Somethings Wonderful This Way Came

Somethings Wonderful This Way Came
1970's Vintage Caftan in At Play

Friday, September 16, 2011


One of the things I love most about Harwood Steiger's desert designs is the humor he assigns to the critters who live here.  Most often when folks think of desert critters, they imagine the scary ones.  You know the ones I mean:  Gila monsters, rattlesnakes and scorpions.  They are venomous, sometimes lethal. and enjoy the greatest notariety among non-desert dwellers.  To be sure, they are here, but not in the invasive, dangerous manner that most people fear.  The desert predators pretty much stay as far away as we'd like them to stay. Interestingly, Steiger never included anything that should be feared in his designs.   More often, desert people encounter interesting and benign creatures like lizards, birds and insects.  These are the critters that are far more common and obviously they amused Harwood.  That's why so many of them are portrayed in his designs in such humorous ways. 

There is no doubt that Harwood loved those crazy roadrunners.  He used them over and over as the central element in many textile designs.  One need only look at the highly collected and classic Steiger designs like Square Dance, Running Birds, More Quail, At Play, Desert Clowns and of course, the untitled dress panels and table cloths.  Roadrunners appear dancing, running, hunting, playing and just plain posing.  Look at the dignity assigned to his Aztec Roadrunners.  The beauty of these birds is often portrayed in detail in designs like Paisano and the magnificent Cholla and Roadrunner dress panel.  But, one of my favorites shows them hunting lizards in Running Birds.  A juvenile bird is eagerly chasing a small lizard.  So cute.  Not to be outdone, Steiger's quails join in the fun, as well.  These distinctive birds are often seen in families busy doing what quails do.  Although, usually a plant eater, quail can be seen chasing a lizard or bug, too. 

Have you seen Owls?  Usually portrayed as very dignified birds, Steiger's owls are almost cartoonish as they perch on tree branches. 

I love the ants marching along in Bow Knots.  They are interspersed with the beautifully tied bows and flowers.  Keeping the ants company are a variety of butterflies.  We have many varieties of butterflies in Arizona and they are plentiful no matter where you go.  Speaking of butterflies, a gargantuan sized group are presented in Mariposa in a striking example of Steiger's gift.  Not to be overlooked, Idyll portrays butterflies flitting across the tops of flowers and a ribboned border.  They look to be performing an aerial ballet.  This border print is absolutely stunning.

It's hard to compare Harwood Steiger's textiles to those produced today.  Now, silk screens are laser cut from a two dimensional design.  Harwood Steiger's approach is radically different.  He free-hand cut the designs straight from his head, seldom producing a sketch in advance.  The stencils were cut from a plastic film by hand.  So, he could interject a fun comment as the mood struck him.  Can you see Harwood Steiger sitting at his table cutting away to create complex, beautiful compositions and then adding just a little bit of whimsy, like a baby roadrunner chasing a tiny lizard in the border of a tablecloth?  I can.  I also know that he must have smiled at the little joke.  What a wonderful man Harwood Steiger was.  He created beautiful things and forty years later, he's still making us smile.  How good is that?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Adding Steiger Inventory for Sale

Finally, I am able to announce that outstanding examples of Harwood Steiger fabrics are now on sale at my web store, Quilted Indigo.  Today, I started loading some of Joan's fabrics to my web store inventory and have them for sale now.  This won't be an auction, where the low bidder wins.  Joan and I are looking for good homes and appreciative future owners, no matter how long it takes.  The fabrics will sell for roughly $20 per yard and are sold by the cut, not by the yard.  Designs using more than one color will be slightly more.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase authentic Harwood Steiger textiles in generous yardages.  Check the bottom of this page to preview the offerings and be sure to visit quiltedindigo.comYou have no idea how hard it is for me to let you buy these! 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Laundering History

Whew!  Only yesterday I finished laundering Joan's cache of Steiger fabrics.  The task took a full week.  It was a labor of love, to be sure.  But, a labor nonetheless.  Joan's house experienced a flood some years ago and since the fabrics were packed right away and not cleaned, many bore the water marks and thirty years of Arizona dust.  To rescue the fabrics and restore them to perfect beauty was a very big job.

It started with a preliminary visual inspection.  Each piece was examined and any problems were noted.  The next step was pre-treating any stains.  I searched the Internet for the best approach to each kind of stain.  Then came the soaking.  All three bathtubs in my house were full for a week with soaking Harwood Steiger fabrics.  The hallways were lined with plastic tubs of soaking fabrics as well.  I'm so glad I saved all those five gallon paint tubs and kitty litter tubs.  Depending on the severity of the problem, fabrics soaked at least 24 hours and in some cases 48.  Freshly squeezed lemon juice with a kosher salt rub were used on white fabrics with great success.  It's amazing how well that works.  Then came the washing.  Thankfully, my washer has a stain cycle (over 80 minutes long) and its ability was fully put to the test.  At the end of the first wash, I held my breath as I pulled the fabric from the washer and looked closely to see the results.  My face broke into a full smile as yard after yard of stain free fabric was pulled from the washer.  I ran to my husband and said, "Look.  Look.  No more stains.  I can't believe how perfect this is!"  With his customary lack of interest in any domestic chore he responded, "That's just fine."  Fine?!!!  It's a bona fide miracle!  I am ecstatic to report that every single fabric, save two, are totally and beautifully restored to their original condition. I feel as though the textiles were washed in the Fountain of Youth:  fresh, clean, bright, restored.  I am thrilled.  No, I didn't iron them.  These were wash and wear fabrics, which need not ever experience an iron.  And, besides, I just don't like ironing.  So, shoot me.

