Tapestry Topics Feature Article
A Quarterly Review of Tapestry Art Today

Summer 2004, Vol 30 No 2


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      Color.  Yes. It seems to me that, in the weaving of nudes, the choice of skin color presents an opportunity to be either boring or infinitely fascinating.   Idaho, where I live, is not the most culturally diverse state in this country.  There are not many models of any color other than some variation of pinky peachy whitish yellow.  I play and experiment to see what I can do about it.

      Weaving myself is particularly freeing as I will not upset someone by making them purple.  Personally I like to be blue (Indigo Bath), but yellow, green, gold, and blue/black are always enticing (Triumph of Affection Over Fear). In Apple, Spoon and Martina and Max Florian I organized my yarn by value and relative warmth, abandoning specific colors.  The delight of being an artist is I can follow my whims, see what happens and even sometimes choose to be pinkey peachey whitish yellow.

      There is much historic precedent for the drawing, painting and weaving of “the nude.”  But, recall, this is a woman who gets art history lessons from postage stamps.   I can point with delight to Ann Newdigate Mills and her wonderful tapestries Drawing Toward a Sense of Place: Faith, Hope and Felicity, and Archie Brennan’s recent “drawing series” which includes many spectacular nudes, but really I can only speak to what I know and what I am getting to know the best  which is my work

     There is no point in weaving anything unless you are quite attracted to both the subject and the shapes that you are weaving.  There are just too many ideas and too little time.

      For instance, I dislike weaving leaves. As a result, many of my trees look like they belong in heron rookeries in swamps or forests after a fire. I love the undulating hills of the Palouse Prairie where I live, its endless sensual rolling hills covered with grains that look like millions of nudes in myriad colors snoozing over the earth.

      These then, are what I weave -- myself, my husband, my friends, fabric, water, wine, transparency, light, shadow and places where I could skinny dip, drink Dubonnet and serve my son some ginger ale in an insulated plastic cup.  I consider it the height of luxury, and myself dammed lucky, to be able to do it.

Sarah Swett, Apple, 36" x 18", 2001

Weaving Bodies

By Lany Eila

      Considered separately, both the nude figure as a motif in art, and tapestry as a medium of art, has fascinated me for many years. However, trying to join the two has been problematic. One of the main challenges has been to work with and honor the grid structure of weaving while trying to depict something made of curves rather than angles. The other main challenge has been to portray the complexity of color in skin using the simplicity of color in thread.

      Historically, many of the most engaging sculptural and painterly depictions of the human body have found strength in the use of lyrical curves punctuated by the small, telling details; the mound of a hip, the tender delicacy of an eyelid. In tapestry, both curves and details can be somewhat clunky unless one uses fine thread (very time consuming) and/or tremendous skill (still working on that). I understand that a number of weavers have split the warp threads in some areas of their tapestries to allow a finer sett and thus more detail; I’ve tried this but have had trouble with warp coverage at the transitions. Either way, I continue to struggle with balancing a need for the intimacy of small details with a lack of time with which to weave such details.

      Another approach to this dilemma is to find ways to depict the human form without relying on smooth curves and small details. For example, Gugger Petter, in a recent show of work at Thirteen Moons Gallery here in Santa Fe, wove effective faces using rolled strips of newspaper as weft. Despite the lack of detail allowed by the thickness of the fiber medium, each face had a distinct and charming personality.

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Lany Eila, Still Life with Feet and Apple, 29" x 24", 2003
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