Friday, August 27, 2010


Violette at work in her studio:

I first met Violette at a quilt-making workshop she held in Brooklyn when I lived there two years ago. At the end of the day, we were waiting for a cab and got into an excited discussion about wasting fabric and the production of fabrics that are unkind to our bodies. She came by my studio, saw the fabric collages I was working on, and enthusiastically invited me to collaborate at her studio in New Mexico. I met her again several times with her daughter Emma, whom I am close friends with. I saw her beautiful quilts displayed at a gallery in New York, and at her daughter's wedding in California. And finally the time came when I could go to this place I had heard so much about and get to know this incredible artist and inspiring woman.

Her methods of operation are always personal, and her ideas are always flowing. She has a deep respect for the place she lives and the people around her, and she is supportive of other artists to no end. During my two-week stay, Violette cooked amazing food for me while I sewed at her table and dug through her stash of fabrics. She introduced me to her community and submerged me in it- asking me to give presentations of my work to audiences whomever we could gather. We had more conversations about the importance of reusing materials, the possibilities of recycling fabric, and the power that is gained in the process of making. One night on a drive home, I brought up the idea of making quilts from the clothes of a friend who died, and asked about her shroud quilts that she started making after the death of her friend. I have been making artwork from thrift store bedding and clothing that belonged to strangers, and alternately using clothing from friends and family, and working with the histories embedded in that fabric. Violette said, “Cloth holds so much energy- look at the animals, they are always right on top of what you are working on.” We both agree that fabric holds energy and potential, and with her passion and knowledge on the subject, she was constantly encouraging me to spread that belief.

dumpster diving for treats & compost treats:


a corner of my new quilt
Violette’s mission is to prove that one can use discarded clothing to do many things- whether it is winterize your house, make art, or make money at the flea market. On a whim, we decided to take a truckload of choice clothes from the stash, along with other treasures collected from the property, to Santa Fe and get a booth in the famous Tesuque Flea Market.  Because the market is on Pueblo land, there is no photography allowed, so I had to mentally document what turned out to be an amazing international imports fair. We were in the slim minority hawking used goods, and most booths were artists, artisans, importers, or collectors & distributors of fine western wear. There were chairs entirely beaded by hand from Africa, floor to ceiling Persian rugs, six-foot tall clay pots, and our booth neighbor with adornments from Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I ended up hanging around a tent full of Guatemalan beaded and woven goods. I first bought a little beaded figure of a Zuni clown that the importer designed after selling goods at Pueblo feast days. That was before I saw the quilts- patchwork grids of Mayan hand woven textiles, each native to a different village, each telling a story. After talking to the merchant for an hour, I had to take one home with me. The merchant is from Guatemala and works with four families there that do all of the weaving.  When I started quizzing him on the origin of each piece, he suggested this great reference, Guatemala Rainbow. Due to an achingly slow day at the market for everyone, Violette and I did not make a living selling clothes, but we did earn our booth fee back and spend a very lovely evening with her friend Abdul the spice trader, who lives on the semi-famous Synergia Ranch- complete with geodesic yoga dome and double rainbows.

happy little fusion of Guatemala & Pueblo


with visitors of all types, the party here never ends:

There is something to be said about the place of La Jolla- The Jewel. Violette told me, “To be an off-the-grid artist is a great privilege”. Living off the grid means pumping your drinking water from a well and collecting rainwater to wash with and feed your plants and animals. It means conserving your solar electricity by turning off the light on the sewing machine whenever you pause between stitches. It means chopping wood a few times a day to fuel the fire in your wood stove that you are simultaneously using to heat your iron, warm water for washing, percolate another pot of coffee, bake your own bread, and cook the food that you grew in a garden that requires daily tending. You need to know how to start a fire, how to sprout a seed, and how to make do without refrigeration. It is a beautiful life. Violette does it with dedication and grace, a generous host to all unannounced guests, and a sweet caretaker to even the rooster that killed her duck and will never stop crowing. Her property has layers of history of guests that have stayed and left their remains in one way or another: There is more than one bus packed with discarded possessions, and there are remnants of earlier settlers in decayed log houses. The high-altitude land shifts from one microclimate to the next in a matter of yards- forest meets meadow meets seasonal riverbed. And her house is visited by a rotating cast of characters; each with their own amazing history and overwhelming eccentricities.

Violette's youngest daughter Chloe chopping wood in a night gown:

spying on Violette from her kitchen:

out the window of my little house:

the outhouse- beautiful and complete with birds nests:

some of Carl's Kachinas standing guard:

the little house, built by Carl and mine for the time:

squash outside and a bountiful greenhouse within:

Violette's house:

La Jolla Jewels


The show that Violette worked so hard to get the work of her friends into this year is called Arte de Descartes (art from discards), and is in it's tenth year running. She wanted the artwork of her friends to be exhibited alongside the younger artists who have been inspired by this latter generation of creative recyclers. Melissa Larson from Wholly Rags of Taos organizes the show, and she and Violette share a passion for recycling fabric. She also makes quilts resourced from the freebox, and her website has an interesting manifesto on fabric waste:

"The project Freebox or Caja de Gracias is pushed to its limits. We need to redirect the attention of the Town of Taos and Taos County to the problem. The estimated weight of textile waste generated daily in Taos county is 1.5 tons. This includes freeboxes and second hand stores. That's 547 tons of cloth per year, here! (Taos, 10,000 people=10,000 pairs of underpants!) What if that material were baled into small compact blocks and used like straw bales to form the walls of houses? Another alternative is to make bales that can be sold and transported to a Material Recovery Facility, in the same way that cardboard, paper and aluminum are recycled. Even transporting good material to Mexico is a feasible alternative, compared to dumping. These are things we propose to do in order to use the rags locally and keep it out of the landfills. Many fabrics carry the imprint of different cultures which may never be produced again. The materials are destroyed in dirt and moisture; also throwing away all the energy it took to create them. That is why we are concerned with the textile waste."

the Wholly Rags studio:

My quilt, Violette's quilt, and the sculpture of Carl, Karl, and Ernie are all in the show, along with 50 other artists at the Taos Center for the Arts. The Glam Trash Fashion Show happens at the gallery every year as well, and is co-organized by Upcylced Fashion, a project of Art for the Heart in Penasco that hires seamstresses to work at home and use recycled clothing to make new rad wearables.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Ernie has his own little compound near Dixon with a bus and an amazing view. He makes sculpture out of found wire, wood, and other treasures along the way.


Karl was born in Espanola, traveled the world, and is back in Ojo Sarco making sculpture, drawings, and paintings. He often works in totems, and sculpts marble and wood to combine with found materials in his pastiche constructions.


Carl uses everything he can get his hands on to make his artwork. He paints, constructs sculpture and tableaux out of found wood and garbage, and has a silver smithing studio where he crafts elaborate jewelry. When we visited his house/studio outside of Santa Fe, he was attempting to model skulls out of dough he found in a dumpster. He is a collector and maker of things through and through, and besides the shelters he has made on his property, he also built the ‘little house’ at Violette’s place. Much of his imagery is inspired by the ceremonies of his Pueblo neighbors.