The 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.
On 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.
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!
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.
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.