This task was a lot of hard work.  There were some pretty sizable lengths of fabric.  Rhododendron is nearly a full bolt of fabric, measuring close to 18 yards.  Try picking up 18 yards of fabric that is soaking wet.  Others, like Seafoam, were over 10 yards long.  Heavy, heavy to handle.  Woodland is made from a cotton blend in a linen like weave.  It's even heavier.  Every night last week I went to bed exhausted, but oh so pleased with the results of my labors.  Each of the fabrics was examined in detail again to confirm their condition.  This morning I developed a spread sheet to send to Joan so that she is fully aware of the inventory and its condition.  Now, I'm ready to start selling these treasures at  Joan's intention is that the fabrics end up with people who will cherish them and appreciate them for what they are:  art by the yard.  She didn't want them to end up in a yard sale or thrift store.  I couldn't agree with her more.  These Harwood Steiger creations are treasures and that is how I have treated them in getting them ready for collectors.  Many have not been seen in decades and I hope to provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire genuine Harwood Steiger textiles, directly from the artist's niece to you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Documenting New Designs

The thrill of discovering and examining new designs was fully realized yesterday when I continued to document the Harwood Steiger textiles from Joan's cache.  Some of these designs are from the early days in Tubac.  It's not a rule, but a guide to say that if signed, "Steiger Fabrics", it's an early piece.  Later the signature was changed to, "Harwood Steiger".  It is true that some early designs continued in production until the studio closed, due to their enormous popularity.  However, Harwood Steiger never rested on his laurels.  He instead continued designing and producing screens throughout the studio's history.  According to Joan, in the last years of his life, he relied more heavily on previously produced screens.  But, new designs continued to emerge until his death in 1980.

I think it would be fair to say that the cactus and desert bird designs are the most easily recognizable Harwood Steiger designs and still enjoy enthusiastic purchase by collectors today.  I find, however, that the abstract and floral designs to be most intriguing.  No doubt, Sophie, Harwood's herbalist and gardening wife, greatly influenced the accurately rendered flowers and plants.  And, there are many---both desert and tropical.  But, Harwood Steiger was a genuine mid century modern artist and produced many, many abstract designs, now referred to as "atomic age" fabrics.  After all, Harwood was an Eames contemporary and designed in his own distinctive geometric style.  Steiger produced s series of abstract designs named for the many small towns that dot southern Arizona:  Tubac, Arrivaca, Suaharita, etc.  They are fabulous and are rendered in three to four colors each.  Look for these, as a collector, for they are often overlooked and go unattributed due to the stark difference from the realistic desert depictions. 

Joan told me a funny story.  A friend of hers whose house was next to the Tubac golf course, made a pair of golfing pants for her husband out of the primary colored version of Apogee.  This particular version of the design looks like a brightly colored stacked stone wall.  Joan says that her friend did this so that she could spot her husband on the course and know how long it would be until he got home.  Well, looking at the example, you can certainly see how this would be true.  In fact, I'll bet he could be spotted from a satellite in space!

I must to get back to photographing the fabrics. I need my daily fix of Steiger and the thrill of examining the new designs is overwhelming.  There is a lot to do to ready them for sale. I hope you will enjoy these.  Don't forget to check soon if you see something you'd like to own.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Expanding My Knowledge Base

After a full year of study and documentation of Harwood Steiger textile designs, I thought I had a pretty good idea of just how many existed.  There is no definitive number of designs produced over the forty year history.  The records from the studio were lost and likely never existed to provide us with that kind of detailed information.  Harwood Steiger was not concerned with posterity.  He just loved creating and producing.  According to those who knew him, he was a bit of a workaholic and for fun and relaxation, he just worked more.  We are the beneficiaries of his focused efforts and last weekend, I learned that I have so much more to learn.

Accompanied by my husband and dog, we hit the road to Tubac Friday morning.  My intention was to work at Joan's house in the afternoon and still have time on Saturday to rummage through her boxes of packed away treasures.  Joan had a flood in her house a few years ago and all of her possessions were packed away by the flood clean up crew without accurately labeling the boxes.  So, I knew it was going to be a challenging and exhausting experience.  I was up for it, but Joan was not.  She wasn't feeling well on Friday, so we postponed our work session until Saturday afternoon when she might feel better. 

The delay was well worth the wait.  Joan led me to a back bedroom that was floor to ceiling with boxes.  Some were labeled, but most were not.  Right away, my Steiger sniffing nose led me straight to a barrel that had bolts of fabric in it.   Yes, that's right bolts!  Most were partial bolts with only a few yards on them, but some looked to have very large quantities of Harwood Steiger silk screened prints.  There were even bolts of unprinted fabric that Joan used as lining for the garments she made.  You couldn't get a better color match than that.  I pulled out the prints and stacked them against the wall in the living room. 

Returning to the bed room, I started peeking in each box, systematically moving it to the other side of the room when I discovered its contents.  On about the 12th box, I hit the jackpot.  The box was jam packed with 2-3 yard cuts of different fabrics!  Without looking further, I pulled the box out and carried it into the kitchen where Joan was working on a jig saw puzzle.  "Oh, good.  I knew there were some boxes of Steiger fabrics in there.  I'm glad you found one." 

One by one I pulled out the fabrics so that Joan and I could see them.  Most of the fabrics are in mint, pristine condition.  They are so crisp after 30 to 40 years with absolutely no loss of color.  Amazing.  As Joan looked through them, she pulled out a few to hold onto.  I can certainly understand that.  There were some pretty special pieces in there.  As Joan sorted them, I saw several designs that were totally new to me.  The box also contained some designs I'd seen pictures of, but not seen in person.  There were also color variations of designs familiar to me, but not in those color schemes.  All in all, this was a genuine treasure trove.  I didn't take the time to examine them right then.  I didn't want to keep Joan from resting.  She still wasn't feeling too well.  And, besides, I had limited room in the car to bring things back to Phoenix.  I should have left the husband and dog at home.  Taking my leave, I promised to measure and inventory the fabric for Joan before putting them up for sale.

Time was limited today as I caught up with neglected chores.  So, I only had time enough to photograph a few.  These are designs which are new to me and I would guess, pretty rare.  They are, in a word, exquisite.  I can't wait to examine them in detail and enhance my appreciation of Harwood Steiger design.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Recreating the Aztec Mystique

Before moving to Tubac in 1958, Harwood and Sophie Steiger spent several years in Sonora, Mexico, where they operated a textile silk screening studio.  It was smaller, but similar to the eventual Tubac studio.  The Steigers' long habit of spending winters in warmer climates than upstate New York, brought them to Mexico, after a few years in Florida.  I believe it was while in Mexico, that the actual silk screening began in earnest.

