Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Thrill for a Lifetime

“Over, under, over under....a thrill for a lifetime.” 
(Sarah Swett)
Fate, Destiny and Self Determination/ le Sort, le Destin et l'Auto-Determination
Dayton Memorial Library, Doyle and Margaret Hartman Gallery, Regis University, 3333 Regis Blvd, Denver, Colorado 

I’ve just returned from Golden, Colorado from setting up the exhibition, Fate, Destiny and Self Determination: an International tapestry installation at the Doyle and Margaret Hartman Gallery situated at Regis University. Aneesha Parrone invited me to bring the installation to this venue, and assisted and co-curated the exhibition. While this was a plan we had made at least a year ago, about 2 months prior to its confirmed date, I discovered that Sarah Swett was to give a tapestry workshop at The Recycled Lamb, also situated in Golden.  I had already tried to lure Sarah to give a workshop through the Toronto Weaving School but she had declined, as she is apprehensive about travelling. I recognized the rare opportunity it was to be under her tutelage and that one could not be sure if such an opportunity would arise again, so I signed up for it. It seemed so serendipitous that she would be there while I was setting up the exhibition! Debbie Harris, a friend  who has been taking my weaving classes for many years, also joined me and off we went for our incredible weaving adventure!

As a teacher, Sarah is animated, dynamic, effusive and vibrant and this comes through in her tapestries. Throughout the tapestry workshop, Sarah talked about how and from whom she acquired her weaving techniques and practices. She constantly referred to the several instructors she has had: Archie Brennan, Susan Martin Maffei,  Mary Lane, Jean Pierre Larochette and Yael Lurie. From these experiences, and from relentless tapestry weaving, Sarah distilled her own tapestry weaving techniques and approaches, based on what worked best for her.  We all benefitted not only from Sarah’s teaching, but also that of all the other teachers she has studied with.

Waves of quiet, then waves of animated conversation between participants and with Sarah ebbed and flowed throughout the four days. She gave students constant feedback and support and addressed all the topics we presented her with. Her self-awareness, mindfulness and responsiveness created a stimulating environment in which to practice the techniques she discussed and encouraged us to undertake.

Many things struck me about Sarah’s approach to tapestry weaving. Sarah works spontaneously almost all the time, continuously making intuitive decisions as she weaves her tapestries. She works from a black and white drawing the size of her tapestry, and the colour choices only reveal themselves as she weaves. Her weaving of weft is not formulaic, nor does she become complacent by relying upon a prescribed image where all is predetermined at the outset. She emphasizes that her weaving practice is about being in the moment, and along with that, the struggles, or what she calls her ‘microdramas’ play out as she weaves -  an assortment of tensions created by constant decision making, and in this way, remains connected to her inspiration which in turn, makes her tapestries inspiring. Her main message to aspiring tapestry weavers is to “trust your intuition”.
Rebecca Mezoff
As though tapestry weaving is not already a lengthy and time consuming process, Swett also spins the bulk of her yarn, both warp and weft, and in addition dyes them with natural dyes. Her passion for tapestry weaving and the yarn she spins is intense and unabating. What is also clear is that Swett has given herself with abandon to her spinning and tapestry weaving.

What makes Sarah's work especially distinctive is her fertile imagination which forms her own aesthetic, and brings to that her own authentic and genuine self, undisguised and searingly honest. Her joy emanates from all she creates. There are distinguishing elements that are repeated in Sarah’s tapestries – little coloured boxes that often form frames around the tapestries and sometimes find their way into the tapestry’s image. Slits are ubiquitous, as well as her sense of humour.

With each series, Sarah establishes a set of parameters that will present new technical challenges. Looking at the several series that she has created ( on her blog http://www.afieldguidetoneedlework.com/ ), you will be able to observe what some of her challenges have been. Her blog also documents her process and progress. Like herself, it is delightful, fun, witty and intelligent.

I enjoyed weaving tapestry with other tapestry weavers who respected  tapestry as much as I did. It was a pleasure getting to know them, one of which I had already been acquainted with on the internet -  Rebecca Mezoff, herself an accomplished tapestry weaver who studied with James Koehler. This was my first time weaving tapestry with other tapestry weavers, and it was an energizing  and stimulating experience. It has left me raring to get going on my next series, and better able to technically address the issues that will arise while I weave them.

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