Source: The Taos News
Date: February 12-18, 2004
Weaving Southwest changes ownership
By: Cornelia de Bruin
When women much younger than the founder of a business say they are spending most of their time keeping up with the former owner, it’s a compliment.
But how else do you describe following in the footsteps of the Great Cahuna weaver of Taos?
Susan Meredith and Pat Dozier purchased Weaving Southwest from Rachel Brown Jan. 1. Brown founded the business 29 years after moving to Taos with her husband, Malcolm, and three young children in 1956.
“Rachel built the business up from ground zero,” Dozier said. “It is one of the most highly respected weaving establishments, and one of the last few weaving supply companies, in the country.”
Rachel Brown described the business as a baby she conceived 19 years ago, in 1985, and one she has been working hard to grow into one of the major weaving businesses in the country.
“I was looking to sell it…it happened serendipitously,” she said.
When visiting Meredith at her home in Espanola, Brown noticed the complex projects on looms in her home.
“I blurted out, ‘You and Pat should buy the business,’” Brown said. “They later said yes…it’s in good hands.”
After taking over following the sale, Dozier said she and Meredith “hope to keep it up to her standards.”
“Susan and I are trying to keep up with her; she is the Great Cahuna of weaving in Taos,” Dozier said. “She has taken us under her wing, and we are continuing the business under her wing.”
Meredith described Brown’s decision to sell the business to her and Dozier as “being given a gift.”
“I guess the sky’s the limit, but I feel like I’ve already been handed the sky,” Meredith said. “I feel fortunate we can carry it forward. Everybody, anybody who weaves, absolutely reveres her; she’s done a lot to promote New Mexico, its weavers and the weaving of the Southwest.”
The new owners do not exaggerate Brown’s reputation. She was ensnared by the warps and wefts of weaving after finding a broken loom in a shed behind the Craft House, an Arroyo Seco business she ran with a few other women. The find, ironically, came as Brown was moving out of the business because the building was too expensive to heat.
Learning to weave was just the beginning for Brown, who said she became “obsessed” by working with the fibers, twisting them, dyeing them, and creating designs and patterns with them.
The love of the medium is not Brown’s alone, and her efforts to preserve and encourage the work, and her work to support worker-owned wool growing will be continued by Dozier and Meredith.
“We use hand-dyed yarns,” Dozier said. “Our rug yarn is spun for us and hand-dyed with her recipes. It’s a long-lasting yarn; we also have tapestry yarn and apparel yarn, six different types of yarn in all that come in 34 colorss each.”
Meredith and Dozier buy their wool by the bale. To the uninitiated, a bale is 1,000 pounds of wool that “explodes” when it’s cut open. From its explosive start, the wool is custom-spun into yarns by Taos Valley Wool Mills in Arroyo Seco according to the blends and types of spins Rachel Brown created.
“We use wool from Connie Taylor, who supplies churro wool for sheep produce in Ojo Caliente,” Dozier said. “She also buys and re-sells yarn from sources on the Navajo Reservation; we are one of her few customer.”
Dozier said the supplier also carries trading post yarn.
Besides continuing Brown’s established focuses, Meredith and Dozier are incorporating teaching at the gallery. They have already begun loom classes.
“Hopefully we will get other people coming up behind us; the best way to bring something forward is to have people learning about it,” Meredith said. “Fiber art, just in the last 10 years, is being viewed as fine art. It’s not being viewed as a craft anymore – that’s why we’re retaining the gallery and supporting the artists.”
Dozier began her weaving career in 1980, not long after she was assigned to copy something created by a master. She was taking art classes in college at the same time, and chose as her master the creator of a Navajo Rug.
“There are so many facets to weaving,” she said. “My passion is to weave tapestries.”
Tapestry weaving uses the same techniques as run weaving, but with a different “intent” on the part of the weaver. Dozier explained the process includes an idea, intent to create a piece of work and a design.
“My pride and joy is the tapestry gallery (of Weaving Southwest),” Dozier said. “We have 15 artists represented; all of them are from New Mexico, and all of them use hand-dyed yarn.”
Both Meredith and Dozier assure the weaving community that the main focus of Weaving Southwest will remain the fine art tapestry weaving.
The focus on homegrown and hand-dyed yarn involves the inclusion of a large part of the post-Spanish history of the Southwest. The Spanish settlers who followed the Conquistadores north from what is now Mexico brought sheep and introduced wool weaving and pedal looms to the area.
American Indian weavers, who were already weaving cotton and using Navajo-style looms, incorporated the techniques and material into their own weaving styles. With the change came the entire process of using native plants to dye the wool, including the life cycle of sheep into their own rhythms.
Brown was honored last year as a Taos Living Treasure for her work to support and continue the culturally historic weaving traditions of this area. She founded Tierra Wools, a worker-owned woolgrower business that provides natural products for the weaving tradition.