The Vitality of the Stuggle

The other night while looking for something in a box, I found several old sketchbooks/journals that I had written and drawn in throughout my twenties. I soon forgot what I was looking for as I sat down cross legged on the floor in the middle of my kitchen and poured through these relics of my past. At the time I had worked in these blank books, nothing profound or even really interesting seemed to be of note. But as, I thumbed through them so many years later, I looked back at myself from a more mature lens and realized, I was a much more interesting, and cool person than I had ever thought or felt I was at the time. Surprising to me! In one journal I had made several lists, drawings and wrote extensive passages about my plans, my thoughts on books I had read and designs with detailed notes. One entry from nearly 9 years ago stuck out, I wrote that I very much wanted to visit Peru and the Coast of Maine someday and focus on fiber arts in some capacity. I suppose I can check those off the list now.

(A photo of my new loom coming to the studio today. Each loom in my studio gets a name, an identity. This one will be called Nowy.)

This summer, Herron Clothier is experiencing it's first growth spurt. It's been nearly 3 years and things are starting to change. Today, another loom is being added to the studio for some big upcoming projects slated to begin in the coming summer months. All of which are still quite a secret and confidential, I am bursting at the seams to share. With this in mind, I take a bit of stock today. Those old journals full of lists, descriptive passages and detailed sketches, have me thinking over the the slow, steady development of my studio practice as Herron. I am reminded of something I heard earlier this week: There are two important days in a woman's life, one when she is born and the second when she figures out why.  Writer, poet and feminist Gertrude Stein wrote about the 'Vitality of the Struggle' between what is to be expressed (in written word) and what is both outside of you and inside of you.  I apply her words to the struggle of the artist, designer, craftsperson. From the time I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to devote my life to art making. The reason I was born, was to sign up for a life of unwavering devotion to truth, vision and creativity--a vital struggle indeed. The beauty of artistic pursuits is born out of ugliness, stages of under developed tries that lead to the stretching of comfort zones and an unrelenting desire to push forward despite failure.  Forming Herron and all of my artistic pursuits leading up to Herron, have been challenges that have allowed me to expand my own self definition. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp" to quote Robert Browning.  That willingness, I believe, is the foundation of the vitality of struggle. I am grateful for my failures, because if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly first. I believe this is what Gertrude Stein meant. Cheers to failure and growth.

Happy Monday.
XO,
Dee




Peru

I have returned home from my mini trip to Peru. Although it was a mere week long I packed in 9 villages, 6 flights, 2 train rides, 3 collectivos, 6 taxi rides, 2 bus trips, a 2 and a half hour boat trip, a trek on a horse, a mountain climb, 4 hostels, lots of conversations, much mangled Spanish and a colorful array of interesting cuisine explorations. Here are some photos highlighting the most memorable aspects of my journey. It was hard to pare down all the photos I took to just a few.

I began at O'Hare airport on the first of many flights to South American where I would be adding and de-layering clothes through out different times of the day and night. El Salvador was sticky hot, while part of Peru were chilly and cold. My first day and a half, I arrived in the the dilapidated town of Juliaca and took a collectivo cambi to Puno, where I was stricken with pretty severe altitude sickness. Lots of vomiting, chills and a headache that rendered me incapacitated in a hostel room bed alone and quite scared. Somehow I managed to get bottled water and get myself on a bus to Cusco at 7am the next day despite being doubled over with the ills and chills. Here however, is where the best part of my journey begins.

