Monday, May 31, 2010

Wednesday in Ayton

The Wednesday field trip was wonderful.

I signed up for it several weeks ago in weaving class, but I was uncertain whether I would actually be going since I didn't know when I would be leaving for Nova Scotia. Consequently I didn't really pay attention to the details, such as where we were going or why. I understood that I was to ride in Cheryl's car and that lunch would be provided.

I was up early in order to be at the Islington subway station at 8am to be picked up by Cheryl. She told me what her car looked like, but I promptly forgot. Fortunately there were two other women from weaving class also meeting Cheryl at the Islington station, and between us we managed to recognize Cheryl's car when she arrived.

Once we were settled in the car, I did ask where we were going and why. It turned out I was not the only person who had not been paying attention! But at least Cheryl the driver knew where we were going. A little tiny place called Ayton, to visit a tapestry weaver named Peter Harris.

Cheryl had a GPS that gave voice directions for our route. It was in a woman's voice so we called it Gladys. Gladys also had a moving map view showing the details of our route. Gladys never lost her cool, even when we took a wrong turn. She simply said, "Recalculating... recalculating... recalculating alternate route."

At one point Gladys told us to turn right on George Street. Just before George Street we saw a Tim Horton's, and several of us requested a bathroom and coffee break, so Cheryl turned right into the Timmy's parking lot instead of onto George Street. Gladys kept saying, "Turn right on George Street, turn right on George Street, turn right on GEORGE STREET." She wasn't impressed with our flouting of her direction.

As it turned out none of us were fans of Timmy's, but it's hard to avoid in southern Ontario. If you want coffee, you got Timmy's.

After two and a half hours on the road, we arrived at Peter's small farm in Ayton. He lives in a lovely old Ontario farm house not visible from the road due to all the trees and shrubs, and has several outbuildings including a barn and a chicken coop. We inspected the chickens, which were Hungarian Yellows (?). I thought they were Rhode Island Reds, but they weren't. There were two roosters and a chick, the rest were hens, or so Peter thinks. Peter said he also had a cat, but he had locked the cat in the barn for the day so she would not get underfoot.

We hung around outdoors admiring Peter's flowers while we waited for the rest of our group. When everyone had arrived and Peter had given us all a little introduction to his place and himself, we finally went indoors, where it was considerably cooler. Although Peter did not require us to remove our shoes, we did because the floor was so cool to touch.

Peter and his partner Ellen bought this 12-acre farm back in the '80s after graduating from the Ontario College of Art (OCA). There they indulged themselves in their artistic pursuits, Ellen doing quilts and Peter woven tapestries. Unfortunately Ellen died of cancer nine years ago and Peter continues to live there by himself.

Peter took us on a slow tour of his studio and home, showing and explaining his tapestries to us. They vary in size, up to 5'x8'. One was an experiment in three dimensions; if you looked at it with the special 3D glasses you could see the image in three dimensions! Another showed five figures, two playing cards while three looked on. He said that the three onlookers were self-portraits, one was himself as a young man, the second was himself old and the third was his imagined self, a woman in black fishnet stockings selling picture cards, kind of like a cigarette girl at a casino. I guess that's how he sees himself when he is marketing his art.

Two tapestries were of Indian or south Asian subjects, some terraced hillsides in one and some people walking through rice paddies in another.

One tapestry he said was shattered memories, it looked like a glacier with icebergs breaking off of it. On the face of the glacier and on the icebergs were faint images of old photos, people and scenes. Peter said he used old personal photos for those images.

We broke for a sumptuous feast that Peter had prepared for us. There were four quiches, three salads, three or four different kinds of bread, steamed asparagus and lemon slices, fruit salad and wine. Later there were a couple of desserts, some kind of custard pie or cheese cake topped with berry spreads.

We spread out over the house and outdoor lawn to eat and drink and chat.

Eventually we reconvened for Peter to demonstrate a new tapestry technique that he was exploring. Before he went to OCA Peter travelled extensively in India and in particular in Kashmir, where he became fascinated by the shawl weavers there. Yes they still do it. Peter talked briefly about the kinds of yarn and threads they used for it. He said that the most prized fleeces were from a wild animal (I am afraid the wine got to me, my memory for some of the details is a bit frayed) that had to be killed to collect the fleece, so he didn't much like that aspect of the shawls. Peter is a vegetarian who is not thrilled by the killing of animals. In his own work he uses fairly coarse wool, he said he is not so much concerned with the quality of the materials as he is with the quality of the techniques.

Peter did his demonstration on a tiny rigid heddle loom that he made from firewood. Whenever he sees interesting wood in his annual purchases of cordwood, he sets them aside to be milled for little building projects around his place. In this case he used cherry I think to build the frame of the loom, and he scavenged three rigid heddles from an old loom of his grandmother's. Remember my 2/2 twill scarf? Well, he does tapestry in 2/2 twill. I think I said something about 2/2 twill involving two heddle harnesses at a time, the other defining feature of 2/2 twill is that there are four harnesses in total. Peter only has three, but since a rigid heddle has both slots and eyes, he uses the eyes on each rigid heddle to thread the warp for that harness, and then for the fourth harness he threads the warp through the slots on all the rigid heddles.

Anyway, it was fascinating to see how he did the tapestry weaving on this little loom. He designed the tapestry using software on his Windows 98 computer, and it created row by row instructions that he followed. The design he was using was of columbine flowers; he thinks that one of the traditional Kashmiri floral designs is of columbines. He showed us another tapestry he did of poppies, another traditional Kashmiri floral design.

We all loved his Kashmiri tapestry designs, and his tiny rigid heddle loom. It can only produce a 10" or 12" wide strip, but it is so portable! Throughout his home there were nifty little creations of wood and at one point Line our weaving instructor commented on how handy Peter was. It reminded me of the Red Green Show, where Red would always say, If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!

Definitely a handy man.


20th Century Woman said...

It looks like spectacular craftsmanship. Amazing and inspiring. So much honor is due to fine craftsmanship.

Ann Flower said...

First time commenter here. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog.

Wisewebwoman said...

Now that I've got my turbo stick I can enjoy all the pics that I couldn't before.
What a day! I'm completely jealous. I love days like that!
PS and what a guy - and he's single?????

Annie said...

20CW, yes indeed, 100% with you on that.

Welcome Ann, and thank you!

WWW: turbo stick? Well, glad you can see them. Was a fabulous day, I think I am jealous too! And yes, but I rather got the impression not really available, he's focussed on getting back to Kashmir.

Barbara Anne said...

You are, as always, a marvelous storyteller! I feel like I was - almost - with you and the others at Peter's home. How wonderfully interesting the day must have been!

Applause for Peter's imagnative craftsmanship!

Thank you for taking us along!