Today is the first day of spring. It feels like hot, midsummer here in Marigot, St. Lucia, and I’ve heard that New York/New England will get one more big snow storm today. March came in like and lion and is going out like one too!
A number of weavers I have loved and admired passed away recently. I know as we age our older friends beginning moving on, but this year the losses took me by surprise.
Losing friends is hard, but particularly hard among weavers, who I believe are more generous and caring than the average person. My dear, dear friend June passed away in mid February, and I was fortunate to be able to get home for her service, a wonderful celebration of June’s life as well as a terrific gathering of weavers who were also long-time friends of June. It’s a wonderful way to remember someone, surrounded by all the other age old friends you have in common with the one who is absent.
Then so shortly afterward, I opened the NY Times one morning (March 12) to find a wonderful obituary on Ethel Stein. She lived a productive 100 years, and created so many beautiful works of textile art. She definitely made the most of her time here, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss her any less. I cannot be counted a friend of hers, but I visited her beautiful studio in Croton on Hudson, and enjoyed her generous attentions in showing a small group of us her her works in progress, the draw loom she adapted herself, and a wonderful series of black and white opphampta pieces she had displayed on one long wall in her house/studio (I’ve got a photo of that somewhere). Her gardens were so lush; it’s hard to imagine anyone weaving such complex and difficult pieces with such dexterity while also having time to garden. And she was not young when I visited her. It was probably 20 or so years ago.
There is a wonderful video of Ethel winding yarn, dyeing it, and then weaving with it, posted by Eric Schrotenboer . She’s doing a wonderful clasped weft piece in this video using her dyed yarn. It is a treasure!
Over the weekend I learned that the Jockey Hollow weaving guild, one of my guilds from New Jersey, is having a sale of Andi Trasborg’s equipment and fibers from her extensive collection of weaving, bobbin lace, spinning, and dyeing stash. I was shocked to learn that she had passed away in December, especially since she should have had years left to pursue these passions and share her knowledge with the rest of us.
I spent a week with Andi at Vavstuga. We had long days weaving and learning Becky Ashendon’s Swedish weaving techniques, and each evening we indulged and relaxed over a glass of wine and conversation, after the other participants went to bed. It was a short but memorable time together. She continued her studies at Vavstuga and learned to weave damask and opphampta on a draw loom.
But I return to my dear June. She had a long life, but not long enough! At 88, she is survived by her two older sisters, who are 91 and 94. I wanted June to make it to 100. She began weaving at 16 years old, which would have been in the mid-1940s, and she spent a year in Sweden (where she had plenty of relatives) learning Swedish techniques in one of the state craft schools. She continued her art and textile studies when she returned by attending Alfred University in New York State. When I met her in the early 1990s, she could proudly say she’d been weaving for 50 years by that point–longer than I had been alive. She was so enthusiastic and so willing to share all she had learned over the years.
This is just about my favorite photo of June! It captures her personality, which was always optimistic and enthusiastic through both good times and challenging times. She had her fair share of challenges, but you might never guess that if you didn’t know her well. This was taken at a family gathering on her 85th birthday.
And forgive — I can’t resist! — here is a photo of June and I together at another celebration of her 85th birthday. Our small group of weavers from the Hudson Valley area took June on a boat tour of the Hudson, from Kingston, down past West Point and Bannerman’s Island.
When I went to June’s service, I wanted to share a moment in time with her friends and family. I knew that whatever experiences I had with her would be similar to any experience others had with her. This won’t mean much to those of you who never knew yer, but if you did, and if you did not hear me tell this story at her service, read on.
Over the past couple of weeks, this story about a day I spent with June keeps running through my mind. I feel compelled to share it with you. It is like so many days I spent with June, and I bet the same is true for each of you.
I met June through weaving, but very soon became acquainted with her many interests and talents. However we each knew June, she brought us into her fold…. her design and compositional gifts, her musical talents, her weaving and painting talents, her storytelling.!
