Holiday season is a time when we honor our family and cultural traditions, usually with copious amounts of food and gifts. But what is tradition exactly? Pondering this, I came across a quote from an old Italian textile company. By old, I mean over five hundred years producing luxury textiles. Early records indicate in 1499, Giacomo Bevilacqua, a weaver, was head of a dynasty of textile artists in Venice, Italy that passed down through the ages. It was formally established in 1875, as a company, by a descendant, and the company thrives to this day! It produces some of the world’s finest velvets made by highly trained weavers using 18th-century looms. Oh I would love to see this!
Two other luxe Venetian fabric workshops include Fortuny (fashion) and Rubelli (upholstery fabrics and wall coverings). Rubelli is run by two brothers, Nicolo and Andrea, the 5th generation to produce luxury silk brocade and jacquard fabrics. Keeping tradition alive also means incorporating newer techniques, like ink-jet printing. Nicolo states, “Tradition is not only the past. It is the simple tool to reach innovation and move forward.” (Victoria Magazine, October 2019).
This statement makes me think of my own commitment to weaving and others’ (mis)perceptions. Many times visitors to my studio would comment, erroneously, “Oh that’s a dying art” as I, very much alive, wove very contemporary, conceptual art before their very eyes on my big, traditional floor loom, Weaving, of course, is not and won’t ever be, a dying art. Sighing, I excuse these comments as mis-perceptions of the unaware; those who equate textile production as women’s work, less valued than men’s work, what ever that is.
The Rubellis, Fortunys, Bevilaquas and I can empahtically laugh this off. Woven cloth, in all its permutations is literally the fabric of life. It is everywhere around us from every moment of our lives, from birth into death. Weaving is part of our DNA our birth inheritance on Earth. We share this gift with other species who utilize it. Weaver Birds and their fabulous nests, Beavers and their mighty dams.
People have been weaving since the beginning of time across all cultures. The very language of weaving is imbedded in our common vernacular. Weaving,loom, warp, shuttle, shed: A driver is weaving from lane to lane. An idea is “warped.” A deadline is “looming.” The space “shuttle” was launched. All manner of things are “woven together.” People and situations are “woven: together. Put you tools in the “shed.” Yes, shed is a weaving term.
Going back to Nicolo Rubelli’s quote that “tradition is a tool of innovation,” I have often sat at my loom, mesmerized by the rhythmic progression of the cloth forming before my eyes, colors and patterns mingling, my hands throwing the shuttles (in the shed), my feet pressing the treadles. Working from traditional weaving patterns as the architecture of my work, I create new patterns, new forms of conceptual and contemporary woven textile art. My work, Where the Desert Meets Biscayne Bay has a story (for another time). It exemplifies a traditional pattern, Monks Belt, in contempoary context.
This process is transformational, occurring in a parallel reality of no-time, no-space. Within this zone of creativity as I weave, those weavers who came before me and those who will follow ‒ we are all connected by an energetic thread on the continuum of life.
And so I weave the past into the future, through the present. Tradition is innovation.