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Textile Artist, Teacher,
By Holly Brackmann
Issue 113, January/February 2003, p. 96
My life as a weaver began
in childhood. I made potholders on summer vacations, and gave them
to relatives until their drawers were full. However, my real fascination
with textiles began when I was a student at San Jose State University.
Even though my first warp in a weaving class ended up in the trash
when the instructor lost the cross---resulting giant snarl---I persevered.
It was the 1960s,
and the yarns available to us were all in the oh-so-popular colors
of rust, avocado-green (never to be used by me again!), and gold.
Funky, chunky weavings were the norm.
Later, during graduate
school at UCLA, I became interested in sculptural and architectural
forms. I began creating what I called "three-dimensional forms
from flat woven pieces." This focus developed into many pieces
and a series of lectures and workshops that I presented at conferences
and guild meetings.
By the late 1980s
my palette was brighter (we had all tossed that avocado green carpeting!).
I was still weaving sculptural pieces, but my scale had begun to
shrink. I began weaving my sculptural pieces with sewing thread.
Weaving with fine threads and creating smaller-sized objects paralleled
my love of the minutiae in fifteenth century Franco-Flemish paintings
I had studied in graduate school. By the 1990s my scale was
even smaller, and my setts ranged from 80 to160 ends per inch!
I am still using sewing
thread and still get excited about textural, three-dimensional weaving.
But although I used to think of polyester as a dirty word (as in
polyester double-knit pantsuits), I have grown to appreciate the
heat crimping and pleating characteristics this synthetic fiber
has to offer and Ive found myself on an entirely new path.
My weaving life is full
of the turns and changes that come from trying new things and discovering
new techniques. I owe part of that growth to teaching. Teaching
about textiles and weaving has challenged me and kept me growing
as an artist over the years.
When I was hired as the
first art instructor at Mendocino College in Ukiah, California,
challenges abounded. For twenty years the textile classes were housed
in temporary facilities, including a fairgrounds (next to the duck
pond), former car dealership (students could get their car repaired
while in class), and warehouse (we rolled up the door when the weather
was nice, but the reeds rusted in wet winters). Today, the weaving
studio at the college holds over thirty looms, including some that
are computerized, and a dye studio with stoves, photo screen-printing
equipment, thermofax, and heat press.
Developing new courses
and techniques has meant that students often return to update their
skills---which keeps me looking for more material. Nurturing students,
educating administrators and the public about textiles, persistence,
and participating in the community all play important roles in my
When Im not teaching
or weaving, Im traveling. Weavers
have special reason to travel---to meet and be inspired by craftspeople
all over the world---and the rewards are also special. Meeting weavers
and dyers in other cultures adds to your appreciation for the time,
effort, and love we all give, inspires you with new ideas for your
own work, and makes you feel connected to the world community of
people who create textiles.
Whether its seeing
a Guatemalan backstrap weaver in Santa Catarina Palopo sitting in
a courtyard on a dirt floor weaving in brilliant colors, or watching
a wood block printer in India, your strong kinship with other fiber
people is reinforced.
Visiting a master dyer
in Aubusson, France and watching him color wool with acid dyes also
reminds me of the international scope of many textile projects.
He was dyeing New Zealand wool for a tapestry to be woven in France
based on a design by a San Francisco artist for a commission from
the United States.
I feel lucky that through
these three intertwining threads of my life---as a textile artist,
teacher and traveler---I am endlessly tantalized and challenged
with directions to pursue. These are the gifts from my community,
from weavers around the world, and especially from my students.