Weav­ing the world

Ta­pes­tries by Sola

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPOS -

ITwas 1983, and Sola Fiedler, known pro­fes­sion­ally as Sola, was sit­ting in a den­tist’s chair in a tall build­ing over­look­ing Van­cou­ver, which would soon be trans­formed for the World’s Fair, three years away. She wanted to cre­ate an im­age of how the city looked be­fore ev­ery­thing changed.

“I didn’t have a cam­era. I couldn’t paint or draw. But I could knit,” she told Pasatiempo. “I fig­ured I could paint a pic­ture with yarn. There was no in­ter­net, and I didn’t think to get a book. That’s when I taught my­self how to weave ta­pes­tries.”

Tra­di­tional Euro­pean ta­pes­try fea­tures im­ages and pic­tures in the weft that com­pletely ob­scure the warp threads. Large-scale ta­pes­tries re­quire tens of thou­sands of hours of la­bor, and of­ten a num­ber of weavers work in tan­dem on the same piece. A draw­ing, called a car­toon, of what the fi­nal ta­pes­try should look like is placed be­hind the warp so that weavers have some­thing to fol­low. Sola didn’t know any of this and wove her first 30 ta­pes­tries alone and free­hand be­fore she was en­light­ened dur­ing a visit to the Aus­tralian Ta­pes­try Work­shop in Mel­bourne. “I dis­cov­ered I wasn’t do­ing it the same way ev­ery­one else was.” She de­cided she was far enough along in the art form to con­tinue with her own process.

Sola pri­mar­ily weaves ci­tyscapes, which are ac­cu­rate down to the num­ber of win­dows on build­ings and trees on sur­round­ing moun­tains. She of­ten fo­cuses on lo­ca­tions at the precipice of change, es­pe­cially those se­lected to host the Olympic Games, in­clud­ing Salt Lake City, Utah, and Syd­ney, Aus­tralia. “It’s a won­der­ful feel­ing, shar­ing in the joy and ex­cite­ment that takes place in a city that’s in­vited the en­tire world to celebrate there. Just talk­ing about it, the hairs on my arms are stand­ing on end. I choose to doc­u­ment what the mo­ment in time looks like for the en­tire city, be­cause 30 years later — even five years later — ev­ery­thing will look dif­fer­ent.”

Not only does Sola es­chew car­toons, she doesn’t take pho­to­graphs or use maps. When she weaves a city, she lives in that city, as close to the cen­ter as she can. Ev­ery day she takes a walk and fixes in her mind the next sec­tion of the ta­pes­try, and the day af­ter that she adds it. “It’s that sim­ple. I do a whole city street by street, un­til I’ve com­pleted the whole thing, and then I put in the back­ground, which is usu­ally moun­tains, and the fore­ground, which is of­ten wa­ter.” Her fiber comes from re­sale shops in the form of sweaters she un­rav­els and balls of yarn dis­carded by peo­ple who aban­doned their knit­ting projects.

Two of Sola’s ta­pes­tries are on dis­play at Art Santa Fe. Salt Lake City (7 feet by 10 feet) is a bird’s-eye view from about 15,000 feet above the Wasatch Moun­tain Range, on which you can see ev­ery metic­u­lously wo­ven ski run. Las Ve­gas (7 feet five inches by 11 feet) shows the strip and grid of the city at night, high­lighted with me­tal­lic thread. Now seventy-nine years old, Sola is in good health, though repet­i­tive stress in­juries are com­mon among weavers, and she’s been set back twice with a frozen shoul­der. She keeps in peak phys­i­cal con­di­tion with daily weight train­ing and car­dio and said she plans to live to be one hun­dred. She has dreamed her en­tire ca­reer of weav­ing the Grand Canyon, and she has fi­nally de­cided to make that her next pro­ject. On her way to Art Santa Fe, she and her daugh­ter are stop­ping off for a raft­ing ex­cur­sion down the Colorado River so she can be­gin to en­vi­sion the ta­pes­try. “I didn’t used to have the up­per body strength for that,” she said, “but I do now.” — Jen­nifer Levin

Sola: Salt Lake City, 2002, cot­ton, silk, and wool;

Las Ve­gas, 2009, wool, silk, cot­ton, me­tal­lic thread, and beads

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