In 1956, Mr. William Morrow (Owner of the national chain of the Morrow's Nut Houses) and his wife were traveling in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico, where they happened onto the Steiger studio.  Mr. Morrow was a wealthy supporter of the arts who had a vision to create an artist community from the tiny village of Tubac.  He had purchased  a sizable tract of land there and had designed a central plaza plan where he envisioned a community of working artists.  Mr. Morrow offered the Steigers a lot on which to build their studio and in 1958, Harwood and Sophie moved their struggling silk screening studio to Arizona. 

The Steiger move coincided with the relocation of other artists recruited for the community by the Morrows.  And, thus, the village of Tubac became a center for well known artists from across the country, but, mainly from New York. 

Perhaps it was the time spent in Mexico that caused  Harwood Steiger to hone his skills interpreting Aztec motifs for use in his textile designs.  To be sure, over the years, Steiger produced a wide variety of designs that clearly have their roots in ancient Aztec culture.  Some of the designs apparently come straight from temples and other surviving ancient structures.  Others are Aztec interpretations of common Steiger Southwest subjects, like roadrunners.  They are all collectively, distinctive, dramatic and just plain wonderful.

Harwood Steiger produced a range of textiles to offer to his collectors.  They included table linens, light weight yardage for apparel, dress panels, and heavier weight drapery type fabric.  These different types of fabric were the blank canvas for his Aztec inspired renderings.  Perhaps my favorite is the roadrunner interpretation which appears in many different compositions.  I recently acquired a horizontal central design which appears to be intended as a wall hanging exclusively.  I see no other use for it as it is wide and shallow.  I have seen only one other which is owned by Laura Hull.  In the past few days I've closely examined it and find a number of different birds in it including an owl.  I think it is simply fabulous.  But, what else would a Harwood Steiger addict say? 

I must mention to you that after many months, I finally completed the negotiations with the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, MA, to purchase a collection of Steiger textiles.  While in Tubac, I met a wonderful woman who offered to me a collection of early Steiger textiles which included beautiful table linens, dress panels and other yardage.  In the group were a number of small fat quarter sized pieces.  I bought those, but couldn't afford the whole collection.  So, I offered it to the Museum and they were happy to get them.  If you are in Massachusetts, please do stop at the Museum.  They not only have Harwood Steiger textiles, but also a display which includes a portion of his large silk screening table.  I am very happy to have saved these treasures for posterity and put them in the hands of true professional textile stewards.

More big news is that I have a trip planned to Tubac next week to pick up the remaining inventory from the Steiger studio.  Joan, Harwood and Sophie's niece, has asked me to help her dispose of them.  I'll be selling them at starting in a few weeks.  Joan says she may have some garments hidden away in the boxes, too.  This may be more than my poor little addicted heart can handle.  But, I'll have to try for Joan's sake!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting Back on Track

It's been a busy 30 days and a very distracting, but fun time.  My husband and I hosted a group of 6 teen aged girls from Switzerland for a week.  We are not accustomed to teenagers and, needless to say, having wall to wall girls and all their accouterments was quite an experience.  They kept us busy. But, they were respectful, appreciative and eager to lend a hand.  I didn't know that girls still came with those qualities. It's taken me two weeks or so to recover and to get the house back into some semblance of order.  But, I'm almost there.

Even while Swiss Misses were here, the project moved forward, albeit slowly.  My friend, Ruth, bought two pieces of Steiger fabric and had them shipped here to be photographed.  One turned out to be a very early Steiger design called, Sand Dollars.  Very unusual to have a Steiger design with an under the sea theme.  Quite a change from the desert, cactus, and roadrunners most folks are accustomed to when thinking Harwood Steiger.  This particular fabric is beautiful turquoise with black ink.  Joan, Steiger's niece, tells me that it comes from the early days when Harwood and Sophie lived in Florida.  It's really (as my daughter would say) adorable.  Love the crab!  This is one of a group of distinctly different designs that present sea and shore related, or tropical subjects.  One of them, Sea Foam, is quite elegant.  My example is drop dead gorgeous in deep red.  It's abstract, yet very graceful.  It does look like foam flowing at water's edge.  Another, Hawaii, is a floral design incorporating all sorts of lush tropical foliage like plumeria, ginger and orchids along with a beautiful bird.  Again, the example I have is in that lovely deep red with black printing.  I'm sure there are more designs out there that would fall into this group of unusual Harwood Steiger designs.  I hope to run across them someday as more and more designs continue to surface.  I am still amazed that after nearly a year of documenting these fantastic designs, that new, or previously unknown to me, designs continue to turn up.

One of my addiction enablers, Jenny, a vintage clothing and fabric finder extraordinaire, recently called me with the news of a new vintage item.  She unearthed at an estate sale a wonderful apron cover up in a design called Plaza.  Of course, (you guessed it) had to have it.  The design falls into what I call an architectural group.  I have found several that depict dwellings, iron scroll work and other architectural elements.  Very interesting, and unique. 

I received a phone call from Joan, Steiger's niece, today with a request for help.  She has decided that it is time to divest herself of all the Steiger fabrics she's been saving for the past 50 years.  She doesn't want them to end up in a yard sale or a thrift shop.  So, she has asked me to help her inventory what she has and help her sell it.  I am truly honored by her request and also feel the weight of the task to be undertaken.  Can you imagine asking an addict to inventory and dispose of the addictive substance?!!!!  My heart is racing just thinking about it.  I'll have to give some thought to the best way to produce good results for Joan.  More than likely, I'll offer them in my e-commerce store, Quilted Indigo.  That way I can keep selling costs down and offer good value to buyers.  Look for announcements in June.  Will keep you posted on that one. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making New Friends

I had the great honor and distinct pleasure of meeting a wonderful woman this week.  Her name is Carolyn O'Bagy Davis and she is the author of Hopi Summer, chosen this year by ONEBOOKAZ as its winning selection.  Carolyn is also the author of 10 other books including Hopi Quilt, a must read for any quilter interested in historic expressions by Native American women.  Carolyn is a quilter and quilt historian.  It must be said that she is also charming, interesting and a great supporter of all things quilting.  She came to me courtesy of Anna Mary Childs, one of the people who offered up a collection of Steiger textiles to be photographed in Tubac.  Anna Mary told her of my book project and Carolyn contacted me to arrange a brief visit  She's in the middle of a promotional tour for her new book and she stopped in on her way home to Tucson. 

