Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lois Gaylord introduces "Threads of Spirit, Cloths of Meaning"

Artist Lois Gaylord recommends a book during her talk at the CQA December 13 meeting.
In a month full of traditional ceremonies, the speaker for the December 13 CQA meeting was an apt choice: Seattle-area artist Lois Gaylord, a master weaver of ceremonial cloths. Gaylord spoke of these cloths as being of or having "spirit"--a concept given different names by every religion. For example, the Jews have a hundred different names for "force" or "spirit." She considers any textile with more than a practical purpose to be a cloth of meaning, and this can include anything from an altar cloth to a child's security blanket.

"Anything with more than a practical purpose can be a cloth of meaning," said Gaylord.
Representation of a thick rope of three 2-strand fibers, reconstructed from a fossil found in cave in Lascaux, France, from 15,000 B.C.
Gaylord began her presentation by pointing out that thread has been a basic and connecting element from ancient times. Thread appeared in various forms, including twisted into rope, more than 20,000 years ago--even before man began to cultivate grain. 

The three Norns from Norse mythology, spinning, weaving and cutting thread. (Art by Kevin  Cain, Gaylord's husband)
Ancient Anatolian kilim depicts the weaving goddess in several ways.
Every civilization had a spinning and weaving goddess who was the theme of many artworks. Greek sculptures show the Three Fates spinning and cutting thread, and the same theme is seen in depictions of the Norns in Norse mythology. Anatolian kilim, at 9,000 years of age one of the oldest known fabrics, frequently featured several different representations of the goddess. 

Designs in raffia textiles from the former Zaire serve to identify the user's status.
"In those times," Gaylord said, "there was no distinction between religious and everyday uses of cloth." In the former Zaire, the Kuba people created textiles of raffia with designs that "identified you and your place in society." This was important, Gaylord added, "so that when these cloths were used in burials, you could be identified by your departed family members when you arrived in the land of the dead."

Japanese ceremonial gown woven of hemp fibers
Above, traditional Tibetan prayer flags. Below, a modern interpretation by CQA member-artist  Sharon Rowley, using the traditional five colors.
Rowley's 9-flag "Prayer Song" is 20 feet long, repeats three designs three times each
Other examples of early cloths prepared for sacred uses were initiated in Japan, including weavings made from hemp fibers and others of fibers from the mulberry plant. Prayer flags came into use in Nepal in 1000 B.C. These were used in sets of five, one in each of five colors--blue for sky, red for fire, yellow for earth, white for air, and green for water. The prayer flags were not intended to direct prayers to God, but rather  to promote peace and spread goodwill to all via the fluttering wind until they naturally disintegrated.

Above and below, "sazigyo" strips from Burma have texts of prayers woven into them.
From Burma came a different style of prayer cloth--sazigyo. Here the text of a prayer is woven into a long strip resembling a tape. Frequently people would order these for donation to a monastery, often to "earn merit."

Above, heavily embroidered stole in the  tradition  of Christian ministers. Below, a modern interpretation done in felt with appliques by Seattle weaver Leah Adams.
Moving toward more modern times, Gaylord showed images of stoles worn by Christian ministers, where the lavish embroidery designs and other elements help identify the wearer's rank in the clergy.

Completing her survey of the history of ceremonial cloths, Gaylord pointed out that while she'd covered 10 uses, from kilim to challah covers, at least 20 more such uses exist that she hadn't had time to cover, ranging from christening gowns and confirmation dresses to modern pagan robes and maypoles!

Jacket Gaylord made during studies for her B.A. in  Fine Arts at the UW. She spun the yarn and wove the jacket.
Gaylord took a somewhat circuitous path to her present emphasis on weaving ceremonial cloths. After receiving an Associate degree in industrial model building in California, she relocated to Seattle and completed her studies in textile design for a B.A. in fine arts at the University of Washington. Torn between devoting herself to creating clothing or going entirely into fiber art, she let her thoughts simmer during a nearly 20-year "gap in conceptual art" as she made her living as a freelance architectural-model builder.

Above, "Homage to Eve," a small sculpture representing a time of Gaylord's indecision about her path. Below, another sculpture to exorcise her fears: The downward spiral (black beads) shows Fear,  Doubt, Worry, Indecision, Procrastination. She turned these negatives into positives with the upward spiral (white beads) that shows Courage, Confidence, Hope,  Certainty and Decisive  Right Action.
"Pulling Spirit into Daily Life," a fabric piece made during Gaylord's time in the UW Fiber Arts Certificate Program.
Above, "Finding Focus," a basic 9-patch base of hand-painted jigsaw puzzle pieces topped with pins, wire, thread and beads. Below, closeup of a similar piece, "Puzzle of Life."
Returning at last to the textile arena, she completed a fiber-arts certificate program at the UW where she formed the idea of doing art with a spiritual focus, even then worrying that this effort might be criticized--and also wondering if such creations would sell! Gaylord worked out some of her fears in tangible form, using her model-building skills and her love of textiles to create several small sculptural pieces that helped her turn her negative concerns into positive actions.

Gaylord's woven Torah cloth.
Raised in Jewish tradition, Gaylord soon found her niche in designing and weaving cloths appropriate to Jewish ceremonies and practices. In 2010, she designed and wove a special Torah cloth as a member of the Women's Torah Project--the first woman in Jewish history to do so. The cloth covers the altar where the Torah is displayed, with the blue borders delineating the area the Torah covers when unrolled. The central design of the cloth can be a leaf or a feather, depending on the viewer's choice; the central "rib" is a tablet-woven band. The red color represents the male, the blue color the female.

Above and below, hand-dyed, hand-woven tallit or prayer shawls.
Tablet-woven "atarah"or neckbands on tallit or prayer shawls
Hand-dyed linen challah cloth with silk-screened design
Tallit or prayer shawls are among the other ceremonial cloths in which Gaylord has come to specialize, oftentimes hand-dying the warp threads to get the effect she desires. She also creates hand-dyed linens with silk-screened designs to serve as matzoh and challah (bread) covers for the ceremonial table. And, she's found that these ceremonial items of "spirit" do indeed sell!

Gaylord recently completed study through the "Arts Now" EDGE Professional Development Program in Edmonds, which was about the business part of being an artist. She is now devoting time to entering shows and working on getting solo shows of her work. For more about Gaylord and her work, go to her website: www.loisgaylord.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment