Tucson, AZ I spent yesterday (2/21/2009) at the Southwest Indian Art Fair, held on the grounds of the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The fair draws a large group of artists from the Southwest and beyond but is smaller and more accessible than the much larger Heard Museum Indian Market that will be coming up in two weeks. The fair features a “Learn to Weave” demonstration tent that hosts several Navajo weavers and a group of volunteers and demonstrators from the Tucson Handweaver’s and Spinner’s Guild. Visitors to the tent can try carding, spinning and weaving Navajo style. For me, it’s a great reason to drive to Tucson, see old friends and meet some new ones.
This year, Barbara Jean Teller Ornelas, her sister Lynda Teller Pete and their families were doing the weaving and spinning demonstrations. Barbara’s using a wheelchair right now due to a nasty fall that left her with a broken ankle and 14 stitches in one of her knees. That’s Barbara at left using a support spindle to do a final spin on some of the extremely fine yarn that is needed for the 100+ weft per inch Two Grey Hills tapestries that Barbara and her sister are famous for. Here, she’s fully draws out the yarn and is getting ready to wind it on to the shaft of the spindle. I suggested that we might try a spinning race, and she said “OK, but I’m going to win!” She had a good point. I’m not too bad at spinning for a bilagáana (white person), but you’ve got to know your limits.
At right, you can see Barbara working to smooth the yarn before she adds any additional twist that’s needed and winds it on to her spindle. I should have taken another picture later in the day to show how much yarn she’d spun. It was incredible how much she’d been able to do considering all the people who stopped by to chat and lean more about the process.
Barbara’s sister, Lynda Teller Pete, also attracted large groups of people to her loom (see picture below at right). She is working on a very fine Two Grey Hills tapestry that has a weft count of over 100 per inch.
Lynda uses a black back cloth to help her see the fine weft yarns and passes the threads through the warp with a sacking needle to avoid damage to the warp. At left below, you can see a closer view of Lynda’s hands as she works on the tapestry. Although it might look like Lynda’s nearly done with this weaving, she thought she would be working on it for several more weeks.
Also demonstrating was Barbara’s son, Michael Ornelas, who is a very active weaver in addition to being a full time student at the University of Arizona. Michael is working on a tapestry grade red background piece that he hopes to have completed for the the Heard Museum show. That’s an ambitious goal when combined with his academic load. I didn’t get the dimensions of the weaving, but I think it’s about 18″ by 24″ and even an inch would take several hours to complete. You can see the partially completed rug below at left. At right, you can see one of Michael’s completed pieces, a Transitional Blanket design.
The show was well attended and although the artists say the have certainly felt the effects of the economy, they are adjusting their offerings and working to maintain the quality of their work at a high level.