Karen Henderson: Weaving the Intangible

TSGNY: What fiber techniques do you employ in your work?

Karen Henderson: I weave, dye, and stitch to create pieces for the wall that are inspired by landscape.  Often I use a linen or hemp warp, and then experiment with different materials (silks, papers, cotton) for the weft.  I enjoy playing with various textures, transparency, density. Sometimes I incorporate very simple tapestry areas as part of that exploration.  My dye techniques include direct painting, gradation dyeing, batik, shibori, and rust printing. I also work with techniques of color removal. I figure I can’t weave everything, and I really enjoy working with a variety of materials, so I also use all the same techniques on purchased fabrics such as hemp, linen, silk gauze or organza, and rayon.

TSGNY: You’ve got so many different fiber techniques at your command  – how long have you been working with fiber?

KH:  Using textiles in my art has been a long-time love affair, which took root when I learned batik in my high-school ‘crafts’ class. I was completely addicted to batik for a few years, making clothing that I would sell at small local craft fairs. I also made wall pieces using batik on rice paper. That led me to study textiles in depth at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia.  From there, it’s been a gradual evolution over the years to what I do now, but there were definitely moments or specific pieces from school or right after graduating that I can look back on and see a direct line to what I do now.

Burning Off. 2012. 4"x 4"; cotton and silk organza, dye painting and color removal, shibori, and hand-stitching.

TSGNY: How did you initially use your textile training?

KH:   After graduating, I went to work as a textile designer for the home-furnishings industry, while continuing to pursue my own studio work.  I’d wanted to be an art-to-wear clothing designer, so I explored similar techniques and themes on fabrics for clothing, but my skills as a seamstress are not always the best.  I’m a little spontaneous where one should be more technical and patient.  So it makes sense that I’ve eventually gravitated towards work that is meant for the wall. Before I had my own loom, I was working with purchased fabrics that I would dye, layer, stitch or otherwise collage together; but even back then I was beginning to refer to landscape.

Reverie. 2012. 12” x 12”; handwoven linen, cotton and silk, with cotton gauze and silk organza; dye painting, color removal, shibori, with hand-stitching.

TSGNY:  Do your technique or your choice of materials pose any particular challenges?

KH: Mainly the big challenges for me are how to create the feeling of atmosphere or light – to capture some part of nature. I’m also hoping to convey some emotional quality to the piece with materials that are physical. I’m trying to make the intangible come together in fabrics.  That’s something I’m always working on, and struggling with.  Many fabrics don’t work out the way I’d hoped and end up back in the drawer, out of sight!  Often, though, after a time, I’ll take these projects out and look at them with fresh eyes. Since my previous efforts or expectations are gone, I can rework them into something new.  Fabric can be very forgiving that way, very easy to change.

Commission in progress.

TSGNY: Aside from this great quality of being forgiving, would you say that working with fabric enables you to represent landscape in a way you might not have been able to do in another medium?

KH: Fibers are so tactile . . . the textures can be so rich.  And weaving my own fabric definitely allows me to play with my ‘canvas’ as it were. Also, being able to physically manipulate the surfaces adds more textures and depth that I’m not sure other media would allow me to do the same way.

Harbinger. 2012. 12" x 12"; handwoven linen, cotton chenille and silk, with cotton gauze and silk organza; dye painting, color removal, shibori, with hand-stitching.

TSGNY: Would you say that the evolution of your process has altered your intent?

KH: Mainly I see that my work goes back and forth on how abstract or not my approach might be . . . sometimes my landscapes are more literal, and other times it’s not so obvious.  And I think the process dictates my direction.  I don’t always plan each piece, so allowing for some exploration and response to it is important to me.

Ripple Effect. 2012. 12" x 12"; handwoven linen & silk, with raw silk and silk organza; dye painting, color removal, shibori, and hand-stitching.

TSGNY: Finally, are there artists who inspire you who you feel we should know about but may not have heard of ?

KH: I’ve been very influenced by my former professors at MCAD: Deborah Warner, Lewis Knauss and Michael Olszewski.  I would not have grown as much an artist without their encouragement and advice over the years.  There are so many other fiber/textile artists whose work is also extremely inspiring to me, I really couldn’t list all of them. Other artistic influences are the works of Kahn, Klimt, Rothko, and Turner.

TSGNY: Thank you Karen. You can see more of Karen’s work on her website.

