s Cradle. Although the idea was sound, the timing was not, plus I was not cut out for shop ownership. I would hide under my desk when people came into the shop which was a clue I could not ignore. Although I would probably do a better job now, I closed the doors after one year. If I am not a weaving shop owner, then what am I?
I struggled with the concept of commitment and identity. “Am I really a weaver?” “Am I committed to my craft?” “Do I want to be known as a weaver?” I was caught up in years of birth and death, joy and sorrow, pain and healing, success and failure, woven into miles of cloth over decades as I sought to develop a unique weaving product.
Weaving dates back to the dawn of civilization, and when we weave, we connect by a thread to all the weavers who came before. Traveling along the weaving path (no matter where or when we begin the journey), eventually we experience faint echoes of those weavers. My first echo happened in 1979 after I had been weaving for almost 20 years: Color Horoscope Weaving. I can’t really say exactly how it happened, but suddenly this idea was there in my mind. It was like I had discovered the place where weaving and astrology meet.
I moved to Seattle in 1980 and spent the next 30 years developing and perfecting Color Horoscope Weaving along withTurned Weft Ikat and Woven Words. Somewhere along the way, weaving became my spiritual practice—almost like meditation and prayer. Weaving in creative service became my motto.
In the spring of 2010 an old Montana friend told me about a Peace Garden being built in Arlee, Montana and that the Dalai Lama was going to come to Arlee to consecrate the garden when it was completed. Totally captivated by this vision, I asked myself the question, “What would happen if I celebrated 50 years of weaving by going to the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas and weaving the Dalai Lama’s horoscope as a gift of peace?”
The answer was that I moved back to Missoula in the fall of 2010.
Since then, my work has veered off in a new direction. Weavers who use computer-assisted looms use the computer as a generator of patterns to then be woven. I wondered what would happen if I put my years of woven designs into the computer and then printed out completed art prints. Although still in the experimental stage, the result, so far, is the 40″x 108″ wall installation you see here, photographed by Bente Winston. Just as the thread of weaving reaches back in time, it also stretches forward into the future. It is with gratitude I weave on.
THREADS OF TIME—Conceived, designed, and printed by Bonnie Tarses in celebration of more than 50 years of weaving and her return to Montana