It's back and it's more than just a festival returning to Taos after the pandemic forced its cancellation last year. According to local fiber artist Merce Mitchell, "the Taos Wool Festival is so much more than a fiber arts festival. It's a happening. People travel here from all over just to be part of it." Clearly, there are a lot of people happy to know that 'The Happening' is once again happening.
In its 38th year, the Taos Wool Festival takes place Oct. 2 and 3 which means 'Fiberistas' will descend on Kit Carson Park with their fibers. Despite its name, the Taos Wool Festival is not limited to only wool and the fiber artists are quick to make that distinction. Local fiber artist Lisa Joyce, who will be attending for the 37th time, explained, "Taos is known for its wool festival but wool is just one aspect. You could call it the Animal Fiber Festival and it would technically be more accurate."
Indeed, wool seems to be the catch-all word for a myriad of fibers and trying to keep track of which animal produces which type of fiber feels a bit like one of those tests a fifth grader could pass, but the rest of us would struggle with. Alpacas and goats produce mohair. Angora rabbits grow fur. A bison grows fiber and a yak produces hair. All of it is fiber, yet only the sheep produces wool. If matching those animals to their fibers seemed easy there are plenty more tests available. Each one of the nearly 50 fiber artists at the festival must qualify by meeting specific regional and quality criteria. The artists are graded on the percentages of fiber in their products while promoting regional and national fibers. Once accepted, the artists can showcase their products rendered from dyeing, spinning, knitting, felting, roving, and even raising - as in sheep.
With roots in Mexico and New Mexico, Elena Miller-ter Kuile is an ethical sheep farmer from southern Colorado. Her dedication to the 100 percent pasture-raised sheep that roam more than 400 acres on the farm her grandmother named, 'Cactus Hill Farm' is likely in her DNA. "We're sheep people and we have been for a long time. I think it was four great grandfathers ago who started raising sheep in the 1840s and '50s. My dad took a break from it but when I returned from college and my sister starting knitting and spinning, she asked if we could get two sheep. We got eight. Today we have 250 ewes." Miller-ter Kuile tends to the sheep like any farmer tends to their livestock. When the lambs are being born and she needs to be there, she'll strap her newborn to her back and tend to her flock. The sheep rancher won't bring any sheep to the festival but she will be there with raw wool, yarn, and wool roving.
The evasive 'it factor' can be difficult to pinpoint, but perhaps it is the passion embodied by the fiber artists that makes the Taos Wool Festival 'a happening.'
"People are attracted to the medium and there's something about the tactile sensory - people call it a fibery goodness," explained Joyce. "But it's more than that. You can buy a painting, hang it on the wall and it stays there. But buy a wool felted hat and it becomes your own. The wool is the art. We're not as responsible because we are bringing out what was already there. Women will try on one of my hats and ask me where is the front and where is the back and I say, 'Yes.'"
"It's a whole magical thing," replied Mitchell when asked how she got interested in dyeing her own wool. "I closed my shop in Taos when the pandemic hit and I discovered I had more time for my art." Mitchell is well known for her artistry and also has a felt show on display across from Moxie as part of the Creative Taos initiative.
The Taos Wool Festival seems to have something for everyone, whether it's an interest in who grows what or what happens to the fiber once it's sheared. "I think sheep are amazing animals and wool is biodegradable, anti-microbial, renewable and moisture-wicking but really, there's a fiber and a fiber art for everyone. We love seeing new converts," concluded Miller-ter Kuile.
The Taos Wool Festival is excited to welcome those converts and familiar friends back to the fold and while some events had to be cancelled due to pandemic precautions, there are ample opportunities to learn from demonstrations and listen to live music. Among the socially distanced spaces, touch-free transactions, and sanitizing efforts, the always popular sheep shearing and raucous speed knitting, spinning, and crochet contests will take place. A silent auction will be held on Sunday. More information can be found at taoswoolfestival.org. The festival has free admission and starts at 9 a.m. both days.