My Life With Textiles
Textiles speak to me like no other art form can. The color, structure, texture, and design of textiles has been an irresistible combination for me since my early development as an artist. My interest began while growing up in Ohio with the pieced quilts I would see in homes. The possibilities of color and design fascinated me. I sought them out in junk shops and flea markets and my career as a collector began. I made several attempts at making my own pieced quilts while I was in college and soon developed a great respect and admiration for anyone with the hands-on ability make them. Sewing was not one of my skills. When my parents moved our family to Arizona when I was in high school I discovered the graphic quality and texture of Navaho weaving. I could only afford small sample patches sold in curio shops for tourists, but my textile collection expanded to include weaving along with quilting. Later during my college years a trip to Mexico opened my eyes further to the beauty of hand-loomed textiles. I still have the first piece I bought there almost 40 years ago, an intricately patterned, tightly woven wool poncho. My particular skill has always been more in the realm of graphic arts and design. I spent many years working in the design field as a decorative painter, so my interest in textiles was mainly collecting. Traveling to Southeast Asia was a life-changing experience for me. I felt like I had finally arrived home the first time I stepped off the plan in Thailand in 1990. Since then I’ve made many trips throughout SE Asia, with textiles always the focus of my itinerary. My bags were always stuffed with textiles when I came back so my collection grew with my travel habit. Sometimes I would sell a few pieces to friends, colleagues, and clients as a means of supporting my habit.This gradually grew into an idea for a business, “The Language of Cloth”.
I now maintain an inventory of high quality textiles from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia for sale to shops, boutiques, and gift stores. I also present textiles to the public in trunk sales, and an annual open studio sale during the month of December in San Francisco. The range of products is wide:clothing and accessories such as scarves, shawls, shirts, skirts, pants,sarongs, hats, ethnic pieces: home accessories such as wall hangings, bed covers, pillow covers, table covers, and table runners; tribal textiles for collectors, and one-of-a-kind original textile art pieces.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet many dedicated artisans who create brilliant textiles based on centuries old traditions and techniques. I’ve seen that often textiles embody the elemental expression of the purest cultural traits of a people. Textiles are in fact a language without words, with meaning woven deep into their fibers. Unfortunately the modern global economy has taken a toll on much traditional indigenous weaving cultures. Many traditions and techniques are being lost because they have become increasingly unsustainable economically. More often than not the artisans making the textiles are very low on the economic ladder. Young people reject the traditions of their elders because there is no future in it for them, no chance to improve their living standards. I decided to do something more than just buying and selling with my business. I wanted to promote indigenous textiles by helping to improve the living standards of the artisans and their families. So whenever it is possible I buy directly from the maker of the product. I work with some weavers and communities to help develop textile products for the global market, while encouraging traditional weaving, and respecting its integrity. I pay a fair price for the work always mindful that in the world marketplace, the artisan who made the textile is usually the one who benefits least.
My own development as an artist has finally found a channel for expression in the textile arts through the traditions of batik-making in central Java. Batik embodies the ideal synthesis of graphic art and textile art. My range of skills as a decorative artist are closely aligned with those required for batik-making: designing, drawing, and coloring. When I first discovered batik in Java I realized that I wanted to explore this medium in my own work. I traveled all over Java visiting every batik-making area I could find, and collected the works of the best batik-makers. I studied the craft and collaborated with Hartono of Wirama Wastra Batik in Sragen, Central Java to produce an an amazing stream of original designs over the last five years for The Language of Cloth. Much of the silk used was hand woven in Laos and Cambodia and the designs were a synthesis of traditional Javanese motifs with a cross cultural palette of motifs from around the world.