When my ailments subsided after some Muno tea and herbs from Jose and some other friendly travellers on the bus to Cusco, I met Graciella. She was sitting at her hand made loom on the side of the road weaving a new poncho to sell. I sat down next to her for a while and asked her questions about her weaving in my broken Spanish. She was very sweet and girlish, she smiled a lot and seemed happy to chat with me. She sat under a tarp to shade her from the sun. Draped over sticks affixed to the tarp were several shawls, ponchos and scarves she had woven that were for sale. I wondered how many people stopped along this dirt road to buy her gorgeous crafts. She pulled out a drop spindle with raw wool and said "Alpaca" and motioned for me to spin some raw wool into yarn. Everything about Graciella's craft is made by hand, from the loom she weaves on to the wool that she dyes and spins herself that become her beautiful shawls. When she saw my eyes wandering over her gorgeous work, she pointed out the symbolism in her shawls, el pajaro, the bird, la rana, the frog, los ojos, the eyes, la ola, the wave. I bought one of her shawls made from her hand spun alpaca. She charged me 80 soles which amounts to about $28.50 USD. She gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. When I brought it home, my cat wiggled around and snuggled up on the shawl. She seems to like alpaca too. To see a short video of Graciella weaving, visit the Herron Clothier Instagram.

Peru is an impoverished country with an economy that relies a great deal on tourism. Every where I went I was bombarded with menus, signs, people asking me to by things from them. Even a single snapshot was met with "un sole". While the Peruvian PEN is not as strong as the US dollar, it made me wonder a lot about value. I paid just under $29.00 for Graciella's incredibly detailed shawl and I know her weaving and skill is worth several times that much. It is interesting why and how we put the value we do on "things" and "goods" in certain areas of the world and not in others. Even the value of money changes, and differs from one part of the world to another.

I enjoyed visiting Cusco which had the most interesting architecture of all the towns and villages I passed through. There were many buildings made from stucco and cement with terra cotta roofs. However, most of Peru's homes and buildings are box like structures made from dirt. Adobe bricks are constructed from the soil and sediment which become the walls and facades of most villages.

When I finally met up with my friend and travelling companion Agatha, I had overcome the altitude and we decided to go horseback riding through the Andes Mountains. 
These buildings below were a mixture of adobe and stucco with some interlacing stone archways and doorways. While I enjoyed the architecture, which was so vastly different from anything I had ever seen in real life, for me, the people, crafts and folklore were what piqued my interest the most.

First time on a horse! And who could ask for a better experience! Riding through the Andes Mountains among fields and sheep, farmers and ancient Inca ruins. My horse was called "Prince". I thought, it can't get any better than this and then it did. Every day.


The trip for me, culminated in Machu Picchu. I do not have a 'Bucket List' but if I did I could cross off a visit to the Sacred Valley. For most of my adult life I have wanted to visit Machu Picchu and I will say, that as you may have guessed it is far more spectacular and breathtaking in real life than any photo could ever show. We arrived at daybreak. As I entered the ruins birds chirped and llamas ran freely around the mountains. It were as though I had stepped into a picturesque fantasy world full of abundance, beauty and all of natures most richest treasures. I have never felt such peace as I did walking around the ancient ruins in a sort of solitudinal daze. Around 10am Agatha and I joined a group of people to climb Waynapicchu, the mountain that towers over Macchu Picchu. According to lore, Waynapicchu with its carved terraces was the residence of the high Inca Priest. It was a long, steep climb straight up. Treacherous and slippery in some areas, I climbed up it in record time and with ease much to my surprise. And, I think I discovered a new interest, mountain climbing! I never ever dreamed I would be into it, but I loved it!



I still cannot believe I was here. It feels like I dreamed it.

The day before I flew back home to Chicago, Agatha and I had planned a home stay on the Floating Uros Island in Lago Titikaka. With an overnight bus back into Puno that arrived at 4:30am and very little sleep after a lot of physical exertion, we opted to treat ourselves to real beds in a real hotel instead. We did however visit the 30 villagers on Isla de Uros. The entire island is free floating and made of reeds that grow in the lake, as is all of the huts that the villagers live in and their boats as well. This boat below was called "The Mercedes Benz",  as the mayor (who was a woman) kept calling it.



 The Isle of Tequile was breathtaking. The people who live there dress in traditional clothing to preserve the traditions of their culture. The men of the town knit hats to signify certain status. A special design and color scheme are used to knit hats that signify the difference between single people, married people and the decision makers of the village. Some of the elders who decide what things must be done in the village also wear specially knit pouches that they wear on their waists with colorful tassels on the bottom.

