Following rain showers and snows in the highlands, the sun welcomed the fiber artists to Taos for the 38th Annual Taos Wool Festival and the colorful, whimsical atmosphere was downright poem-inspiring.
This year's theme, 'Back to the Fold' was apropos. Last year the festival was cancelled due to the pandemic and this year the crowds returned with enthusiasm in tow. On-site COVID testing, free face masks, and hand-sanitizer helped the open-air event maintain safety standards and was full of people simply happy to be there. Families picnicked in the open spaces, husbands dutifully supported their wool-shopping wives by pulling wagons and carts full of purchases, and everyone - young, old, male, female, two-legged and four-legged varieties from down the street and states away enjoyed the return of one of Taos' most popular events.
So, what is it about the Taos Wool Festival? Isn't it just a bunch of tents with people selling yarn? "If you've never been in this world of tactile arts, it can be hard to understand at first," explained Donna Jewell, a professor of dance from UNM, Albuquerque who traveled to Taos for the festival. "I always said this was 'too stitchy,' I make dances not fiber arts but there's that element where touching the animal's fiber draws you in. When the fiber is twisted it's strengthened and there are no limits to what can be created."
"The tactile part of this work is powerful. I have a basket of wool scraps that I've labeled 'Wool Therapy.' The joy people have sticking their hands into the wool, of feeling the fibers, smelling them - it's a little bit healing," commented local fiber artist, Lisa Joyce.
It may be more than a little bit healing. There is clearly something restorative and therapeutic about this back-to-the-earth artform of working with fibers rendered from animals. After more than a year of quarantines, remote work, and isolation, the spirit of the festival was tactile as well - it could be felt at the two-day event. John and Karen Spencer traveled from Denver especially for this festival. "Other festivals are so big and it just feels like a big shopping mall. Not here. This is so much more welcoming and enjoyable," noted Karen Spencer, who has returned year after year.
For the range of arts that come from spinning, roving, felting, weaving, knitting and more, there seems to be a fiber art for everyone. Beginners learned about rug punching and experts compared qualities and colors of dyed fabrics while noticing intricacies that only trained eyes could see. Creativity abounds. Anne Vickrey Evans and her husband build felting machines from their home in Tierra Amarilla that felt artists use. Evans noticed the metal they order for their machines was delivered in cylindrical tubes and she asked her husband to save them. "I wasn't sure why but I knew there was something there I could eventually use," she explained. As creatives often experience, within time those tubes sparked an idea and the brightly colored, felted 'tuffets' were the result. When asked what a tuffet is, Evan smiled and responded, "You know…Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet."
For all the brightness of Evans' tuffets, Minna White's art is more subdued - but only when it comes to color. Her felted wool rugs and wall hangings are both simple and sophisticatedly stunning in just a few shades of natural color. The local artist uses wool from the Navajo-Churro; a slow-growing, heritage breed of sheep that came to this country with the Spanish Conquistadors. With so much history literally at her fingertips she explained the essential step of removing the water from the process which one might expect to require a centuries-old tool. "Actually, I use a pool noodle. It's great for removing the water and making sure the pressure is exact," described White.
By all accounts, including the sales of raw fiber and finished products, the crowds that gathered for the sheep shearing events and various demonstrations, the Taos Wool Festival successfully welcomed new fiber enthusiasts to the fold, as well as the 'fiberistas' who return each year.