Several years ago, June was beginning to de-stash her house on Deer Track Lane in preparation for moving. She had assembled several boxes of books, which she wanted to donate to a weaving school in Rhode Island, run by her friend Jan Doyle.
June planned to drive to my house in Connecticut to spend a few days, and during her visit we would drive together to visit Jan. We were headed to South Carolina, Rhode Island–I’d never heard of a town with such an odd name!
I’m the type of person who likes to organize a trip, putting my destination in my GPS, calculating what time I should leave home, and contacting whoever I plan to visit to let them know what time to expect me to arrive. This is not how June operates. Although I asked her a few times for the address of the weaving school, she put me off, saying not to worry, she had it. On the morning we headed out, she told me not to worry about the address, she knew where we were going…..and she did! We got there with no trouble.
We carried in the boxes of books, and Jan and June and I had fun unpacking them and looking through some of them. Some of Jan’s students came to look too. Then Jan took us on a tour of the school, which is in the rather well known Octagon House. There were looms in every room except the kitchen and one parlor, upstairs and down, and every loom had a project underway on it. June struck up a conversation with every student, wanting to know how and when they learned to weave, and what project were they working on right then. She commented on every project! Then Jan took us into one of the large parlors, the one room without looms, where a group of creative writers were holding a regular meeting. June had no problem mingling with the dozen or so people there. She asked them each about what they were currently writing, and she told them about her desire to finish writing a memoir. She had such a gift of gab — I felt like I was clutching her apron strings to keep up.
After our visit at Jan’s weaving school, we drove into Wickford for a quick tour and lunch. June had a story about each of the historic houses along the main street in town. She pointed out a house where she had spent a few summers many years ago. Although my husband and I had lived in Wickford aboard our boat for several summers quite recently, June knew more about Wickford than I’ll ever know. We had a late lunch there, and during lunch, June decided that we had time to visit a very old friend in a nearby town on our way home.
I don’t remember the old friend’s name, but I’m going to call her Muriel. I know June called her by a name I thought was somewhat old fashioned. If I’ve got it right, some of you might know the friend I mean. I have no idea what town we were headed to, but again June knew how to get there, and of course we got there with no problem.
Muriel lived in a charming New England shingle house, with large gardens around the property. We rang the front door bell, no answer. We knocked on the back door and got no answer. So June told me stories about Muriel while we walked around her gardens. She had not seen Muriel in many years, maybe forty years, although June and Muriel continued to stay in touch with holiday cards. Muriel happened to have a wonderful hedge of hydrangea in bloom that day, with flowers in that deep blue shade so like the early night sky, just after dusk has passed, that is so common in coastal areas in New England and Long Island. June decided that we needed to take home some of these hydrangea flowers to make two arrangements as a memento of this day together. Well, now I was completely out of my comfort zone!—but June knew I had a small bucket and garden shears in the back of my station wagon. So…. we cut an armful of beautiful, blue hydrangeas and began the drive home. June had no problem directing me back to Rt. 95, and we had an easy trip back to my house.
Back at home, June and I picked greens from my garden to add to our hydrangea. June chose greens of different colors and textures to enhance the hydrangea. She had such an eye for composition and color, didn’t she? We made two very pretty arrangements, and the next day June headed home with hers.
A couple of weeks later June called to tell me that she had called Muriel’s house several times and eventually gotten through to someone. She had spoken to Muriel’s daughter who said that Muriel had been in the hospital for some time, and that Muriel would enjoy hearing that June had tried to visit. The daughter said that Muriel would be happy to hear that we were making good use of her hydrangea flowers!
So here’s the thing. This is my take away from a day spent with June. A day with June always became an adventure, and the day became legendary–epic!—almost before it had ended.
June touched each of us. She molded each of us. In some cases knowing her changed us. She certainly changed me – in good ways for which I’ll always be thankful. She is the reason that the ‘thing’ we used to call “six degrees of separation” has become somewhat closer than six degrees. As we move into the next room for a time of fellowship I think we’ll find that gap of separation getting even closer. June would love that.