After being gleefully and lovingly mauled by my dog, Tina, Carolyn and I shared some iced tea.  I gave her the 4 minute history of how I became a Harwood Steiger addict and how I progressed from totally uninformed to hopelessly addicted.  It didn't take long to getting around to viewing my collection of Steiger textiles.  As I unfurled example after example, we discussed the history, technology and personal background of Harwood and Sophie Steiger.  Carolyn was full of questions and very good advice.  She asked all the right questions and suggested all kinds of new avenues to explore in developing the book and in finding the right publisher.  It pleased me to no end that she kept oooooing and ahhhing as one Steiger design after another was revealed.  I love nothing more than to share my beautiful textiles with someone who truly appreciates them, and Carolyn honestly did. 

Carolyn is well connected in the Arizona quilting world.  She told me of her involvement in the Arizona Quilt Project and reminded me that our Centennial celebration is next year.  She suggested that I prepare a presentation on Harwood Steiger textiles for historic, quilt and art audiences.  Good idea, and I do have a presentation in development for Marshall Shore's Vanishing Phoenix talks.  Her visit was all too brief and we didn't even get through viewing the entirety of the collection.  But, in that short time, she inspired me in a number of ways:  book development, presentation, and a Harwood Steiger quilt.

I have always intended on making Arizona Sketchbook into a quilt.  But, now there is a level of urgency about it.  Because I only do hand quilting, it takes quite a while to produce a quilt.  Usually, only one quilt per year.  So, if I want to have a quilt ready for the centennial, I need to get started now.  Responding to the urgency, yesterday I photocopied the fabrics I plan on using, and began to experiment with possible block lay outs.  Two guiding thoughts influenced my experiments.  First, it had to be a simple block.  I want the Steiger sketches to not get lost in the block design.  Second, I had to outline each sketch in brown because the boxes on the fabric weren't any where near predictable.  I chose fabrics in colors that Steiger used.  They are mostly solids or read as solids.  I played around with my little strips of paper for hours and came up with some interesting possibilities.  I welcome your opinion about which best showcases the Harwood Steiger sketches. Maybe you have a block that would work even better.  Let me know.  Please send me some comments.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding the Courage to Cut

Every time a new Steiger textile arrives, my husband asks, What are you going to use that for?  He doesn't grasp the concept of a collection for a collection's sake.  Usually, I'll pet the fabric for a while and then carefully fold it printed side in and place it in my special glass fronted cabinet.  The fabric respository is in a darkened room so that sunlight will not fade it, but the collection is easily glimpsed as I work in and around the room.  It's very comforting to me to see them all so neatly folded and stacked.  And, just knowing the Steiger fabrics are safe is enough for me. 

I do have plans for one of the Steiger designs.  It's called Arizona Sketchbook and looks like an assortment of post cards depicting all kinds of interesting things in Arizona:  recreation, towns, wildlife, etc.  I plan to make a quilt out of it in a log cabin Courthouse Steps configuration.  The fabric is brown ink printed on an ivory background and I've already acquired the complementary fabrics in brown, gold, purple and red.  And, just as soon as I finish my Shweshwe Maple Leaf quilt (about half finished hand quilting it) and the Japanese geisha and  bamboo applique top for my friend, Marie (probably the first and last applique quilt I'll ever do), I'll start on Arizona Sketchbook.  But, for the rest of the Steiger fabrics I have no plans.  At least, I didn't have any plans until recently. 

In truth, I've been very reluctant to cut up my Steiger treasures.  I know, I know.  They were made to be used.  My fear is that once I commit to a projecct, that fabric will be gone and I may never see it again on the open market.  The fabrics are becoming scarcer and scarcer and more and more expensive.  But, when I visited Joan (Steiger's niece), she gave me a skirt already cut out in Tumbleweeds.  It's beautiful--- rust background with navy blue ink.  What Joan gave me was a lined wrap around skirt, typical of the 1960's.  It sat in my collection cupboard for a couple of weeks before I took it out to assess what I could do with it.  I ended up reducing the length and turning it into a gathered skirt.  I had enough left over to make a rounded yoke for a corresponding blouse in navy.  I suppose it really is a two piece dress.  It turned out well. 

In years past, I used to make nearly all of my clothes.  My first ambition in life was to be a fashion designer and I tested all kinds of fabrics in all kinds of garments from formal dresses to suits.  i developed considerable skills, but never translated that into a profession or business.  As real life took over, I had less and less time to sew, and like so many, gave into the convenience of ready-made clothing.  My success with Joan's already cut out skirt gave me the courage to move forward with other garments made in Steiger fabrics.  Over the last year, I've found some really lovely garments made by others, on-line and during my survey documentation in Tubac.  People like me lucked into a Steiger fabric and put their sewing skills to use.  So, I decided to do the same, finally, according to my husband.

My first effort was a fabric given to me by Joan.  It's called Weeds and is an overall design of black ink on a beautiful rich turquoise blue. If the truth be known, I generally wear shorts and t-shirts most of the time.  But, a nice loose fitting dress is a welcomed addition to the Arizona wardrobe.  So, I selected a vintage dress pattern with a square yoke that I found at a thrift shop.  It only took a couple of days to make start to finsih and turned out great. 

Encouraged by these two successes, I next tackled a border print (non Steiger).  This dress is a little more form fitting and I had to create my own pattern.  But, I love the way the Yeis look and it very similar to a Steiger fabric called Yeis.  This example however, is a multi colored print on natural colored cotton is nothing less than striking.  I've been saving this one for a long time and I took many deep breaths before cutting.  I really like it and will now risk using an actual Steiger fabric on another dresss.