Ann Roth: Planned and Unplanned

TSGNY: What is your fiber technique?

Ann Roth:  I work with the simplest of all weaving patterns — plain weave — but I use fabric strips for both warp and weft. The warp starts as whole cloth (100% cotton; bleached, de-sized and mercerized), which I dye using shibori techniques I’ve adapted.

Shibori warp in process.

AR: Before I do any dyeing, I map out areas that will eventually be bound or blocked off and go over the lines using a long basting stitch. This keeps the lines ‘readable’ after going through the dye, and helps me gather the fabric evenly. I do this for straight lines and to outline circles. In some cases, I cut two identical pattern forms from corrugated plastic board and clamp them together with fabric in between. Because of the width of my fabric strips, I have to widen circles into ovals to allow for the condensing that occurs when the warp is threaded on the loom. After all the warp fabric is dyed, I rip it into strips, maintaining the pattern order. I use ikat techniques to dye the weft strips.

Warp going on loom.

AR: As much as I dislike using a computer to make art, I have found it to be a valuable tool for the design process. Using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, I can make quick schematics of composition ideas. This greatly speeds up my ability to change and relocate colors and patterns. I can even approximate the effect of the optical mixing that occurs when weft overlaps warp by creating a weft color composition, reducing the opacity, and layering it over the warp composition.

Warp and Weft Schematic

AR: Sometimes precisely calculated, sometimes left to chance, the colors meet and/or overlap as the weaving progresses. These variations can create both subtle and dramatic forms and color contrasts. All of this play with color and pattern creates the illusion of layered, deep and contemplative spaces.

Weaving in process.

TSGNY: Ikat and related techniques exist in many cultures. Are there particular cultures whose textile traditions have a particularly strong influence on you?

AR: In 2010, I traveled to Uzbekistan to see Central Asian textiles and came home laden with lengths of ikat cloth, ranging from very simple patterns in cotton to meters of silk with complex patterns entirely dyed with natural dyes.

Ikats by Fazli tdin Dadajonov, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan

AR: The exuberance of the colors I found not just in fabrics, but also in their food markets and bazaars dared me to open up to strong color and pattern in my work. The love and commitment of the artisans to their craft boosted my confidence to follow my own artistic instincts. My recent work is all inspired by that trip.

"Shadow of the Silk Road" (2011) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed, ikat weft; handwoven; 3 panels, each 65.5” x 27”; overall 65.5” x 85”

TSGNY: What kind of artwork were you doing before you started working with this combination of ikat, shibori and plain weave?

AR: While I was in graduate school at the University of Kansas, I was inspired by landscape — in particular, the moods and appearances of the ocean off Deer Isle, Maine —  I worked at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts during the summers. The structure of Japanese armor, which I “read” as systems of marks, led me to make rows of diagonal and vertical marks on layers of semi-transparent parachute nylon I found at the state salvage store. I dyed and printed on the fabric and also glued on fabric strips. The pieces were large (around 6’ x 8’) fields of 2-4 layers of fabric sewn together in rows and gently gathered.  There was visual and physical depth, and they created the feeling of being in a physical environment.

Ocean Visages, MFA Thesis Exhibition, University of Kansas (installation view) Nylon: dyed, printed, collaged, hand sewn; sizes vary, approximately 72” x 84”

AR: When I finished my MFA I no longer had access to a large wall space, so I turned to the loom to explore my interest in Japanese ikat and shibori techniques. The idea of working with fabric strips for warp as well as weft just surfaced. Maybe it came from a residual memory of making cloth loop potholders when I was young? Initially I intended to make rugs, tapping my interest in Japanese and Scandinavian traditions of making the functional beautiful. I grew up sewing, loving fabrics and the beauty of quilts and rag rugs. I quickly abandoned that concept once I realized how much time I was already putting into the dyeing and weaving process.

"Leap Year" (2012) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed ikat weft; handwoven; 3 panels, each 64” x 38”, overall 64” x 126”

TSGNY: Does your technique pose any particular challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?

AR: There’s a lot of math involved in figuring how much fabric is needed for each piece, but that seems to fit with my personality. I’ve worked out shrinkage and uptake percentages and made an Excel template that performs the calculations. Rolling on the warp is an exercise in patience because ½” strips of fabric at 6 e.p.i. stick together.

TSGNY: Would you say this technique enables you to do things you have not been able to do in any other medium?

