Sandoval Signpost
An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Featured Artist
 

Sylvia Warner with her tapestry Los Pinos Valley, Tap Chime Series

Cochiti Pueblo, fiber art tapestry, by Sylvia Warner

East Meets West, organic series, fiber art tapestry, by Sylvia Warner

Signpost featured artist

The fabric of nature: The fiber art of Sylvia Warner

~Oli Robbins

For fiber artist Sylvia Warner, the artistic process is an intuitive one. She thinks deeply about the ways in which colors and forms interact with one another and sometimes spends months quietly considering a subject before she begins depicting it. Says Warner, “weaving takes careful, diligent attention... As I work over at least a month’s time, everything in my life at that time converges into the work on the loom.” She’s “only” been creating visual art for two of her seven decades—starting at age 56 after early retirement—but believes that her artistic training has been ongoing. Over the years, friends and colleagues have, at times, opined it “strange” that Warner waited so long to settle into the artistic world. But, as Warner explains, “there was never any waiting period. I was always artistic.”

Growing up on a small Michigan farm, Warner developed a great love for nature and music. Despite having little disposable income, her parents facilitated her musical instruction. She was awarded a scholarship to Albion College, where she studied piano (which, alongside cello, she still plays) and majored in chemistry and German. Warner notes that music continues to contribute to her approach to art, “especially regarding rhythm, color, and mood.” Says Warner, “My work on piano always pulled me, internally, toward the arts.” And when she traveled to Germany to further learn the language, she was inspired by the many museums and galleries that she visited.

At the young age of twenty, Warner finished an MA in English Language and Literature. Only one year after teenage-hood, she began teaching students at the college level—many of whom were older than her. Warner’s career as a professor was a long and fulfilling one. Over the course of over thirty years, she taught the English language, literature, creative writing, mythology, and film in both the United States and Canada (where she immigrated during the Vietnam War and later attained citizenship).

With her dear friend and fellow artist, painter, and photographer Zsombor Gyokossy, Warner reestablished herself in the States after several decades in Canada. Gyokossy designed and built Warner’s current home and studio, which she describes as a small hogan-style chalet tucked into a horseshoe canyon outside of Cuba, New Mexico. Her home’s many archways and skylights allow her to gaze upon the surrounding mountainous environment. Warner’s move to New Mexico coincided with her retirement from teaching in a formal, academic setting. She switched sides of the classroom and became a student herself, enrolling in a silk painting course in Santa Fe, which led to the study of weaving at Northern New Mexico College, in El Rito. Says Warner, “There I was the only student fascinated by pictorial tapestry work, so my instructor the second year just let me go ahead with this passion.” Her segue into fabric art was a natural one due to her upbringing, wherein her mother often tasked herself with domestic upholstery ventures. Says Warner, “My mother loved fabric and I was pushed to silk my whole life.”

Warner’s artistic training progressed in the form of workshops from master fiber artists (such as Rebecca Bluestone and Ted Hallman) and those offered at the Española Fiber Arts Guild. After about four years of studying, she became her own teacher, in her own studio (Coyote Zen Fiber Arts Studio), and began several major projects. Recently she began creating mobile works with a “three-dimensional emphasis”—something she hopes to expand upon in the coming year in the form of touchable and twirl-able works. Says Warner, “My works are often quite organic, including bark, feathers, twigs and, more recently, sculpted images. I love relaxing into felt work which allows me to be more freely expressive.”

Just as her mother instilled within her a love for the fiber arts, her father awakened her to the joys of nature. Says Warner, “To me, life itself is a fine art, as your relationships with partners, neighbors, and most importantly your surrounding environment determines what you express in art.”

She continues, “I spend at least four to five hours each day outside and grow restless if this pattern is interrupted. I sketch, solve problems that come up while weaving by laying on my back in my nearby yoga arroyo looking at the sky and tall Ponderosas swaying, my loyal Red Heler, “Bravo” at my side. This is part of my work.”

And even though writing and narrative occupied Warner for so many decades as a teacher, her work now is less about story-telling and more about a respect for and exchange with nature. Those who look at her pieces are not “viewers” to Warner, but rather “participators.” She hopes that her work, by being approachable and accessible, will bring these lookers—these active participants—closer to nature. Parts of her works will sometimes appear as if a mirage—“like seeing a pueblo on a distant hill, part of the land with perhaps a lot of sand blowing in as well.”

Warner’s appreciation for and enjoyment playing with the English language didn’t end with her retirement. She still writes and has co-authored more than ten books with Gyokossy. Their self-published series, The Mind’s Eye of Artist and Poet, includes Gyokossy’s photographic images alongside Warner’s writing. Says Warner, “He and I would do a general layout of a work and then I would take a “set” of about four to five of his very evocative images and simply write to them—like good musicians play off of each other’s inspirations.”

To access Warner and Gyokossy’s books, visit www.blurb.com/user/Zsombor. You can view Warner’s visual works in person by contacting the artist directly at warnermail11@gmail.com or at the Jemez Fine Art Gallery—a collective that fits well with Warner, who thrives on artistic collaboration and conversation.

 
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