Ancient Peru inspires dolls and tapestries
A love of vibrant colors and bold designs is a constant throughout my tapestry work. These elements are clearly visible in the two tapestry hangings shown that accompany this article. I use commercially dyed wool on a linen warp set at eight ends per inch. I wove these standing up at my four-harness Cranbrook floor loom. I first learned to weave at Arrowmont School in Tennessee where I studied with Edwina Bringle. As a student, I loved pattern weaving, overshot, and double weave. When introduced to tapestry I felt an intense desire to explore further. From that moment there was a strong connection for me to this way of painting with threads, using color and forming patterns.
Initially my three-dimensional dolls were influenced by investigations of pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles. In ancient times, these doll-like figures represented aspects of daily life and were ceremonially placed in burial sites. While at the University of Georgia, I took a course with Glen Kaufman about the history of textiles in the Andean region. The final project was to incorporate these influences into a weaving. “Luisa” was the result of this assignment and the start of a new body of work.
My dolls have evolved to become self-portraits where I combine ideas and designs of my own with techniques from ancient Peru. I weave the face and hair in one piece and then fold that over to form a pocket. The hair is rya weave where I use a variety of leftover yarns. Not every face becomes a full doll some are just as effective as a head on an armature. I make a dress out of two geometric tapestry rectangles, which are sewn together on the finished armature. My favorite armature is to assemble the woven parts on sticks upon which beavers have chewed. I collect them down at the creek that runs through our property. The head rests on a basketry handle or if needed I create a piece with basketry materials, which I wrap with wool.
Like many weavers I use traditional fiber processes in creative ways that move beyond being utilitarian objects. Although my dolls do not yet have a ceremonial purpose, I find inspiration from works that do. My work navigates the space where the influences of traditional textiles from Andean cultures manifest in a new form. On the design/conceptual level, I search for ways to weave the faces so they are visually interesting but also recognizable.
My current approach is to deepen my engagement with my doll-like works to provide an avenue to express my personality and push me to find ways to present them in a larger context, perhaps ceremonial in nature. For someone as concerned about the earth and its inhabitants, the process of weaving is calming, but how to situate a compassionate response is less clear. This is no small challenge though one I take very seriously.