Source: The Taos News
Date: March 26, 1992

Story intricately woven around three lives
By Deborah Ensor

Joan Potter Loveless weaves a beautiful tapestry in her new book, “Three Weavers,” published by the University of New Mexico Press.

Three weavers article

From left, Rachel Brown, Kristina Wilson and the author, Joan Loveless

In the book, Loveless reminisces about the lives and work of three craftsman: herself, Rachel Brown and Kristina Wilson. And though the book is an inspiring guide to their work and their imagination, it also is a romantic, insightful look into the real lives of three creative women.

A book signing is planned Sunday (March 29) from 2-5 p.m. at Weaving Southwest in Yucca Plaza.

Beginning with her arrival in Taos some 40 years ago, Loveless chronicles her love for the land and its seasons. She arrived here fresh out of Black Mountain College, where she studied weaving with Anni Albers.

“As we watched the changes over its breadth we became acquainted with illusion,” she said of the scenery she witnessed in her first few weeks in Taos, “with transformation, with vacancy, with large serenity, with some faint comprehension of reality as an unending interplay of forces and elements that allowed us to experience the beauty and wonder and to feel ourselves part of the mystery that we witnessed.”

Against this backdrop, Loveless began to experiment with weaving and color theory, obviously inspired by the land and its enchantment. It’s no wonder weaving is such an impressive craft in the Taos valley -according to Loveless and many others, the dramas of light and weather are played on the sky, like wool across a loom.

As Loveless goes through her life, in a simplistic, yet heartwarming, diary-like form, she also describes some of the intricacies of weaving.

“On this simple principle of ‘over and under,’” she says in the beginning of the book, “is based the whole history of textile making, varying in both time and place as to its appearance, its cultural significance and its level of development.”

In addition to the story of their friendship, “Three Weavers” is the story of the evolution of their work, a relationship with wool that is unique to each weaver but for each, intimately related to northern New Mexico.

Through a discussion of her friends’ projects, she gives a clear picture of the talent, creativity, dedication and pure love for the craft that these women share.

In one chapter, Loveless talks about how Wilson had gotten together some funds to work with eight disabled people.

“She usually sets up the looms for people,” Loveless writes, “and most of them also had to be sat with as they worked; they were either retarded or physically handicapped or both. Some of them were eventually able to work on their own. One of the most successful was a man, paralyzed on one side of his body, who had learned to weave many years ago in a WPA program but hadn’t done anything since because he had no money for a loom or materials.”

Loveless talks about the beginning of Wilson’s Twining Weavers: “There being such a rich tradition of Spanish weaving in the Arroyo Seco area, their plan was to try to involve local people as weavers and this worked out beautifully.”

One of the biggest accomplishments of this trio of weavers was Brown’s work with Tierra Wools…“the village of Los Ojos, which in the fall of 1982 became part of Rachel’s orbit.”

This orbit involved setting up a successful weaving cooperative.

“Maria (Varela) and Rachel hit it off immediately, and in their first meeting in Taos dreamed up many possible plans, deciding that the best beginning would be some kind of spinning cottage industry, using locally gown wool.

“The wool of these Churro sheep was a very high quality for spinning…They made plans to begin with a spinning workshop as soon as possible…the response to the workshop was surprising. There were about 15 participants.”

The cooperative has grown and grown, and Loveless chronicles the ups and downs of making a dream a reality.

“The creation of Tierra Wools has also, I think, been a tremendous accomplishment for Rachel,” she writes. “Her experience with shoestring beginnings for craft enterprises, her utter devotion to the weaving craft and her ability to share her love of work toward a goal have all been crucial in making Tierra Wools first a believable dream and then a reality.”

“Three Weavers” also contains numerous color plates showing the work of all three crafts people. In addition, it has scores of black and white plates chronicling the women’s lives.

This book is a delight, because not only is it a private insight into the minds of three talented weavers, but into their hearts as well. The three share a love for the New Mexico landscape, their work as weavers and spinners and the joys and sorrows of children and grandchildren. As Loveless shares all of this, the reader may feel intricately woven into their lives, into the enthusiasm of their creativity and into the space that is New Mexico.

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Source: The Taos News
Date: Thursday, September 27, 1984

Weavers, growers meet

While Taos sheep ranchers are getting bottom dollar for their wool, local weavers and spinners are paying high prices for imported wool.

Weavers, Growers meet wool festival article 1

Rachel Brown

“We need to get the two groups together. Something wonderful could happen,” predicts weaver and author Rachel Brown.

Sure enough, the Mountain and Valley Wool Association got a few sheep ranchers and a few artisans together and something wonderful is happening. It’s the Taos area’s first Wool Festival at Kit Carson State Park, Saturday (Sept. 29), 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Sheep ranchers, wool artisans and the general public will come together to browse, buy, learn and enjoy some good food, Brown said.

Wool, in all its various forms, will be displayed and sold. A fashion show is planned along with spinning and weaving demonstrations.

AT THE FESTIVAL, artisans can look for suitable fleeces and yarns and at the same time sheep ranchers can find out directly from weavers and spinners what kinds of wool are needed by the local market.

“What they will discover,” said Brown, “is that weavers want wool with body and luster. By introducing appropriate breeds into local flocks, the wool here could be made more suitable for local craftspeople, yet still produce good carcass yield for meat.”

Brown mentions Border Leicester and Karkul as breeds that might be suitable for this area.