AR: I ask myself sometimes why I don’t paint, and the answer is: I like to have direct contact with materials, to hold them in my hands. There is a lot of repetition in measuring, binding and then unbinding for shibori and ikat, stripping the fabric, threading the read and headless, treadling and passing the shuttle that is calming and reassuring.

"Margilon 1 and 2" (2011) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed ikat weft; handwoven, 2 panels, each 32” x 28”, 32” x 59 overall

AR: The processes I use to create my weavings connect with the part of me that likes to plan and calculate, but they also thwart those inclinations in very healthy ways. I can calculate distances and patterns all I want, but I am prone to math errors, and there is always the serendipity of dye leakage. As hard as I try to maintain an even tension as I roll on the warp, there is always some displacement of pattern elements. The challenge of opening up to the reality versus the plan has been freeing emotionally and extremely exciting.

"Here" (2011) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed ikat weft; handwoven; 32” x 28”

AR: I also make paper weavings to try out ideas. Because the ikat and shibori weavings are so labor intensive, I have learned to be more playful through making these small paper weavings. It’s an easy, quick and fun way to experiment with color and pattern. I rarely make a weaving that is strictly an enlarged study, but use the paper experiments to ignite and process ideas.

Paper weaving

AR: It’s been both liberating and fulfilling to relax my need to have the “correct” answer instead being willing to embrace the unknown as a revealing, rewarding adventure.

“Passages 4: Release” (2012) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed weft, handwoven; 48” x 35

TSGNY: Has your artistic intent changed as a result of working  in this ikat/shibori process?

AR: My MFA thesis committee suggested that I explore making the marks that I was applying to the surface of the fabric become part of the physical structure of the finished piece. I am still interested pursuing marks as structure to create large fields, but I don’t have a large enough space to do that. In my weavings, I continue to explore the illusion of layers and depth I was exploring in my MFA thesis. By making multi-panel pieces, I can also work on a large scale as with Leap Year and Shadow of the Silk Road. I find myself moving away from the color field concept for the present. I still think about “building” marks, though.

"Shadow of the Silk Road" (detail)

TSGNY: Finally, are there living artists who inspire you whose work you feel we should know?

AR: Artists who have influenced my work include El Anatsui, Cynthia Schira, Reiko Sudo and Nuno Textiles, and Ana Lisa Hedstrom. TSGNY member Valerie Foley’s Daily Japanese Textile blog has been an important inspiration for my interest in pattern and color.

"Passages 2" (2010) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed ikat weft; handwoven, 56” x 42"

TSGNY: Thank you, Ann. You can see more of Ann’s work on her website, and in the show In Response: Weavings by Ann Roth and Vita Plume; May 31-September 6, 2012, Gregg Museum of Art & Design, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Saberah Malik: Rhythms of Filtered Light

“Betrothed, Better Halved, Buried," 2011, 9" x 9" x 3" each; gold leaf, painted wood boxes, styrene mask; ori-nui, tsukidashi kanoko shibori on silk dupioni; polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: What is your principal fiber process?

Saberah Malik: I work in shiborizome (絞り染め), the Japanese art of resist dyeing, often shortened to shibori. The first character is a Chinese logogram that means ‘to strangle, constrict or wring,’ but it also has connotations of shiborikome, ‘refine or narrow down.’ The third character is also Chinese and means ‘to dye, color, paint, strain or print.’

"Coral," 2005, 44”x 27”; tsukidashi kanoko shibori (spaced dots) on silk dupioni.

SM: When working with silk, I usually incorporate dyeing, painting, and splattering. I am also increasingly giving surface pattern to three-dimensional forms in polyester, as in the current work with stones.

"Broken Boundary," 2012, 6" x 36" x 18"; ink, polyester fabrics; marbling, enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: Although shibori is often textured, it is primarily associated with two-dimensional work. Yet you also call your three-dimensional work shibori.

SM: Yes. Focusing on ‘strangle, constrict, wring, and refine’ and the manipulation of fabric as the key concepts, I consider my three-dimensional work shibori even though it may not always be dyed.

"Un-glassed II," 2010, 16" x 48" x 24"; silk organza, polyester fabrics, plexiglas; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: Do you think you will eventually consider this new body of work an entirely new technique?

