Before my first child was born, I painted still life and landscapes, in addition to learning to weave. When we lived on the east side of Cincinnati, I met a woman who taught an art class at a community center near our apartment. She would set up a busy still life with an ornate andiron or vase, artificial flowers, fabric draped behind this, and strings of beads or other artifacts. I think she had the class using oil paints.
Most of my oil paintings were a mess. I didn’t know how to keep them from becoming muddy. My best painting from that time is Baubles ‘n Beads. Today it hangs happily in my laundry room covering the fuse box. It is just the right size and I get to see it every day as I walk by.
When we outgrew the one-bedroom apartment, we moved across town to the west side. The neighborhood painting class was held in the basement of the library, a few blocks from where we lived on the second floor of a duplex.
In that class I used acrylic paint
and my paintings were brighter.
I set up my own still life
arrangements using things like
lids to pans, shoes, and fabric
scraps from my sewing projects.
But most of my creative time was spent on weaving.
The idea of tying knots is that they will hold something together and it won’t easily come apart. Fishermen and sailors use a lot of knots for different things—tying the sails, tying up to the dock, tying a lure on a fish line. People have been tying knots for thousands of years.
In the 1970s, macramé was being used everywhere from plant hangers to purses. Among other things, I made a coral color vest with Aunt Lydia’s Rug Yarn, all in macramé.
Ten or fifteen years later my basket maker friends were making small baskets made of half-hitch knots over a Styrofoam shape. After making a few of those, I carved an odd shape out of a piece of packing foam and started knotting. It turned out to be somewhat of a fish shape, but without fins. Totally useless but fun to do.
I discovered that knotting has a practical use for me. I sometimes have trouble staying awake if I’m sitting and listening all day in a class or conference. If I take a small knotting project with me, I can tie knots with the item in my lap while I listen and I don’t fall asleep.
Today I’m attending the local Writer’s Conference at The University of the Pacific (UOP) in Stockton. This is my fourth year to participate in this friendly conference. It is organized by Scott Evans, a professor at UOP. The conference features three days of presentations with published authors, agents, a banquet with two speakers at a local restaurant, and a chance to mingle with fellow writers.
The campus is a beautiful gem. We are so fortunate to have this university here. The parking is free and it is four miles down the road from my house.
At the beginning of 2014, I started writing something for my family about the art I had made since I was a child. At the time of the 2014 writer’s conference, I had 166 pages written and I wasn’t sure what to do with them.
The conference speakers were inspiring and encouraging, but most importantly I was able to connect with others who wanted to meet regularly to critique each other’s work.
Each year I have learned the next step on this writing journey.
Driving back into Livermore from the Yosemite trips involved going over the Altamont Pass. After 38 years, and probably hundreds of trips over this pass, the view is still awesome.
Livermore is surrounded by golden hills. The windmills had not yet been erected. Once they started to appear, I wanted to show the hills as I remembered them in their pristine state. An image of the gold hills against the blue sky with freshly cut fire-breaks became a large tapestry.
The tapestry technique I use was developed by Theo Moorman, a weaver from England. It is a faster way to weave a pictorial image than traditional French tapestry. In traditional tapestry, wool yarn is woven in small sections on a thick warp and packed down tightly to make a heavy wall hanging.
Moorman tapestry can be done on almost any kind of warp. When the warp is wound, a fine, almost invisible, polyester thread is wound with it. The main warp is threaded alternately on harnesses one and two. The fine threads are threaded alternately on harnesses three and four. The background, which will be under the image, is woven as plain weave with harnesses one and three vs. harnesses two and four.
The colored yarns that make the image are laid across the background, while the fine thread on harness three is raised above them. When harness three is lowered, it holds down the colored yarn as the next background yarn is woven with harnesses two and four raised. Then harness four is raised, the colored thread laid in and harness four is lowered. The image is held in place by the fine threads.
This is a way of painting with yarn. All kinds of specialty yarns can be used to create abstract or realistic scenes.
In 1980, my boys were old enough to get up and make their own breakfast. My looms were in an upstairs room that by 10 a.m. became too hot to work in during the summer. I’d get up with Ray, pack his lunch, eat my breakfast, and then go upstairs and weave between 8:00 and 10:00 every day. Having two hours daily for weaving was wonderful, and resulted in many tapestries over the next four summers.
In June of 1979, my husband, our two sons, and I, had been in California for ten months and we were ready to explore the surrounding area. As soon as school let out for the summer, we took a weekend trip to see Yosemite National Park.
The waterfalls were full and spectacular as we wandered around on the valley floor. We went to Glacier Point. Saw climbers on Half-Dome. We toured the lobby of the Ahwahnee Hotel and watched a group of artists sketching the falls. We ate at Wawona, the lodge at the south entrance to the park.
The trek to Yosemite became an annual get-away as soon as school was out—a reward for making it through another year.
Having grown up in Ohio, with nice straight roads and few hills, I discovered that in California the winding mountain roads easily made me nauseous. The solution was for me to drive those roads. Holding the wheel and keeping my eyes on the road ahead calmed my stomach.
One year, on the drive back to Livermore on Route 120, I watched the snow-covered mountains recede in the rear view mirror as I drove across the valley.