This little one had been mischievously photo bombing peoples family photos with all the cuteness she could muster. It made the tourists laugh, but she knew what she was up to. After a photo was snapped she would hold her hand out and whisper "sol", meaning give me some money for showing up in your photo. She wasn't making too much income on this day and her stance expresses that completely.

Some of the elder decision makers of Tequile, you can see the hats and pouches they wear to signify their status.

I almost forgot! When we visited La Isla de Uros, the villagers made us put on traditional clothing. They were very proud to show us their huts, how they lived and the way they lived. We did feel kind of silly wearing their clothes, I will admit.

I made some time to visit Master weaver Maximo Laura's gallery in Cusco. He also keeps a studio in Lima. Here, one of his assistants was weaving a tapestry. Maestro Laura has been deemed a national treasure in Peru for preserving traditional technique and inventing his own. Laura's tapestries are rich with folkloric symbolism and each carry their own mythological narrative. His vibrant use of color seems controlled yet uninhibited. It all made me think a lot about my own approach to color and the lack of narrative in my own work. I come from a strictly design perspective, this visit inspired me to incorporate a bit more story into my own weaving work. I filled pages of my notebook with ideas while waiting for a flight to El Salvador in the airport on my trek home. To see a short video of Laura's assistant weaving in the studio visit Herron's Instagram

Peru's landscape is both tantalizing and breathtaking. I found Peruvians to be somewhat cold and standoffish for the most part. Within their own families and communities, from my observation, they seem cheerful, jovial and loving. As an outsider, it is hard to cull a sense of warmth. I did however find a strong sense of connection, warmth and kindness from fellow travellers. On this short yet enlightening journey I met people from all over the world and had interesting conversations over lunches, on buses and trains and just plain old standing in line. I found that the warmth and friendliness I was looking for in the villagers actually came naturally from other interlopers like myself.
I am back home now, feeling like I just spent a month in Peru. I have much yet still to process. A new perspective on craft, economy and social structure has my mind racing in a barrage of ideas, thoughts and contemplations. I know that when I left for this trip, I considered myself just an ordinary person with an ordinary life striving for the same things all Americans strive for. Happiness, satisfaction, a nice home, leisure time, things of this nature. Upon my visit to Peru, I realize that I have a really wonderful life full of richness, joy and freedom. I discovered new interests and worlds I had never experienced before. For this I am truly grateful. And that above all, makes me happy.

Hello/Goodmorning, fly away!

The day has come!
Heading off to Peru and the Sacred Valley of Machu Picchu with a stop in El Salvador.
Taking some time for a little morning quiet and stillness to calm some pre travel nerves. I have a long day of travel ahead and am propelled by the spirit of adventure (and warm weather!)


Bye-Bye-Birdie

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to travel to Peru. South America, along with India and Africa are places in the world that scare me. My idea of them exists only in books, slides and the various information I have gleaned of them from Wikipedia and National Geographic. This coming week, I am about to embark on a journey, albeit a short one, but still none the less an adventure of my own epic proportions. Peru, by way of El Salvador is calling my name and I have the plane ticket digitized in my iPhone with my name on it.

As you can see as I begin to pack, 3 days early, that I have decided to include an entire medicine cabinet in my back pack. Never concerned with health issues before this day, for the first time ever, I am terrified of what my body might decide to do 11,000 feet above sea level. I am prepared for any over the counter problem and how to describe it in Espanol.



Some gems I am working on the studio for various projects and commissions. I will be excited to continue working on them when I return home from my South American journey. In Peru, weaving is one of the central traditions in the country. I am eager to see the Peruvian way of weaving with my own eyes. Their use of color is more vibrant and playful than the way I approach color. Maybe after I return, I will consider purple a color acceptable to use.

Here are some extra photos from my trip to New York last week. There were so many beautiful vintage cars everywhere I went.  (More on my Instagram feed) Over the past three years, with an outside influence, I have developed a bit of a love for "old" cars. As I tromped around Brooklyn last week, my heart thudded and I stopped dead in my tracks each time I saw some wise old hunk of metal parked on the street like it were any other car. Maybe someday I will own one of my own and build a garage to preserve it's cold, hard beauty.
 