The most recent dress is made from one of those beautiful dress panels.  The Steigers panels are two yards of fabric with the silk screened design printed on the width instead of the length of the fabric.  And, the Steigers were right.  It takes two yards to make a simple shift.  This casual dress is just perfect for the climate:  loose and roomy.  I have several of these panels in different colors, fabrics and designs.  This particular design was one of the most popular of the Steiger dress panels with prominent saguaro cactus, roadrunners and other desert plants.  I see a lot of this design.  They usually are less expensive to buy than overall designs because of limitations of a central pattern.  So, be on the look out for this kind of bargain.

So now, thanks to Joan, I have the beginnings of a whole new wardrobe for the summer.  I'll probably next tackle a jacket and skirt for business occasions.  I have a large piece of Papago, thanks to a generous gift from Robert Black, vintage clothier extraordinaire.  But, that's enough new clothes for me for a while.  I hope you enjoy them and some of the other great garments that have turned up.  I'll add a couple more examples from my collection soon.  I just have to photograph them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exploring the Details of Design

During last week, I was able to photograph all of the wonderful fabrics given to me by Joan, Harwood and Sophie's niece.  I focused on capturing details of some of the different designs.  There are so many.  One fabric may contain nearly a hundred design elements, each linked and placed harmoniously with its neighbors.  A great example is Seven Cities of Cibola.  I think this was one of Joan's favorites.  When she was pulling out the treasured Steiger examples from her black chest, the striking lime green base color of the fabric overwhelmed me, and I had to exclaim, What a fantastic sixties color!  And, it is.  Beyond the color of the fabric, one immediately begins to note the complex design of the silk screening.  Joan told me that this was a particularly difficult design to print.  I believe her.

The printing process was not particularly difficult in and of itself.  The fabrics would be rolled out on a very long table and then the screen would be placed, inked and moved to its next location, skipping space in a leap frog fashion so that the inks would not smudge until they dried.  Then, Harwood would come back and fill in the empty spaces, leap frogging again until the entire bolt was printed.  The problem comes in with strictly maintaining registration.  The Seven Cities of Cibola design, complex and intricate, was difficult to maintain registration exactly.  Steiger, being a perfectionist, would not sell the fabric that was not perfect.  But, also being a thrifty person, could not afford to discard the fabric.  An ingenious solution was created.  On these imperfect printing runs, Harwood would overprint another complimentary design, hiding the imperfections of the first print.  I had seen some overprint fabrics, but had wrongly assumed that these were an effort to introduce variations following Harwood's death.  Joan just laughed when I told her this.  No, Uncle Harwood and Aunt Sophie just couldn't afford to waste any fabric.  It was the most expensive part of the studio process

It wasn't until Joan gave me this beautiful green example of Seven Cities of Cibola that I was able to examine it closely.  In reviewing the photos, I just shake my head in wonder and appreciation of its divine dimension and energy.  Undoubtedly, Harwood Steiger was a collector of native symbols and a creator of interpretations of the things seen and found in the desert.  He was clearly a keen observer of desert life including all plants and many animals (the most whimsical ones, surely).  All these he gathered into his designs. 

The stencils were all hand cut.  Harwood would work out the designs while summering in New York.  One of Joan's earliest jobs as a young child while visiting Uncle Harwood and Aunt Sohpie in Red Neck, was sweeping up all the little pieces cut from the stencils.  That was such a hard job!  All those damned little pieces, Joan complained nearly sixty years later.  It really must have been a hard job, indeed.  Joan is still frustrated by the task. 

In looking at the fabric design, I'm unable to determine where one stencil ended and another one begins.  Such is the talent of this persnickitty printer.  Joan tells me that the stencils were only about 18 inches long.  This amazing attention to minute details is what makes Steiger such an exceptional artist and separates him from other silk screeners of his era.  Where most silk screeners of the mid century worked in big, bold graphical designs, Harwood Steiger's work was highly detailed, almost delicate in comparison. 

My husband often chuckles when he finds me petting my fabric.  Almost daily (and usually when he's not at home) I take out a piece from my Harwood Steiger collection and just look at it.  I find something new in each piece every time.  Sometimes I'll hang it on my quilt design wall so I can study it in its entirety.  Also, I can examine design elements easily and study how they all fit and work together to create a lovely, and may I say fascinating, fabric.  I guess I have become mesmerized by my addiction.  I hope I'll never find a 12 step program to cure me of it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Becoming a Textile Archeologist

The Villager, Tubac's only publication, was gracious enough to run a small feature article I wrote for them on my book project.  In the article, I asked for anyone possessing Harwood Steiger examples to contact me in the hopes that I would be able to photograph them.  I also sent a few photos of Steiger fabrics I had on hand. 

Well, if the Villager ever needed confirmation that locals read it cover to cover, I can provide it.  I got so many responses over the next few weeks that it was dizzying.  Each and every day I received several emails from folks who had fabrics, curtains, garments and more.  By the time December rolled around, over 30 people had offered their Steiger treasures to be photographed.  Only problem was, I had to have surgery on my right hand that could no longer be delayed.  It was nothing serious, but not having the use of your dominant hand's thumb is handicapping.  So, I let everyone know that my photo sessions would be delayed until January.

In spite of the delay, ethusiasm for the project had not waned when I recontacted all those folks.  Based on the large number of people willing to work with me and the number of items they each brought, I scheduled a three day trip to Tubac and arranged with Nancy to use the Pink House as my working studio.  Preparations included creating a permission sheet (required by publishers), packing up my own Steiger treasures to share, borrowing a digital Nikon from my friend, Marie, and confirming a three day schedule with everyone.  When the time came, I packed up the car, complete with groceries, coffee pot, ironing board and iron, my quilting design wall for a backdrop, and a few changes of clothes.  This was going to be a heavy duty working session, so no need for anything that was not absolutely essential.

