The end of the year always leads to reflection, and this year I was reading through the essays that I wrote for my MA coursework. Each year we were required to write an essay on contextual studies that we had done through the year, and for my first year, I selected two weavers, Philippa Brock and Lia Cook. I have had the immense pleasure to meet both weavers on several occasions and to attend conferences with them.
My first exposure to Lia’s work came in 2002, with a landmark (for me) trip to Washington DC to attend the conference and exhibition Technology as Catalyst: Textile Artists on the Cutting Edge. When I first saw the advert for the exhibition in a textile magazine, I thought how lovely it would be to go, but didn’t dream that it would actually happen. Then I saw it again and again, and each time the desire to go, that somehow this was important in my life, grew deeper and deeper. In the end, I decided to apply for grants, and if I got them, I’d be able to go, but if I didn’t, then that wasn’t the path the universe wanted me to pursue.
I got all the grants I applied for.
It was an amazing trip. I got in touch with the Handweavers Guild of America and met up with Ruth Blau and Janet Stollnitz, a meeting that led to me joining WeaveTech and Complex Weavers, both of which enlarged my weaving world immensely and Complex Weavers in particular is continuing to challenge and extend my knowledge. The exhibition was incredible. Susan Brandeis‘ work was the image on the advert that I had seen which had inspired the desire to go, and it was a pleasure to meet her and hear her talking about her work. Carol Westfall’s work at the entrance to the exhibition was also highly inspiring and she was so delightful and sharing with her artistic approach. Junco Sato Pollack’s work was also represented, along with Cynthia Schira, who I was also inspired by. Hitoshi Ujiie was also featured. But Lia’s work was quite breathtaking.
The main piece stood 140″ tall and dominated the wall. It was huge-scale, complex, full of intricate maze-like colour-and-weave effects in pointillistic effects with the overall image of a young child (in fact, Lia herself) Big Baby. It had an amazing WOW factor, and was so impressive, especially (for me) on close-up inspection where colour-and-weave effects took hold. I have always been fascinated by the pointillist painters and in photo-montages that are more than the sum of their parts and this really appealed to me.
Lia’s work with the the jacquard loom got me fascinated about the possibilities of jacquard weaving. And just two years later, I was able to rescue Hattie from the scrapyard and that led me to going to Florence, Italy, to learn how to weave jacquard at the Lisio Foundation, and then to acquire my lovely baby jacquard sample handlooms which were the teaching looms at the University of Leeds from the 1880s.
At the conference, I also sat next to Paulina Ortiz, a fabulous Costa Rican textile artist, whose work is continually inspiring and who I have remained in contact with. She encouraged me to enter the Women in Textile Art (now renamed World Textile Art) international exhibition in 2006 in Costa Rica which I was selected for, which led to an amazing trip to Costa Rica and an insight into a culture so different to mine, and more friendships with textile practitioners from South America.
Back to the essay.
Philippa Brock is one of the UK’s most influential and leading weave tutors, leading the weave programme at Central Saint Martins in London. Her students have access to one of the best weaving brains in the country and a networker who continually engages with industry. She set up The WeaveShed, a network website which brings weave education, industry, and art together into the same space, with funding from the Worshipful Company of Weavers.
My MA project (which has continued) was looking at how to weave three-dimensionally in order to express how geology affects the earth, through earthquakes, strata layers, erosion processes, and stalactites. My research into Lia and Philippa was to see how they worked with scientists in their respective projects – Lia with neurologists looking into how brains respond to weave as opposed to printed photos, and Philippa with a biophysicist looking at the structure of a virus, and also working in three-dimensions. Their work is still inspiring me today, and I hope the essay will be of interest to weavers, students and scientists alike in showing how textiles have a valid role to play in expressing, explaining and inspiring ideas between science and weave which have implications for both sides of the collaboration.