 A few more favorites from the Whitney Biennial, including the notebooks of David Foster Wallace. As I looked at them under the vitrine, I wondered, would Wallace have considered his notebooks art and would he have felt obliged to share their private contents with the world of art purveyors?


Someday all of my blog photos will be sized and formatted perfectly so that all their corners line up just perfectly. Until that day happens, I am content to sit with all my favorite beverages and post to my heart's content with the same insouciant spirit I have lived my life. Or, maybe I will just finally learn how to do it properly.




NYC

This has been an incredible week in NYC filled with weaving, studio visits, art, delicious food, and wonderful friends both new and old. Here are some highlights of my trip:

This past weekend I had the pleasure of teaching a beginning tapestry weaving workshop at The Textile Arts Center (TAC) in Brooklyn. I designed my workshop as an introduction to weaving and tapestry techniques using the very simple frame loom. It is approachable, portable and user friendly which is perfect for new weavers, especially city dwellers with limited work space. I taught several traditional techniques and had the students make sampler pieces.


Noriko's sampler

 Cynthia's Soumak and Pile sampler

I celebrated my 34th birthday on Friday by treating myself to a ticket to The Whitney Biennial, where Sheila Hick's work was part of this year's line up of incredible artists. There was a really nice inclusion of fiber arts this year in addition to Hick's work, such as the tapestry work of Etel Adnan and knit work of Lisa Anne Aurbach.

Sheila Hicks at Sikkema & Jenkins Co in Chelsea

Sheila Hicks at The Whitney Biennial.

Followed by an evening birthday dinner at my favorite place, Frankies Spuntino in Carroll Gardens with my lovely friends, Agatha, Vanessa and Carolynn. <3 br="">

Mini Ice Cream Cones are perfect!

In addition to teaching, viewing amazing art and eating incredible food with friends, I had the great pleasure of meeting Erin M. Riley in her Bushwick studio. Riley is a contemporary tapestry weaver whose provocative work is gaining attention for what she calls "dark subject matter" and for the incredible skill and artistry that go into making each piece. We had a great discussion about art and craft and what it means to have a foot in both camps. Riley is paving the way for her contemporaries, proving that labels and boundaries in art are meant to be pushed. Her painterly woven tapestries explore subject matters on sex, technology and female drug addiction. Riley culls inspiration from her own personal experiences and explores her identity as an artist and woman through her incredible work. For me, this visit was a real treat. As both a painter and weaver, I have often had an internal dialogue with myself about the two mediums and keeping them separate. Is it okay to weave what you paint or draw? Discussing this with Erin was eye opening and inspiring and I am quite excited to get back home to Chicago and set work in the studio.

Pink Panties 2, 61" x 48", Hand woven wool tapestry


Sublime, 36" x 43", Wool, Cotton

Bandit, the cute dog from the studio next door to Erin's. He was snorty and sweet.

Liz Spencer works under the name The Dogwood Dyer. She grows natural dye gardens around the trees that line the streets in her neighborhood. She also forages locally around Brooklyn for things like elderberry which she uses to create gorgeous natural dyes. Liz and I sat down one morning at a local coffee shop before my tapestry class, to discuss future collaborations. Trained as a knitwear designer, Liz and her sweetie, a landscape architect, moved to Brooklyn where Liz began her natural dyes business 6 months ago. The Dogwood dyer is definitely a site worth visiting if you are interested in learning about or experimenting with natural dyes for fibers and cloth.

One of Liz's dye garden's from warmer months.

It was a wonderful trip! I am excited to come back to Brooklyn later this summer to teach again at TAC. There was so much to be inspired by and I feel a real clear direction both in my life and artistically. On a more personal note, I feel the truest to myself and the most alive and happy when I am teaching and/or weaving. These are what I am born to do. The opportunity to come to New York, do what I love and meet other incredible fiber artisans was such a special experience and I am truly grateful for it.