The schedule I developed permitted me to travel to Tubac in the morning and get set up for appointments starting at 1 PM.  My first appointment was on time and the schedule was pretty tight for the rest of the day straight on through to 8 PM.  The next day was pretty much the same, except I started work at 8 AM and went to 8 PM.  On the last day, one of my appointments couldn't find me and it was a shame because she claimed to have 30 different fabrics.  I had set aside the bulk of the morning for her.  But, not to worry, because I was catching up with a huge collection that had been left with me of  mostly linens.  Keep in mind that each and every item offered to be photographed had to be ironed first.  I haven't done that much ironing in at least 10 years, if ever.  On the last day, work ended at around 9 PM.  I was exhausted, but, oh so happy.  I had been able to take over 120 photos of some of the most stunning fabrics I'd ever seen.  And, more importantly, I met great, actually wonderful people, who shared with me some pretty terriffic stories about Harwood Steiger, buying fabrics at the studio, how the fabrics had been used, and so much more.

One lady and her husband had been visiting a local ranch house that had just undergone a complete renovation.  She noticed that the construction debris pile had what looked like the old drapes.  Upon closer inspection, they turned out to be Steiger roadrunners printed on a heavy linen.  Torn?  Yes.  Stained?  Yes.  But, nonetheless she asked if she could retrieve them from the trash heap, and of course, took them home, carefully laundered them and saved them from an unhappy disposal.  I loved this story.  But, you know what?  She gave me one of those drapery fragments and I treasure it all the more for having been rescued.

Another couple that visited with me were so much fun.  The wife was a quilter and both were eager to see my own collection.  We went through the fabrics piled on the bed in the second bedroom and they ooooed and ahhhed appreciatively at my personal treasures.  She had brought some great fabrics, too and we had the best time together.  Before she left, she proposed a trade:  one half yard of her Mimbres for one half yard of my Nine Wives.  Well, yes, of course.  We were both happy with the transaction.

Did you know that Santa Claus lives in Tubac?  Her name is Judy.  Judy was one of my first visitors.  She just dropped off her fabrics and said, Call me and I'll pick them up later.  That's Tubac folks for you:  trusting, generous and so very supportive.  Judy had some great fabrics.  One, Bows and Arrows, I had tried to acquire on Ebay, but was unsuccessful.  It went sky high.  Another, Saguaro, is one of my most favorite.  I photographed them in between other appointments and eventually phoned Judy to retrieve her treasures.  I could not believe it when Judy handed me four beautiful cuts of fabric including Bows and Arrows and Saguaro. She said, You keep these.  I really want you to have them.  It was Christmas for me, for sure.  So, yes, Santa lives in Tubac.

There are other great stories, too.  One from the lady who years earlier volunteered to run the Four H Program in the village and used to take the kids to Steiger's studio to shop for fabric for their projects.  There was no other place to buy fabric back then unless you wanted to go to Tucson and that was too far away.  Another from a lady whose house burned down with everything her family owned in it.  So, friends got together, purchased Steiger fabrics and sewed clothes for the family.  Amazing.  Simply amazing. 

During those three days in Tubac, I saw Steiger fabrics that I didn't know existed.  I saw Steiger fabrics in color variations that were stunning.  I saw Steiger fabrics sewn into beautiful garments and home decorations.  In retrospect, I'm glad that Pamela Coates Antiques was unwilling to let me use her inventory as the base collection for my book.  If I had been able to use that inventory, I wouldn't have had to work so hard to find all these individually owned examples and I wouldn't have met all these wonderful, wonderful people and I would not have heard their stories.  My textile archeology paid off in a huge way and I am enriched by the effort.  Also, I now have some great friends in Tubac, too.  Thank you, Pamela Coates.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Visiting Joan, Harwood and Sophie's Niece

Yesterday I had the distinct honor of visiting with Joan, the Steigers's niece who was very close to Harwood and Sophie.  I have been trying to arrange a meeting for six months and we just never seemed to connect.  Joan is not in good health right now, and is scheduled for hip replacement following a fall last year.  To her, the whole inconvenience of being in a wheel chair, is simply that:  an annoying inconvenience.  It makes me mad that I just can't get up out of this chair and walk into the kitchen, she declared.  But, in spite of her difficulties, she very graciously welcomed me into her home and shared with me a trove of amazing treasures.

We started with a portfolio of watercolors and drawings produced by both Harwood and Sophie.  Some were easily recognizable as Harwood Steiger's work.  I have seen a number of his paintings in galleries, and of course, his monumental mural in an Alabama post office.  Harwood's work is generally of landscapes and buildings as he observed them in his environments.  There were beautiful scenes from Duchess County, NY, where he and Sophie lived, gentle rolling green hills, dotted with farms and small buildings.  There were wonderful coastal scenes from his time in Martha's Vinyard and Florida, boats rigged with fishing nets and crowded harbors.  But, the most touching painting was of Sophie, herself painting a still life, inside their Red Neck, NY cottage.  Harwood produced a series of watercolors that depicted views from windows in their home.  The scenes changed with the seasons and other elements placed on the sills and tables near the window.  Some elements were constant like a conch shell on the table.  Others, such as flowers, were seasonal in keeping with the changing landscapes.  These were beautiful works of art.  Loose, bold strokes in the watercolor demonstrated Harwood's mastery of the medium.  Not being an artist myself, I don't know the techniques that produced both the suggestion of, and precise details in the painting's elements.  To me, it is magic.  But, what is most amazing is how completely different these paintings are from the silk screened textiles.  A knowing eye would be able to detect similarities in forms, the creation of movement, the absolute mid century modern esthetic.  But, to an untrained eye, the paintings I saw and the textiles I collected, bore no suggestion of having been created by the same person.  Many of the paintings Joan has are not signed.  Uncle Harwood was an extremely modest man.  But, he was very hard on himself and a serious critic of his own work.  He wouldn't sign anything untlil he thought it was perfect.  Aunt Sophie wouldn't let him throw anything away.  So, if he was unhappy with the things he'd been working on, he'd get up in the middle of the night and burn them while Sophie slept

Among the watercolors were Sophie's work, as well.  Sophie's paintings were lovely and romantic.  Her technique produced more controlled images.  Many were still lifes, while others showed people going about their daily business.  It was clear that Sophie studied under Harwood, but she demonstrated a clearly different style all her own.  Unlike Harwood, Sophie painted people.  Through her, we get a glimpse into their lives in Duchess County.  Sophie was an herbalist and a gardener.  So, plants, flowers and growing things appear frequently.  Her paintings exhibit great precision and exactness in high contrast to Harwood's bold, loose strokes.  According to Joan, Sophie was deliberate in all things.

