Back in March of 2020, I spent time with my hostess, while I was teaching at my last venue in Oregon, part of a 10 day tour, or something like that, and I asked her how you make a decision to stop doing something you’ve been doing for 35 years. I so remember going through this when I was burned out of doing craft fairs in the 1980’s. Both craft fair bookings and teaching on the road bookings are often booked 1-2 years in advance. Fast approaching my mid 60’s, all my other peers, who are not artists, were retiring from their lengthy careers, moving to warm climates, and sitting on a beach. That’s not my style, but I was getting tired. Not of teaching, I love that, but tired of being away, hauling crap around the country, missing my animals and my studio and my routine, and yet, at the time I was booked well in 2022.
My hostess listened kindly and said encouraging words, and assured me that the time would make itself known. Back in 1989, when I decided I just couldn’t do another craft fair, I miraculously found myself pregnant in my mid 30’s, and had a glorious excuse for never setting foot again in a craft booth except as a buyer. I do remember a huge fight with my husband, who didn’t understand how I could just walk away from a career, he didn’t have that option. Fair point.
But artists don’t retire. They just reinvent the way they express themselves creatively. I’ve reinvented myself so many times over my 66 years, and always because the universe threw me a curve ball and I caught it and ran with it.
I returned from Oregon in March of 2020, and of course, the universe had other ideas, and all of my teaching on the road was basically cancelled. This was not lost on me, definitely not a coincidence, and I will tell you that one by one, as the cancellations came in, I smiled. Requests to rebook were put on hold. I was able to accommodate some of the lectures and workshops remotely, which was pretty cool. The best of both worlds, but really, as the pandemic wore on, I did not miss the travel and thought to myself, this is the first time in a gazillion years I am really hunkered down and enjoying the creativity of just being alone in my studio and making stuff.
I did have a contract with Peters Valley School of Craft, for a couple of in person classes, but that was way in the future and so by summer of 2021, I’d probably feel differently. Yeah. No…
But professional that I am, I would never cancel the two classes, and the beginner workshop in June of 2021 was only three days, and I team taught it with my daughter. I actually commuted, so I could sleep in my own bed at night. Brianna stayed to help the students in the evening.
Last week was the second workshop I was scheduled to teach with Peters Valley. It was a more challenging class, my five day yardage class, mask restrictions were back in place, and because of a couple of reasons, Peters Valley was no longer offering its dining options like it has done for the last 50 years. So I’d have to fend for myself for dinners. And I was solo teaching. So I precooked all my meals, and stayed on campus keeping the studio open in the evenings for the students until 10 or 11 at night. It was tiring, but that’s what I do.
I ended up with seven students. One had to cancel last minute from Covid exposure. I was more confident back in June about the direction the virus was going, now, not so much. I was living in a house with four other faculty members from different states, working closely with students, even though I was masked. I ate with students and others from the Valley, so I couldn’t wear a mask while eating. I was nervous about being exposed to Covid even though I’ve been vaccinated for many months.
And I thought, how ironic that my very last venue, before I retire from teaching on the road would possibly expose me to Covid after being isolated for the last 18 months.
But weavers valiantly carry on, and my students did as well. I started them with color exercises and yarn wraps, which as they began to narrow down the possibilities, I had to figure out how to get images of the wraps into my computer since there was no WIFI. My assistant Carl pointed out that my little Microsoft Go computer had a camera in it. Good to know.
So I took pictures of the wraps with my laptop, brought them into PowerPoint, which is my favorite way of manipulating the wraps, it is easy to copy and paste and rotate and scale and flip and create what looks like a wide warp, with only a small 2″ card.
Students could see what happened if I repeated, or flipped on center, and one student even added an additional element and after seeing it repeated on the screen, decided to stay with her original design. It was really fun to see their eyes light up.
Having Fiberworks weaving software on my computer, I could then match colors and quickly put in the draft, adding twills in some areas, supplemental warps because, well, it looks cool.
Then we had to figure out how to get a copy of the draft since I had no printer and no wifi, and the office wouldn’t recognize a .dtx or .wif file anyway. Cell phones. And Verizon. For the win. We took “screen shots” with the cell phone and emailed them to the office and they came back printed and everyone jumped in to work.
This is a five day class. To design and warp a loom with five yards of fabric, test wefts and weave off four yards is pretty challenging especially when you aren’t physically conditioned for it. To get 7 people to do it is even more challenging. But we did. They did. It was pretty awesome. I’m proud of all of them. Around 4pm the last day, knots started coming over the back beam and if you are a weaver, you know what that means.
So here is a look at what they produced…
And this one just made me smile. I adored this student, she had a cotton warp with some texture, which you might think, oh, dishtowels, but she ended up on an amazingly inspired choice weaving with lavender alpaca. I can’t wait to see what this fabric looks like washed.
So the morning of the last day, I got a huge reminder that the Thunder Mountain studios of Peters Valley School of Craft, where the weaving studio lives, is within a National Park Service recreation area. It is remote and the wilderness and wildlife will encroach on your space effortlessly, because really, you are residing in their space.
I pulled into the lot beside the weaving studio about 45 minutes before class, figuring there would be early risers that wanted to get to work. I saw this through my windshield.
I smiled. This big old black bear, looked at me and then climbed up that little tree, all 1000 pounds of him, ripped a big old branch out of the tree, climbed down and proceeded to strip the berries out of the branch, sitting on his butt, having his morning snack. It was glorious to see. He eventually sauntered off, down past the wood studio, and I went on in to open things up.
At lunch time the last day, Peters Valley has an auction, things donated by the assistants, instructors, friends of the Valley, and money made goes directly to help the studios which provided the items. I of course donated one of my handwoven scarves. Just before the auction started, the director Kristin got up to make an announcement. And she called me over. Uh-oh…
Yeah, so one of my students, whom I’ve known for a very long time, arranged for the biggest sheet cake I’ve ever seen, to celebrate my retirement. Really. I never in a million years thought I’ve get such a send off, because each place I taught at over the last 35 years was just a brief stopping point in my journey. Except Peters Valley. My career and that Valley have paralleled and became such an important part of my journey it wasn’t lost on me that my journey would end there.
Of course artists don’t retire. In fact I’ve never worked harder in my life. My YouTube channel The Weaver Sews consumes much of my week, writing script, creating samples or garments, rehearsing, and of course the actual production. I think we are up to 53 videos. In between I have stacks of drafts I want to put on my 39 looms (#39 is waiting for us in MA, my daughter will head up there to pick it up in the next couple weeks. A small 4 shaft Structo in perfect condition, found by a former college roommate of hers in a thrift shop for $50. Yeah, I know…)
I’m having so much fun, and working so hard, and for the first time really enjoying my home, gardens, studio and space, because they are mine and they suit me and I’m very very grateful.
I have a number of students who are flying in to take private and semi private classes with me throughout the fall. I’m looking forward to that, because I do like to teach. But I don’t have to load another suitcase ever again. And that makes me really smile.
The first night of the workshops, Peters Valley traditionally has the instructors for the week give 10 minute presentations about their work, and now they are simultaneously streaming them over Zoom, and posting the recordings on their YouTube channel. So here is my farewell speech about my work, it is 10 minutes starting at time code 10:17.
And so, I guess I’m officially retired, considering I had a party and all. But there is no beach or yacht or even a row boat in my future. Just lots of looms and yarn and fabric, and things to explore, classes to take. Actually I’m returning to the Valley the beginning of September to take a five day basketry class. That makes me smile… much more fun to make baskets than sit on a beach… though I could get into making baskets with a margarita…