The next week, I put a blue cotton warp on my loom and threaded it for Moorman Tapestry weave. The yarn was a perfect sky color, so I wove the image I’d seen on the drive home.
In the early 1980s I was making woven pieces and attaching them
to pieces of driftwood. Sometimes the driftwood had a damaged end that I wanted to alter, so I took some basic wood carving classes sponsored by Livermore Recreation at “The Barn”.
I learned to use an assortment of gouges to make a relief carving—where the image emerges out of a solid piece of wood, and the uncarved edges form the frame. This is like a picture, as opposed to a free-standing 3-D carving.
June 13, 1965 is the day I was married to Ray Erickson. Ray was a dedicated stamp collector. He didn’t have much use for hand-made woven things, so I made him a carving of one of his favorite commemorative stamps as a Christmas gift. After carving the image, I painted it to match the stamp.
In wood carving, the artist needs to think the opposite of what he does with other art forms. Carving or sculpting requires you to remove the parts of the picture or image that don’t belong there. In painting, print making, drawing, collage, and clay work the artist is adding materials to define and enhance the desired image.
Carving totally turns your mind around. It creates new connections in your brain.
Carving a rubber stamp of your initials or a favorite image will do the same thing.
My final senior art project in high school turned out to be another huge endeavor. The assignment was to replicate, in mosaic tile, a painting by a famous artist. The choice of the painting was entirely up to us, but it needed to be something that would translate into small bits of color.
I was also writing a final paper for senior English on Van Gogh, so I had books of his work, and it made sense to me to select one of his paintings. His jabs-of-paint style was perfect for pieces of ceramic tile.
I selected his painting of “Old Peasant” (August 1888), and made it slightly larger than his original 27.75 x 22.75-inch painting. Mine measures 30 x 24 inches.
I worked on it daily in the two-hour art class and any other free time at school. I brought it home on Friday several times and worked on it all weekend. I had to get it done before graduation to get credit for the art class. It’s hard to hurry a large mosaic that needs to look like a painting.
My dad built a frame for it out of some scrap wood he had, and we covered it with burlap. The rope around the edge was Dad’s idea too.
Everyone in the family refers to the mosaic as “Vincent”. It resided at my parents’ home in Ohio for a number of years. When we moved to California, we had a fireplace faced with a brick wall going up to the ceiling that needed something dramatic, so “Vincent” came to the West Coast.
The large size and vibrant colors create the drama. It wouldn’t be the same if it was only 8 x 10 inches.
Humm. . . maybe I should work bigger—I haven’t done that for several years now.
One of the first baskets I made using twining (tw-I-ning) came out very different than I expected. The basket developed a twist instead of having straight sides. Twining is a technique using two lengths of yarn that circle around the basket, crossing each other in between each upright spoke. Cord, wire, or strong natural materials can also be used for twining.
In this basket, for the upright spokes I used six medium-size cotton cords alternated with three large-size pieces of sisal rope giving me a total of thirty-six spokes. This arrangement creates the interesting effect of two different size columns going up the basket.
One piece of yarn is behind spoke number one and the other yarn is in front of spoke number one. I bring the behind yarn forward between spoke one and two. Then I place the front yarn over the one I brought forward in the space between spokes one and two. What started as the front yarn is now the back yarn going around spoke two. I bring this yarn forward in the space between spokes two and three which starts the movement over. So, the two pieces of yarn are crossing each other between each spoke. This is repeated around the basket until it is the desired size.
Once the basket maker becomes familiar with this movement, the work can go quickly, depending on the fibers used.
The twist in the basket is often not easily noticeable until you are some distance up the sides of the basket. I’m not exactly sure why the twist occurs. I think it is partly due to the grouping of different size spokes.
The way I hold the basket as I’m working also contributes to the twist. I hold the basket upside down with the spokes coming toward my body. I’m going around the basket in a counter-clockwise direction, because it is upside down. I hold three or four spokes in my left hand, while I manipulate the two weavers with my right hand.
I have gotten some version of this twist effect on a number of baskets. They all look different depending on the type of materials.
Today is the 103rd anniversary of the birth of my husband’s mother, Grace Louise Sogge Erickson. I first met this lovely woman in the summer of 1961 when I enjoyed going to movies and picnics with her older son, Ray. She was patiently waiting for their house in Parma, Ohio to sell so they could move to Atlanta, Georgia, where Ray’s father, Vincent, had been transferred.
I always felt welcome and accepted in her home. We had common interests in Hand-Work. When Ray and I visited his parents after we were married, Grace would sit with the family all evening doing counted cross-stitch which became Christmas gifts under the tree. She also took up ceramic painting and machine embroidery.
When I learned to weave and bought a floor loom, she was interested in what I was making. At their annual visits, she brought me bags of fabric and yarn she had found at a sale somewhere.
When I started going to college at the age of forty-two, Grace encouraged me to continue, saying she thought it was good for a woman to have a profession. She was a pharmacist. While I was in grad school, she sent me a little wood plaque to stand on my desk that said, “Follow Your Dream”.
Sadly, she wasn’t here on earth to see how the dream has played out in the last twenty-seven years. Her kindness and love made a huge impact on my life.