Putting away the portfolio, we moved to the laundry room where Joan had a black three drawer chest.  I was suprised when opening up the second drawer, Joan began to extract small pieces of Steiger fabrics saved from sewing projects of years gone by.  It's hard for me to even think about cutting up a Steiger fabric.  But, here, Joan demonstrated that she used these fabrics often, sewing dresses, shirts, vests, and any number of garments for her and her family.  Joan told me that as a young woman, she used to sew all kinds of items to be sold in the Steiger studio in Tubac.  Oh, yes, I made tote bags, vests and all kinds of things.  I'd just take the fabric from the shop, bring it home and sew it into items we thought would sell.  That's how I made money in those days.  Joan also made practical household items.  As she pulled a scrap from the drawer she explained that she had made a toaster cover from this fabric.  And, she lamented that a soft, stuffed Christmas tree she had made for her mother seemed to have disappeared.  I hope it didn't go into a yard sale.  Joan pulled out a collection of pieces pinned together.  They were in a fabric design I'd not seen before.  It was rust colored with black printing.  This is Tubleweeds, Joan said. I cut out a wrap around skirt, but never got around to sewing it.  Maybe you can figure out how to piece it together.  As she handed the bundle to me, I just looked in wonder at the potential of this handful of 40 year old fabric waiting to become a garment.

She kept pulling out scraps of Steiger designs I'd never seen.  Oh, this is an early one.  Or, I made a dress out of this one.  I was almost squealing with delight as Joan revealed fabric after fabric in the most amazing colors and designs.  You know, Uncle Harwood used to mix his own ink colors.  He wasn't satisfied with the standard colors available from the manufacturer.  Joan kept handing me fabrics and I stacked them atop a nearby box.  When she got to the bottom of the drawer, she moved onto the last one.  There, again, packed away were yards and yards of brilliant Steiger fabrics.  The colors were as bright as if they had been printed last week.  Some simply took my breath away.  There was a piece of Apogee with such strong color saturation it shocked me.  I held it up to admire it.  Stunning.  Simply stunning. 

I could go on to tell how fabric after fabric brought utter delight.  I was practically swooning with excitement.  But, suffice it to say, each and every fabric was beautiful.  Most of the designs Joan extracted from her stash were new to me---either an entirely unknown design, or a color variation not before seen.  I was in heaven. 

To my utter amazement, Joan made a gift of those fabrics to me.  I could not have been more thrilled than if someone had just given me a dozen Hope diamonds.  When I left, she gave me yet one more departing gift:  a Hawood Steiger painting.  But, the true gift that day was meeting Joan and listening to her tell me of beloved Aunt Sophie and Uncle Harwood.  Like nearly every experience I've had in the process of researching this book, meeting and visiting with Joan was a genuine joy, and now I count her among my friends.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spreading the Word

Tubac Village, itself, is little more than a six block by six block square.  New Tubac runs from the Frontage Road to the east for about three blocks.  This is where most of the galleries, restaurants and shops are located.  Old Tubac is closer to the river and includes the Presidio, St. Ann's Church and a smattering of private homes, artist work spaces, and a few shops.  I started out in the most populous areas to spread the word of my book project. 

Stopping at the deli for a latte, I chatted briefly with the counter clerk while she prepared my beverage.  No.  She'd never heard of Harwood Steiger (How could she?  She was so young!).  But, sure, go ahead and put a flyer up on the bulletin board.  There should be some push pins up there.  Leaving the deli, I headed across the street to the arts center.  I asked to see the Executive Director, to whom I'd spoken a few weeks ago.  But, alas, she was not in today and not expected.  Again, I left a flyer.

Hmmmmm.  Where next?  I just started walking east and stopped in at several shops and galleries.  All the people I met and talked with were friendly, interested in what I was doing, and willing to pass the word onto others because they, themselves, neither knew Steiger nor owned any of his textiles.  This was not promising.  Finally, I happened into a shop where the owner and staff all knew Steiger.  In fact, they had a banner Harwood Steiger had created for the arts festival years ago.  And, oh yeah, that building across the street was his studio.  But, of course, it looked a lot different back thenYou should talk to...and they gave me a list of folks who'd been in town a long time and who had known the Steigers.  Accepting a flyer, they wished me luck and on I went.  I worked my way through the list, but mostly didn't connect with a lot of folks.  Many were away or simply unavailable.  But, please leave one of those flyers.  So, I did, basically papering the town with my flyers.  People were polite, generous and accommodating and before the day was over, I had flyers in every major space in town:  post office, community center, business services centers, galleries, the Chamber of Commerce, shops and grocery stores.  I even drove down to Amado and Tumacacori to post flyers there.  By the end of day, my flyers were in nearly every establishment in and nearTubac. 

When evening arrived, I returned to the Pink House to pick up Nancy Valentne.  I wanted to take her to dinner as a way of thanking her for the hospitality.  As it turns out, it was Nancy's birthday, too.  So, off we went to a wonderful Mexican restaurant, owned and operated by a multi generational family.  We gorged ourselves on absolutely delicious tamales, all the while sipping great Margueritas.  Nancy told me of her plan to turn the family properties into affordable work/live space for artists.  One of the buildings on the property is so important to the history of Tubac, I could hardly believe it.  Nancy's family home while growing up, at one time had been the first store in Tubac, its first post office, first telegraph and telephone line, and so on.  Loew's Store, as the structure is known, was the center of Tubac's community for over a hundred years.  I had read about it in Elizabeth Brownell's book, They Lived in Tubac.  She explained her plans for developing it and her dreams of bringing more working artists to Tubac.  It was a wonderful dnner, passed with lively conversation and belly laughs.  By dinner's end, Nancy and I were good friends.