SM: It’s too early for me to comfortably claim it as a self-developed technique.  I’m still experimenting and innovating the most efficient ways of molding fabric to form, and rely heavily on the principles of shibori. Specifically, my process of crafting fabric sculpture has been an expansion and enhancement of the shibori technique of oboshi, that is, capping large motifs. In this work, the ‘motifs’ are actual objects that are stitched into the capping process on an individual basis, releasing a freestanding fabric object.

"Apothecary," 2009, 12" x 12" x 8"; silk organza, metallic polyester textile scraps, metal washers (bases); enhanced oboshi.

SM: When I first started practicing shibori, it was more traditional immersion-dyed work, mostly on silk. In transitioning to working in the round, I initially used silk organza remnants and re-purposed silk garments. Although it lacks the tactile sensuousness and level of visual warmth of silk, I am increasingly using polyester for cost effectiveness, and hopefully, structural integrity and longevity.

My process starts with basting, then machine stitching fabric over my chosen form (thus far, bottles and stones). I close the entry opening tightly with hand stitching, and in the case of bottles, bind the neck. Then I boil these fabric-covered objects, and after cooling, undo the entry seam to pull out the ‘mold.’ If I decide to add surface patterns, which range from immersion dyeing to marbling, splattering or gilding, I do so before extracting the ‘mold.’ I re-stitch the entry seam by hand to finish the piece. Sometimes I build on the shape by adding forms that ‘grow’ on the object. I have recently added a final finishing step, that is, to spray fixative on the completed shapes.

"What Will I Be," 2012, 14" x 40" x 18"; toy calves, plexiglas, polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: Was there an “Aha!” moment when you knew this expansion into three dimensions was something you wanted to explore, or was it a gradual evolution?

SM: My early shibori pieces were two-dimensional and dealt with landscape elements, particularly rocks, rich in texture and three-dimensional surface detail. From there it was a natural progression to arrive at my current work.

"Red Crevasse," 2008, 66" x 26"; maki-age, arashi shibori, discharge, on silk dupioni.

SM: Landmark inventions and new pathways in art or science are often defined by happenstance, the coming together of hitherto unrelated or diverse phenomena, described by the Japanese term datsuzoka, that is, fresh creativity, surprise.

In an effort to depict the imagery of foaming water, I covered fairly large wooden spheres in silk organza to form bubbles. The success of that experiment prompted me to try forming other shapes. Successfully molding fabric over a small jam jar was indeed my Aha! moment. I continued to experiment with an ever greater assortment of shapes and sizes and with varying weights and textures of silk and polyester fabric. The propensity of fibers, both natural and synthetic, to retain the memory of constriction and expansion through physical and thermal manipulation, provided the requisite qualities for transforming flat fabric into sculptural forms.

"Lapis," 2010, installation (dimensions variable); polyester fabrics, plexiglas bases; enhanced oboshi.

SM: Developing craft is usually a gradual evolution. My earlier work utilized double fabric layers in the belief that it would better lend itself to structural stability. A vision of duplicating the perceived effects of light filtering through glass led to a bolder use of single layers and even more transparent fabrics.

The last two and a half years have been a magical journey of exploration, first with bottles collected from friends’ recycling bins, and more recently, with stones gathered from my own back yard and the Rhode Island shoreline.

"China Trade Surplus: Twelve Days to Christmas," 2011, 72" x 72" x 24"; aluminum, pre-embroidered silk dupioni, china silk lining; enhanced oboshi.

SM: The illusion of volume in this body of work has more to do with the surprise and dichotomy of an artifact like dense, heavy, hard stone or glass transcribed in light, transparent, soft fabric. As the Korean artist Myung Keun Koh has written, “Transparency embodies not only temporal transience, but also spatial emptiness; it enables us to see through the inside and feel the inner space overlapping with the outer space, providing a different sense of space.” I believe it offers an equally renewed perception of the original forms used in my current work.

"Teetotaller's Recollections," 2011, 14" x 48" x 16"; plexiglas bases, polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: What kind of artwork were you doing before you started working with shibori?

SM: My early work was infused with a profusion of arabesque patterns on surfaces grand and humble, on objects ceremonial and profane; my coming of age happened in a culture where decoration was a dirty word. I postponed a career in art and design in order to be a full-time parent. During this hiatus, I exercised my creativity by working in watercolors, the least toxic and space requiring medium. Towards the end of those critical parenting years, I chanced upon a course in Decorative Finishes on Wood, and started using those techniques to paint on cut-out wood forms, often over gilded surfaces.