The prevalent breed, Rambouillet, produces a fine-textured wool that has previously brought good prices from big wool mills. Lately, however, sheep ranchers are grumbling about the low prices they’re getting for their Rambouillet fleeces, and craftspeople are equally discouraged by the high prices they are paying for imported wools.

The reason for this became clear last spring when Brown was on a marketing trip to New York City.

“The gray flannel suit styles made from the Rambouillet fleeces are definitely out,” she said. New York designers are showing courser wools with a hand-woven look.

This new hand-woven look will be featured in a free public fashion show as part of the festival. Coordinated by Coral Barnes, a weaver and clothing designer, the show has received some interest from New York fashion writers.

In addition, hand-woven clothing will be sold from individually operated booths to the general public.

THE TREND toward coarser wools has been an advantage, however, to the few are sheep ranchers with old herds.

Apparently, the original breed in the area was Churro. This course wool is what we see in the old Navajo and Spanish weavings.

Until very recently flocks with remnants of the old Churro line have been spurned by the industrial mills in favor of the finer Rambouillet fleeces. The picture is changing, however, and local sheep ranchers with coarser wool of the old Churro sheep are getting higher prices for their fleeces.

Brown uses some local wools in her weavings and would like to use more as they become available. She wants her work to be as simple and direct and obvious as possible. “Working with local wool fits that philosophy,” she said.

BROWN IS founding member of the Mountain and Valley Wool Association, a nonprofit organization spanning 10 counties in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado that is dedicated to expanding local wool markets and resources.

Her work and copies of her book, The Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Book, are for sale at the Solabra Gallery in Taos.

The Wool Festival is funded with a grant from Gov. Toney Anaya’s fund for Market Development, administered by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture; the New Mexico Department of Economic Development and Tourism, headed by Alex Mercure; a $4,000 grant from the Parks and Recreation Dept.’ and a $3,250 grant from the American Sheep Producers Council.


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Source: The Taos News
Date: October 2003

Living Treasures
Author: Rick Romancito

There are probably a hundred metaphors for weaving – how it interconnects different colors and textures, how it blends the origins of many elements into a strong and beautiful fabric. But if any one could be applied to artist and businesswoman Rachel Brown, it’s how precious gems were entwined in the yarn that made a singular and vital human being, one who is being honored this year as a Living Treasure.

Living Treasure article 2

The 17th Annual Living Treasures Honorees: Eloy and Mary Jeantete, Alfred Lujan, Julia Jaramillo and Rachel Brown. (Photograph by Greg Kreller)

While Brown may have been amazed when told of being chosen for the honor, a lot of weavers in New Mexico won’t be terribly surprised. To them, Brown is already known as somewhat of a goddess.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1926, Brown started out her professional life as an artist after stints at Radcliffe College, Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Art Students League and Cooper Union in New York. It was, however, as a silkscreen printmaker. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she and then-husband Malcolm Brown (who died July 4) moved to Taos and she discovered weaving. Or maybe weaving discovered her.

At the time, the couple had just built a house out in Arroyo Seco, she said from the showroom of her well known tapestry gallery and studio called Weaving Southwest at 216B Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos. She and a few other women ran a small business called the craft House, but the bills to heat the place were a little too much. Just as they were moving out, a disassembled loom was discovered in a shed.

Told it would “just get used for fire wood,” Brown took the pieces home; she and her husband put it together – “and that’s when I started weaving.”

She immediately became obsessed with the medium.

“The magical twisting of glossy fibers, dyeing them and then intertwining them with the warp definitely became a satisfying art form for me,” she says in her artist statement. “Luckily, I was impoverished at the time so spinning and dyeing my yarns was also necessity. (She also had three kids to raise.) Since then, I have become spoiled and cannot weave unless I have an extensive palette of hand-dyed colors with which to work.”

Living Treasure article

Rachel Brown (Photograph by Greg Kreller)

Her first exhibit was in 1964 at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Since then, her work has been shown all over the nation and resides in collections in the United States, Canada and Europe. Eventually, as she became familiar with not only the hundreds of weavers in the Southwest but the rich and varied textile tradition among the American Indian and Hispanic natives of the region, she found that venues to show these woven works of art were a rarity.

Saying she’s always been “business minded,” she began a small gallery in Seco, which eventually grew to become Weaving Southwest here in Taos. Along the way, she also wrote “The Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Book,” which was published in 1978 by Alfred Knopf, now in its impressive 20th printing. Also, 20 years ago this year, she helped found Tierra Wools, a worker-owned wool grower business that continues to provide natural products for the weaving tradition.

Because of her efforts to promote, preserve and encourage innovation, Brown was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 from the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington. She was among 37 women in the craft arts who were honored for “making a difference” in their fields.

Although one might assume that someone as deeply immersed in the textile tradition would evaluate weavings on extremely technical terms, when asked what she looks for in a weaving, she replied, “Visual impact.”

It’s not the number of threads per square inch nor the some arcane method. It’s how the piece strikes her upon first impression. The same is true of her love of old classical Navajo weavings. “The simplicity can’t be beat,” she said.

Until last year, Brown said she used to make about five to six full tapestries per year. “I used to be able to stand at the loom for 10 hours a day,” she said. In more recent years, along with help from her good friend, Ann Huston, she used to hand dye about 150 pounds of yarn between dawn and dusk. These days, she has to take it easy, but the people surrounding her still work in collaboration with Brown to produce weavings of singular beauty, along with organizing regular exhibitions of works by regional weavers.

The threads of her life have been varied and richly spun, the colors still vivid and enduring. For Rachel Brown, a true Living Treasure, the weave is a tight one.

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