Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tribute to James Koehler

TKoehlerwoolspurplehe first time I met James was a few years ago, at the Fiber Art Center in Amherst, where he spoke to TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England). I had seen his amazing work of course, and knew how successful he was, so I was quite surprised to find him unassuming, friendly and kind.  His lecture was thought provoking and inspiring.

Last summer, after Convergence in Albuquerque, I went to St John’s College in Santa Fe, for the ATA retreat “Tapestry Enchantment,”  where I spent 3 days learning from James. I discovered that his reputation for being an incredibly generous teacher was well earned.

 KoehlerwoolsOn the first day, James talked to us about creating layers of image and/or meaning in our designs. I was working on sketches of Moon Snails, and once he realized I was drawing a complete blank, he suggested the word Moon!  Pretty obvious, but it had not occurred to me. My design process does not involve a lot of thinking, so after the initial excitement, I was still baffled as to how the moon could be incorporated into a design with the snail, and decided to forget it.

Moonsnaildesign That evening in my room, I decided to draw the shell again, only because my first drawing was too small. I felt my drawing needed more depth, and decided to draw the shadow. In one magical moment I realized: the shadow of my broken moon snail shell was a perfect waning moon! 

James invited all 32 of the retreat participants to visit his home and studio one evening. Here are a few photos from that visit. Koehlerstudio

Although he could be wickedly funny at times, this photo shows how seriously he listened when his students asked him questions. He told us that if we had questions later we could email him, and if he felt it required more than an email he would talk to us on the phone. He said that once we took his class we would be his students forever, and he was right about that. I’m sure none of his students will forget what they learned from him.Koehleryarns2

Seeing his luminous hand dyed yarns on the shelves, and his tapestries on the walls was inspiring. Everything about James was inspiring. I was  completely shocked to hear of his death. It is a huge loss for the many many people who were touched by this exceptional artist and man.

Perhaps the best tribute will be for his students to make an extra effort to live up to his example, in our art and in our lives.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Moon Snails All Over

Moonsnailcollection I have always loved Moon Snails. I find them on the beach at Cape Cod, and out on the flats at low tide. Usually they are broken, but sometimes not.

One day I brought home a handful of them, and was standing in the front yard chatting with a neighbor when I felt a tickling in my hand. A hermit crab had set up house in one of the shell fragments! So I had to carry him back to the beach.

MoonsnailfragmentSome of my shells are Sharks Eye, which are a type of Moon Snail. My favorites are the Northern Moon Snails, which are more colorful and have more dramatic spirals, like this one.

The spirals always go the same direction: clockwise from the center, when you look at the outside of the shell.

My brother, who reads a lot, tells me that there are rare snail shells that go counter clockwise, so I am on a lifelong quest for  the “widdershinsMoonsnailoilpaintingMoon Snail! (Did you ever wonder what they called it before the invention of the clock?)

I have been drawing and painting Moon Snails for about 30 years. This is an oil painting I did in graduate school, about 1981 I think!

 MoonsnaildesignLast summer I took a workshop with James Koehler, and he asked us each to bring along supporting materials for a concept or symbol of our choice. I brought Moon Snails.

This is the sketch I came up with for a small tapestry: a broken Moon Snail shell, with a shadow that is a perfect waning moon!

That was in July, and I have still not finished it. It’s being woven sideways, the left side in this photo will be the top of the tapestry. In other words, I will turn the tapestry clockwise when it’s done.

MoonsnailtapestryI got stuck on that thin yellow curve, and had to figure out a better way to do it. Now that I fixed that, I should be able to finish it pretty quickly, and I will….tomorrow…..or maybe the next day.

Meanwhile, my 2011 Sketch Diary is well on its way. Every day I draw in one of the squares. My rules are fairly simple.

Austin2011SketchDiaryPage1Rule #1 Sketch every day  #2 No going back to fix what I did the day before. #3 Don’t think too much or judge what I’ve done #4 Draw what I feel like drawing  #5 Work quickly.

I started page 1 with Moon Snails, thinking I would change the subject for page 2, but I ended up doing 3 pages of Moon Snails!  I just started page 4 and it is much more abstract. More about that later. Here is page 1. So many Moon Snails!