I painted a body of calligraphic images that I refer to as ‘Written Painting.’ I also painted a series of rocks inspired by the multitude of stones that are such an integral part of the New England topography.

In 2002, I chanced upon a community college course on surface design that introduced me to shibori and the limitless possibilities of manipulating fabric. I acquired a fresh set of skills that launched my current work. Working with fabric was in so many ways a distillation of my South Asian heritage (with its respect for and indulgence of textiles as symbols of status or utility), and my education in graphic and industrial design.

"Black Rock," (diptych), 2005, 39" x 24" each; mokume, arashi shibori, discharge, on silk dupioni.

SM: Now I have the challenge of fusing two diverse vernaculars into a modern idiom. Part of the fun has been to utilize what was lying around, or to look at fabric bolts and let the colors and patterns suggest an appropriate usage.

TSGNY: Does this three-dimensional process pose any particular challenges? How have you overcome them?

SM: I tend to work on a large scale. There is a definite limitation in how large a freestanding fabric form can exist before the integrity of its shape or the equilibrium of its structure is compromised. I overcome this limitation by working with smaller forms that I assemble into larger compositions.

"White Bend," 2010, 13" x 96" x 24"; pre-embroidered polyester fabric, plexiglas bases; enhanced oboshi.

SM: There is also a logistical limit to how large a jar or stone I can use because of the weight and size that my hands or the boiling utensil or stovetop at home can handle.

TSGNY:  Does your new process enable you to do things you have not been able to do in any other medium?

SM: In another life, I would have liked to be a glass artist. Working with sheer fabrics in the round is the closest I can come in creating sensory rhythms of light filtering through colored surfaces embellished with pattern. Light filtering through colored or patterned fabrics, whose randomly intersecting fibers create moiré patterns, is perhaps even more magical than light filtering through glass.

"Net Worth," 2010, dimensions variable; casting net, polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

SM: Working with a transparent medium — be it glass or fabric — the flow of space between the inside and outside is blurred as the negative volume of inner space interacts with the positive volume defined by outer space. Transparency makes us question not only the spatial relationship of objects, but challenges the inherent qualities of sculpture itself as solid mass defining a particular form.

Working with stones I am aware of our instinctive and learned perception that equates stones with dense, heavy, static mass. That perception is contradicted by seeing stones described in an airy, light, and fluid material, redefining the property of volume.

"Gardener's Bane," 2011, 8" x 20" x 20"; immersion dyes, markers, polyester fabrics; handpainting, splattering, resists with rubber bands, cellophane; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: Has your intent changed as a result of working in this process?

SM: In embarking on textiles as an art medium, my instinctive intent was to create the most beautiful, unusual and otherworldly surface patterns on silk. As I discovered the ability to turn flat textiles into defining volumes, I now conceive, visualize and execute my work as three-dimensional installations. The focus is no longer exclusively on surface.

My work now deals with the concept of imperfection on two levels. First is the Islamic belief that perfection lies only within nature and hence, when mere mortals represent nature it is only an imitation and therefore less than perfect. Second is wabi sabi, the Japanese concept of appreciation for the imperfect, the impermanent.

"Stone Zone," 2011, 4" x 16" x 16"; polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

SM: Even as I hand pick stones for their natural beauty, the results in duplicating are far from perfect. Yet this work can be appreciated precisely for those imperfections (visible seams within the forms) as inherent attributes of the material I use. It also addresses the impermanent; impermanent as the artwork may be, stones change form through evolutionary passage of time. Glass bottles break.

TSGNY: Finally, are there any living artists who inspire you who you feel we should know about but may not have heard of?

SM: I became acquainted with Afruz Amighi’s work when she won the Jameel Prize in Islamic Art at the V & A. Her work weaving metal into delicate, decorative filigree, as well as her paper cut-out series ‘1001 Pages,’ is inspirational for me. Raised in a culture of arabesque designs that profusely cover surfaces both lofty and mundane, I am inspired and guided by other artists’ use of a decorative idiom translated into a contemporary aesthetic. The other would be Maureen Kelman, who has been my mentor since I did an independent study with her. Fortunately, I had not seen her work till my own work had been channeled into its present form. I share with Maureen a three-dimensional approach to textiles as an art medium, and labor-intensive means of reaching our goals. But Maureen works in non-representational motifs in abstract, yet expressive images, and that aspect of her work continues to inspire me.

