A textile trip to a beautiful city

I had the good fortune to be able to go to the Textile Society of America conference last week in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. the theme of this conference was The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global.

What a beautiful city Vancouver is. I hadn’t been there before and I enjoyed everything from good food to public transportation to some amazing public parks and beaches.

I signed up for the conference because I felt a need to expand my awareness of the fiber world. The conference is largely academic, but I like that kind of thing. It gave me a chance to hear what people are researching in the world of fiber and to find some wonderful inspiration in papers, keynotes, exhibitions, and talking to other attendees.

The conference opened with a reception at the Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus. This museum has a wide-ranging collection of artifacts from all around the world, but it focuses on local indigenous culture. The main room of the museum contains massive poles from nearby tribes. Walking into that room down a long ramp, facing the forest of poles and looking out massive windows on nature and the ocean beyond, was powerful.

I spent much of a day at the Museum of Anthropology and to get a broader perspective on their collections, I joined an overview tour. The museum is mostly full of artifacts from indigenous cultures, but there is one room that houses the collection of European ceramics donated by Walter Koerner. The tour actually started in this room but I hung in there thinking maybe I’d learn something, and the ceramics were interesting once I heard a deeper story. While the docent was speaking, I turned around and spotted this, a Ruth Jones tapestry.

Ruth Jones tapestry (surrounded by flying plates), silk and wool, woven 1990

I was able to talk to Ruth later that evening and I asked her about the tapestry. She said, “oh, so you saw the flying plates!” We had a good laugh about the installation which does indeed look like the ceramics are flying around the tapestry. (see detail in gallery below)

The floral theme was inspired by floral motifs on the faience, Dutch still-life paintings contemporary to the faience, and live flower specimens also known to have been cultivated in seventeenth century Europe. . . . In this work the border has been done away with, and the heraldic motto reincorporated into the main image as in the early millefleurs. However, rather than the flowers supporting the words, the words support the flowers in a shrine to nature. May nature herself prevail!
— Artist statement about the tapestry

There are a large number of textiles in the collection and you can see many of them due to the ingenious drawer system this museum has. They are not amenable to photography though! There is a large contemporary Musqueam weaving in the main gallery by Debra and Robyn Sparrow woven in 1999.

The blanket is about healing the soul, the mind, and the body. It is a new beginning. We hope that the spirit in this blanket will touch all those who see it.
— Debra and Robyn Sparrow about the Musqueam blanket

Debra and Robyn Sparrow, contemporary Musqueam blanket, woven 1999

I spent a lot of time that day looking through those drawers at other textiles and objects, learning what I could about the indigenous cultures of the northwest coast and in the evening, I enjoyed the opening reception for the TSA conference.


The conference opened the next morning with a beautiful First Nations Welcome by Xwalacktun, Order of British Columbia, Squamish First Nation. He made us laugh and he welcomed us to his ancestral lands. I was happy to hear throughout the conference the recognition that we were meeting on unceded Musqueam territory. Most presenters took the time to acknowledge this.

The keynote address was given by Meghann O’Brien. Her talk was fascinating and her themes were underscored by her current exhibition at the Bill Reid gallery which I was able to see a few days later (there is a catalog if you can’t go see the show). I think Meghann’s opening thoughts set the tone for the entire conference so well. She talked about her experiences growing up in Alert Bay, her reverence for the land and it’s bounty, and the fact that we as humans have stopped listening to the earth. She talked about her process and her work, her inspiration, and the wish to return the art to the community to be used in ceremony. Ceremonial regalia is being sold as art. She is questioning the role of weaving today and wanting to honor the garments that were meant to be worn. Take the traditional Tlingit Raven’s Tail garment below. This garment took her a long time to weave (a year or more?) and it has been exhibited since it was finished. She wishes it to return to her tribe for ceremony and so has been working with 3D printer technologies to replicate it for show so the original can return to be used in the manner it was intended.

This textile is twined and I believe woven from top to bottom. She hand-spun the wool with the traditional thigh-spinning technique. I was inspired by the reverence with which she processed and used the mountain goat wool, a truly unique fiber to work with.

Jaad Kuujus (Meghann O’Brien), Sky Blanket, merino wool, cashmere, mountain goat wool

The image below was a snapshot from a slide during Meghann’s keynote address. I was able to see this basket in her show at Bill Reid Gallery, Interface. This basket is two by two inches. She said this was so during her talk, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it in person. It is an amazing creation. From the catalog for the show about this piece:

On a most basic fundamental level, a basket is just a collection of single strands. Without the joining and relations between these strands and the act of weaving, the basket itself would not exist. In the same way, as people, our relationships bind us.

