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The Beneficial Handicap

"Water the fruit trees, and don't water the thorns" - Rumi

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Cruising through the Rockies this week on the path from the Coast to a family reunion in Alberta, I found myself relating to my surroundings with a weaver's eye. A logging truck passing by in late afternoon sun elicits a shape-building solution. A mountain tree-line emerging through fog becomes an exercise in irregular hachures, and the sodium lights in a highway tunnel will need some fierce and fiery orange silk to do them justice.

The world is a beautiful place and the act of rendering bits of its gorgeousness in tapestry seems like a good way to honor it. The generosity of nature plus the reduction of her endless permutation into a system of woven pattern equals a prayer of gratitude for being here to witness and participate. I can't help but strive to capture this in a woven form. Tapestry, as Archie Brennan pointed out to me, is my handicap.

I choose to weave my images because the art of weaving is the process that most clearly trains my mind and allows my spirit to be fully expressed. I weave tapestries because I want to develop more of the qualities embodied in the space that tapestry holds for human consciousness.

First I will explain what I mean by holding the space, and then I will enumerate certain qualities I am learning from the practice of discontinuous weft tapestry.

Holding the space refers to the role and availability of a cohesive body of wisdom teachings, gathered and refined over the span of human existence and based on long experience of trial and error. An example would be that Medicine holds the space for healing paradigms to relieve physical ailments. This experience-based knowledge can be referenced through lectures, books and internship, yet it exists in the ethers as a Reality beyond these human access points. Doctors and all healers open this space when they practice, and ultimately help hold the space for Medicine to persist in the world.

Tapestry as a body of knowledge is holding the space for several beneficial paradigms beyond what can be seen from a finished work. Weaving a work or interacting with a work may open this space in the consciousness of the participants- the weaver or the observer, but the space itself is a Reality beyond their personal experience, and into which they tap upon contact with this art medium.

The space that Tapestry holds is built from millennia of human discovery and expression, from the first time a weaver stopped her/his shuttle part way on the trajectory across the weft and had the thought to turn around. It was invented serially in several parts of the world by diverse civilizations, and practiced by all tiers of society- often under both humble circumstances and by the nobility. I hold that this web of continuity has contributed to a psycho-spiritual Reality available to anyone who now participates as a guardian of this lineage.

For a designer or weaver to make her- or himself available to this space is to open up to trouble-free sessions of inspiration and to protection from the entanglements of the technical process. Fewer bobbins fall to the floor, wefts pass with ease, warps hold their tension yet yield to the weaver's hand as it reaches into the shed. To believe in this space is to accept a download of information from weavers and cartoon makers in the near and far past. The challenge in opening to it is to stay rooted in one's individuality and personal artistic development.

On this topic, the path of personal expression has not presented me with an Autobahn of freedom. Client-driven projects don't always rank in modern art culture and dealer philosophy. I have had periods of insecurity and self-consciousness around weaving custom work for a living. Despite occasionally taking client tastes into account in design work, I grow bolder as I understand more about the larger Reality I contribute to. I know without a doubt that the second half of my career involves expanding my own vision and awareness, and embodying Truth over Fantasy in subject matter. I continue refining my passion around light and color and simplifying my preoccupation with detail, striving always for more purity and clarity. When in doubt, I weave it indigo.

From an authentic practice I endeavor to absorb the following qualities that I believe are embodied by this medium. Without constant practice of tapestry I would be too distracted, too lazy, or too wrapped up in the importance of my own emotions to see the value in opening to them. They are, among others: Integrity, Truth, Genius, Vulnerability, Refinement and Unification. The discipline of the medium embodies Integrity. The fact that one cannot fake the medium is a study in Truth. The endless variation of individual expression personifies Genius. The Vulnerability of Tapestry in the face of Modernity exemplifies my hope for a peaceful future that celebrates the eternal over the flavor of the month, and the quiet sage over the loud politician. Through its refinement of process it speaks to the refinement of the human spirit. Through its cultural and historical pervasiveness it speaks to understanding and tolerance between cultures and faiths.

Lastly, I sense that in the humble and private act of tapestry weaving, I am fortunate to open to a timelessness held by the nature of the medium. To be fully present at the loom is to sit in meditation, the mind busy with a moving mudra of tasks while the soul opens to communication with its Source. For me, this is the essence of freedom, and a clue to understanding the resonance in all tapestry works.

Ruth Jones July 2004

- published in Tapestry Topics, the journal of The American Tapestry Alliance, Fall 2004 (vol. 30 n 3), Fall 2004

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