TSGNY: Thank you, Saberah. You can see more of Saberah Malik’s work on her website.

Michael Rohde: On and Off the Grid

Photo: Rod Carroll

TSGNY: You have a longstanding commitment to weaving as the basis of your artistic practice. When did that begin?

Michael Rohde: In the early 1970s, curiosity about how cloth was made took hold of me. I bought a small loom and started on a path that has held me steady for nearly forty years. For quite some time, I wove rugs, but as image took over from function, I’ve moved to tapestry. These days I often work at a small scale, most recently with silk yarns, as in “Aeolus,” which was shortlisted for the Kate Derum Award.

“Aeolus,” 2011, 5¼” x 5¼” (mounted size 7¾" x 7¾").Tapestry: silk, natural dyes; four-selvedge wedge weave. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

TSGNY: Did you have a background in other arts before you became a weaver?

MR: Weaving is really the only form of art that I have pursued with any rigor, but along the years, a number of events have shaped my approach to making. To fill out my lack of training in art, I enrolled in the Glassel School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, where I was heavily influenced by the teaching of C. Arthur Turner, based on Bauhaus approaches, notably Joseph Albers and Johannes Itten.

TSGNY: Both Itten and Albers were color theorists, and color is central to your work. Was it their approach to color that influenced you?

MR: Certainly Albers and Itten’s color theories are strong influences, and guiding principles for me when it comes to making color choices, both what color combinations I use in the weavings, and in dyeing the yarns. Some of my early education about how colors are related came from the dye process itself. I’ve always used the red, yellow and blue primaries to mix the hues I want, be it in chemical or natural dyes (even to developing formulas to make neutral grays from the primaries).

Notebooks: samples of wool on the left and silk on the right; record keeping as a guide for the next time.

MR: My materials are often wool or silk and other non-manmade fibers; I buy yarns in white, and add my own colors when I start a new piece. One of the second or third classes I took to learn about fiber processes was a class in dyeing, when I lived in North Carolina. Slowly, I have explored ways of putting color on yarn, initially with chemical dyes, but later, as I learned which plant dyes were most lightfast, this came to be my preferred way of working. After years of working with the brights of chemical dyes (even toned-down mixtures), I’m drawn to the more subdued palette of vegetal dyes.

Lately, these have been dyes derived from plants and a bug or two.  This gives me the range of colors I want, and I’m not limited to what is available in pre-dyed yarn. Although it seems like this adds extra time to the process of making my work, I feel the end result is worth it. Years of color mixing, matching and record-keeping make the dye process easy for me, and only adds about 5-10% to the total weaving time.

Skeins from a recent round of dyeing for scaling up the silk wedge weaves.

TSGNY: Doing your own dyeing gives you both enormous freedom and control. What about your commitment to working on the loom? Would you say that constrains you in any way?

MR: Around the end of the 1970s, gallery owner Warren Hadler asked the question, “Since the loom operates on a right-angle grid, why try to force the technique to simulate curves?” That became a major direction for how I approached design.

Looking at Albers’ many color studies also had an effect on how I approach design. The simplicity of the shapes he used in those studies became a guide and a challenge to me: to make my own designs, but try to embody something of his elegant design choices. Add to this Hadler’s suggestion to stick to what the loom does easily, and many of the design decisions are pared down to a manageable range of choices.

“Danse,” 2002, 82" x 54". Rug: hand-dyed wool on linen warp. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

MR: My rugs were pattern or block based — like “Danse” — but as they became more and more image based – for example, “Winter/Lake Biwa” in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago — they were hardly ever used on the floor.

“Winter/Lake Biwa,” 2001, 59" x 48". Rug: hand-dyed wool on linen warp. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

TSGNY: So even though you still called the work a rug, it was already being viewed in an art context. Was this the first time you started thinking about tapestry?

MR: Very early in my weaving career, I’d learned some tapestry techniques, and had a passing interest in learning Navajo style weaving, but didn’t pursue it due to time limitations, opting for loom-controlled block-weave rugs. Wanting ever more harnesses to make more complex block patterns, I began combining inlay areas, maybe a forerunner of the tapestry shift. Gallery owner Gail Martin was the one who first encouraged me to explore tapestry formally. Gail’s suggestion occurred about the same time as an invitation to exhibit in the 2004 Triennial of Tapestry in Lodz, Poland. It was also around the time the idea of invading Iraq was being proposed. “From My House to Your Homeland” came out of this confluence of events, and refers to a line in a poem by June Jordan, making reference to houses disappearing in the sands of war. That piece was a milestone for me: the idea came before the design.

