Tapestry Topics Online
A Quarterly Review of Tapestry Art Today

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Winter 2005, Vol 31 No 4

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Striving for Clarity—Pushing and Mixing Media

by Tommye Scanlin

– TT p.10

The initial impetus for the ideas I am trying to express by pushing and mixing media resulted from very personal turmoil. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with non Hodgkin's lymphoma in the mid 1990s. It was felt his illness, was caused by exposure to Agent Orange while serving as a U.S. Army Ranger in Vietnam. He died in 1999 and since then I have been struggling to understand why and how the defoliants came to be used so widely and to try to comprehend the extent of the destruction of lives as a result.

above: Tommye Scanlin, Health Concerns, 6" x 6" x 1", mixed media
below: Tommye Scanlin, Harmful to Man, 6" x 6" x 1", mixed media

With the small pieces, "Harmful to Man" and "Health Concerns," I have tried to express my confusion about what is true and what is false from the myriad sources of information. To that end, I have used strips of text from various web sources interwoven with slit tapestry. I hoped to signify what is hidden and what is exposed about Agent Orange in the information. The pieces were incorporated into shadow box frames that I painted and onto which I wrote and stamped lines and lines of text from the various sites, made almost illegible by the multiple lines of writing used around the edges. 

Tommye Scanlin, Legacy of Operation Ranch Hand, 36" x 12" each, mixed media

For the multi-panel piece with the working title “Legacy of Operation Ranch Hand” my original intent was to do five tapestry woven panels in a similar vein as the one on the right side of this piece. However, trying various ways to add words without weaving them diverted my plan. In my mind it always comes back to the thousands, maybe millions, of words being spewed forth about this issue. What is true, what is not? What is exposed, what is hidden? . . . The woven panels are all the same size, 36" x 12”, but treated in different ways. The first one completed (on the right) was woven in traditional tapestry. The design is based upon an enlarged section of a small paper piece woven from photos I had taken of healthy and also dying leaves. I cut those apart, wove them, drew on them. Then, as I wove the tapestry derived from that segment, I included various orange threads with each weft bundle. 

Tommye Scanlin, detail of Legacy of Operation Ranch Hand,
36" x 12" each, mixed media

The center panel was done next. Initially, I wove a weft-faced piece in which I gradually changed colors from dark greens through red orange and yellow orange to yellow greens, all colors contained a small strand of orange blended with two larger strands of the dominant color. The next development for this panel was . . . a pieced fabric done in the traditional “string quilt” method . . . printed on my ink jet printer with images of Agent Orange related items, including the planes that sprayed the herbicide and symbols for toxic waste, then layered with images from my drawings.  These fabrics were combined with commercial fabrics in orange, brown, black and camouflage print . . . then overlaid with orange netting that was wildly stitched over the whole assemblage with no concern if the netting rippled and wrinkled in the process. 

As I was ironing the pieced fabric, I realized the iron was melting the netting in places. I enhanced that effect by ripping it away in some areas to expose more of the image below. The whole larger construction was then cut up again, this time into approximately 2" squares. The effect was still not enough for me, it seemed. I kept thinking, "It's the words that are important! It's the words that I need." My solution, finally, was to take bits and pieces of the information . . . on paper, then cut segments . . . to be stitched on the back of the small fabric squares. The top edge of each small square was then stitched onto the weft-faced panel like a flap; the fabric side of the flap faces out and the paper side is underneath.  My intent is that viewers will lift the flaps to find various bits of information hidden behind. 

The third panel is a simple weft-faced tapestry in which colors blend gradually from a dark, dull green at the bottom through yellow green through oranges to a gray/beige at the top. Again, a thin orange yarn is used throughout in combination with all the larger wefts. The simple horizontal movements were intended to suggest a vague, hazy, unwell landscape.

The process of pushing and mixing media has been an effort to address the issue I have been dealing with for six years now; I have yet to find a resolution. . . Yet through this need to ponder the old results of herbicide use in warfare I am becoming aware of current herbicide use in supposedly beneficial ways--in farming, for instance. I'm working now on a tapestry in a corollary series that I currently think of as "Healthy Harvest" -- about organic gardening, among other things.

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