Jay Simeon is a relative on the Haida side of my family. . . . Recently a collector asked if I would be open to having Jay paint my most recent basket. I originally wove this basket to be entirely plain, inspired by the work of Agnes Martin. I was exploring my own version of the grid, and my connection to it as a weaver.
— Jaad Kuujus

Jaad Kuujus (Meghann O’Brien), One Does Not Exist Without the Other, yellow cedar bark, acrylic paint, 2 x 2 inches

I heard many papers during the conference. Some were definitely inspiring. I heard Madelyn Shaw and Trish FitzSimons talk about their project, The Fabric of War and then later saw the pieces of their yet unfinished film (I can’t wait to see the finished movie!). Their work is all around the importance of wool as a driver of economy throughout the last 150 years. Wool is such an amazing fiber and I had not thought about the economic implications of its use especially in times of war.

Another favorite talk was part of a set about cultural appropriation. Dakota Mace, a young Diné scholar from Albuquerque, NM, talked about the fine line between inspiration and theft. This subject is near to my heart having grown up with the Diné and having some good friends among their weavers. It is impossible to communicate this complicated subject in a post like this, but here is a quote from Dakota’s abstract. I heard this theme from many different people throughout the symposium.

Stereotypes continue to perpetuate negative connotations for Indigenous peoples, and it creates a displacement between Native identity in relation to culture. Identity is difficult to understand because Indigenous people are creating a resistance against cultural oppression, yet there still needs to be a reexamination of how Native people define themselves through design. The association to symbolism within Native cultures are held at high regard spiritually, this is because each mark is a reference back to either creation stories or ceremonies. For Indigenous cultures the existence of motifs have been passed down for thousands of years as well as adopted through many nations and communities. Contemporary Native artists today continue to sell to “non” natives in order to sustain themselves as well as keep their traditions alive. This included of course, the adoption of American culture intermixed with Native culture to sell to a certain audience, which were people who still associate stereotypes about Indigenous people.
— Dakota Mace, abstract for Woven Juxtaposition: Discourse on the Appropriation of Native American Design and Symbolism

Rather amazingly, this talk was followed by an examination of a particular item of French couture from 18th century France. The best part of this set of talks about cultural appropriation was the way several persons of color stood up afterwards and said, no, you all have it wrong. I really appreciated the strong words aimed at the last two speakers (the two following Dakota Mace) because they really didn’t seem to get it. One woman simply said, “it is simple. If it isn’t yours, don’t use it.” I don’t think the issue is as clear-cut as that, but I believe that is a most excellent starting point for determining whether a symbol or design can be used in art or fashion.


Some other explorations…

I loved the aquabus. It only takes about two minutes to get over to Granville Island, but what fun! Aren’t Vancouver ferries gay?

I loved the aquabus. It only takes about two minutes to get over to Granville Island, but what fun! Aren’t Vancouver ferries gay?

I had a wonderful time Friday evening on Granville Island. Who wouldn’t in the company of these people?

Tapestry artists on Granville Island, B.C., Canada: Barbara Heller (in her studio), Michael Rohde, Linda Wallace, Jane Kidd, Rebecca Mezoff

I visited both of Maiwa’s stores on the island (see photos in gallery below). Charllotte Kwon, owner of Maiwa, gave the closing plenary for the conference. I heard her give a different keynote at the Association of Northwest Weaver’s Conference in Victoria last year.*

In her closing plenary, Charllotte talked more about her recent work in India and the social fabric we’d been talking about all week. She asked what is the relationship of artisans to their craft? She talked about the slow clothes movement and how economics and culture are inseparable. She also said more than once that she is a trader and not an academic. She sees the effects of people buying cheap clothing first hand and she also sees what can happen when artisans have some support to sell their beautiful textiles around the world.

On Granville Island I was also able to see Sola Fiedler’s show. I’ve seen images of her monumental place tapestries over the years, but this was the first time I was able to see them in person. They are impressive in the way monumental size is always impressive. They were also amazingly detailed. In the Vancouver tapestry, I was able to pick out the exact hotel I was staying in. The Las Vegas tapestry was similarly accurate. I did love how she used metallic thread to imitate lights so accurately. (See gallery below for more photos.) I believe the sett was about 8 epi and there were many details added with embroidery. Notice in the gallery photos the texture used to create the hills in the Salt Lake City piece.

Sola Fiedler, Vancouver, 11.6 x 5.3 feet

I enjoyed Vancouver a lot. You can see more photos of my trip with comments in the gallery below. I walked in Stanley Park, took the train and bus to areas south of downtown and to the university. And I found a lot of very good gluten free food. Thanks Vancouver.

One of the most special things I did was visit Barbara Heller’s tapestry show at the Jewish Community Center with her. I’ll dedicate a separate blog post to that visit.

Below is a gallery of more photos from my trip. If you are reading this blog post in your email, you might want to go and look at the gallery online HERE. Otherwise you’ll see these as a long string of images without captions. If you visit the blog online, you can see the gallery with captions which provide more information.

Click the photo to enlarge, hover for caption, arrow to move to the next photo.

*In that linked post, I talk about how nice Canadians are. After this trip, I still believe Canadians are an especially nice people, but I now attribute that to the fact that they have health care. I think they just feel better than Americans because when they are sick, they go see the doctor and actually get treatment.