“From My House to Your Homeland,” 2003, 54” x 98”. Tapestry installation, hand-dyed wool and silk. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

TSGNY: Even when moving from loom-controlled work to tapestry, you’ve stayed loyal to grids and angles rather than curves. Does that grow out of your response to Hadler’s observation?

MR: Another reason Hadler’s suggestion resonated so well with me was that it was a time when I was trying to be a production weaver, while holding down a full time job. The simplicity of grids and angles is easier to weave, and parallels where I diverge from normal art-school training: the last course I took was drawing, and though I was encouraged to continue, free-form, organic shapes just don’t appeal to me as much.

When I transitioned to tapestry, I was weaving full time, and in theory would have more free time for representational work, but I’d been working in geometric shapes for so long, that I wanted to continue exploring how much could be expressed with these limits.

TSGNY: It sounds like you feel the move into tapestry has allowed your work’s content to deepen, while working within those limits.

MR: Even when I think I am only making patterns, I find ideas have crept into the work. “Transect” was designed and woven as a pattern piece, but at the time of major health care debates – where did all these Blue Crosses come from?

“Transect,” 2009, 75” x 48”. Tapestry: wool, silk; indigo, walnut dyes. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

MR: “Sustainability” (exhibited in the American Tapestry Biennial) expresses a hope for people of all skin colors to live together, but also stands as an icon for global overcrowding.

“Sustainability,” 2007, 66” x 39¼”. Tapestry: wool, silk, alpaca, mohair, llama, camel; indigo, madder, walnut, cutch, weld. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

MR: “Water” was made for the Textile Museum’s exhibition “Green: The Color and the Cause.” I began with an image from a satellite map of the land around a huge manmade lake in Brazil. It comments of the issues of water usage: man’s intervention has consequences; where agricultural areas become green, other areas die off.

“Water,” 2009, 35” x 48”. Tapestry: wool, natural dyes. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

MR: Travel can also be a source for my work: “Tibetan Prayers” (currently in Crossing Lines: the Many Faces of Fiber) came from a month-long trip to eastern Tibet, and makes reference to their small printed paper prayers. The choice of materials (Tibetan and Navajo wools) draws a connection between these people: the loss of their homeland and historical way of life to invaders.

“Tibetan Prayers,” 2006, 49½" x 38½". Tapestry: Navajo wool, Tibetan wool, madder. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

TSGNY:  Does “Aeolus” represent a new direction for you — are you finally escaping the grid?

MR: The wedge-weave technique is one I’ve known about for some time, but never tried. Many weavers (and friends of mine) are well known for what they have done in the technique: Martha Stanley, James Bassler, Connie Lippert and Deborah Corsini to name a few. The technique is based on the principle that you begin by weaving at an angle to the warp,  building up a wedg that continues. Weaving in this direction is contrary to the normal weaving, where warp and weft are at ninety-degree angles. As a  consequence, when it’s released from the loom tension, the cloth relaxes. What had been straight edges become scalloped — heresy for someone who has spent years trying to achieve perfect, straight selvedges.

I’d always been reluctant to try something that others had done so well, and, for which they were known. I wanted to make something that would have my own stamp. So I’ve gravitated to silk, to color choices that are out of the ordinary, the small scale, and four-selvedge technique (though this is hardly unique, as Stanley and Navajo weavers have used this for their weaving). After making dozens of the small (five by five inches or less) pieces, I’m just now venturing toward larger explorations.

TSGNY: Finally, are there artists who inspire you whose work you’d like us to know about?

MR: There are weavers who work in unusual methods, or research and use techniques that are seldom embraced these days: Jim Bassler and Martha Stanley, who I’ve already mentioned, and Polly Barton. Artists who use color in ways that excite me, be it complexity of color in limited range, or unusual combinations — Rothko, for example, and a contemporary painter, now on the West Coast, Ruth Pastine. I would have to add Agnes Martin, though also for her “Writings,” a hard-to-find, but worthwhile book.These artists do wonders with limited use of line and form.

TSGNY: Thank you, Michael. You can see more of Michael’s work on his website, and in the TSGNY exhibit, Crossing Lines: The Many Faces of Fiber.