The next day started out early.  I had an appoinment with the good folks at the historic society.  They were ready and waiting for me.  Laying on the table was a file folder full of newspaper clippings, ads, magazine stories, photos and other ephemera on Harwood Steiger.  Some of the ladies told me that they had visited the Steiger studio when it was still open.  But, none of them actually knew him.  Most of them were snowbirds who only came after the oppressive heat of summer had passed.  But, they had been Tubac showbirds for decades.  They were a fun group and so full of information.  I really had a good time visiting with them and learned a lot about the town, its history and Harwood Steiger.  I was reluctant to leave, but I wanted to get on the road and get home early enough to cook dinner for my husband.  Plus, I missed my four pawed girls. 

On my way out of town, I gassed up at the convenience store on the frontage road.  After paying , I picked up a copy of the Villager, the monthly newspaper of Tubac, in a rack near the door.  I stuffed it into my computer case and headed north to Phoenix.  I was happy with all of the great people I'd met and felt the expedition had gone well.  One thing I learned about Tubac is that the people are nice and far more accommodating than folks you'll find in a city.  Yes, I liked Tubac and was glad for the time I'd spent there.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Being Rejected and Becoming Empowered

One of the first sites that comes up when a Harwood Steiger internet search is conducted is that of Pamela Coates Antiques.  This site offers the largest collection of Harwood Steiger silk screen prints for sale on the internet, and probably anywhere.  My understanding is that Ms. Coates used to live in Green Valley, AZ, a community located between Tucson and Tubac.  Apparently, Pamela Coates Antiques acquired quite an inventory of Steiger prints over the years, and probably towards the end of the studio's operations.  I salivate when I visit the website because there are so many different designs----some of which I've never seen in person.  You can imagine that for an addict like myself, this is a temptation that causes me to tremble.  The bad news is, I just can't afford the prices on the items offered.  They are simply beyond my ability to buy and good judgement to pay by credit card.  Nonetheless, it is the largest collection I've seen to date.  I would have gone down to visit Pamela Coates, but she apparently moved to New Jersey, taking her wonderful Steiger collection with her. 

When I reached the decision to write a book on Harwood Steiger textiles, I emailed her, telling of my intentions to publish a book and asking for her cooperation.  As a former antiques business person, I know the importance of exposure to the market and thought Ms. Coates would welcome the opportunity to  prominently appear in a book on Steiger.  Boy, was I wrong.  Ms. Coates wrote me and said that she had considered writing a book herself, and no, she wouldn't put me in touch with Steiger family members because they didn't want to be bothered.  I emailed her again asking if she would consider letting me use the photos on her website, or even permit me to produce new, better quality photos that she in turn, could use.  No reply.  She basically shut the door on me, cutting off access to the largest Steiger collection I could find.  Bummer!  If I had been able to gain her cooperation, the Pamela Coates Antiques collection would have been the core portrayed in the book.  But, that easy solution to research material was not to be.  Now what?

I thought about this for a long time.  I finally decided that the only thing to do was to go to Tubac and dig around some more.  In preparation, I made some flyers, briefly telling of the book project and asking for anyone having Steiger examples to get in touch with me.  Next, I started looking for a place to stay.  There aren't too many choices of accommodations within the village of Tubac.  But, I happened onto a curious place that described itself as a place for working artists offering heritage accommodations.  Aldea de Artisticas is a collection of historic structures converted into charming and comfortable accommodations in the heart of Old Tubac.  That sounded interesting.  So, I wrote to and heard back from Nancy Valentine.  Nancy is such a nice person.  She asked about the project and how I became interested in Steiger.  I learned that Nancy's parents had been among the early "colonists", and that the accommodations offered were in historic old adobe dwellings.  How could I possibly resist staying with Nancy, especially since she offered me a no cost stay as her contribution to the project? 

That's how I found my home away from home.  Nancy made available a lovely little pink adobe cottage.  It had two bedrooms, a huge, modern bath, a tiny, but complete kitchen and a living/dining room with a fire place.  The Pink House is located right across the street from St. Ann's church and in the heart of the oldest part of Tubac.  Totally charming is how I describe it.  I got to Tubac around noon and stopped to have lunch at the deli.  After that, I went straight to the Pink House and unloaded my things so I could get organized.  The door was open and Nancy had said she had a meeting in Green Valley and wouldn't be back until later in the afternoon.  I loaded up my brief case with flyers and started out, on the trail of Harwood Steiger.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Finding Dress Panels

A number of items began to appear on Ebay that were distinctly unsuitable for quilting.  They were composed of a stand alone design, centered onto  a 1 yard piece of fabric.  These items almost universally were sold in two yard lengths, yielding two designs per cut.  I discovered that these were dress panels.  Sophie, Harwood Steiger's wife, obviously had a great influence on the development and marketing of his designs. These two yard cuts of fabric were just enough to make a simple shift.  Back in the 1960s and beyond, simple shifts were very popular, and in Arizona, a light weight sleevless shift was a necessity. Furthermore, the fabrics used  were almost always a poly/cotton blend which would not require ironing.  Sophie was a very practical woman. 

I began collecting these, too.  No self respecting addict would pass them up, even if no legitimate use was envisioned.  Eventually, some dress panels showed up in what I call kettle cloth and some in a more formal linen like fabric, though I'm sure it's rayon.  The subjects of the designs are as varied as views in the Sonoran desert.  There are designs suggestive of the Aztecs, many strictly representational designs of cactus and desert birds, and many of lovely flowers and other wildlife.  I'm always finding more unknown designs as time goes on.  They come in a great range of colors, too.  I have often thought of making my own simple shifts out of these great dress panels.  I just have a tough time taking my scissors to any Harwood Steiger fabric.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Going to Tubac

My first trip to Tubac was as a traditional tourist.  I learned on the internet that Tubac was hosting its annual arts festival and persuaded my husband that it was time for a road trip.  He knew, of course, of my lifelong interest in the arts, but was only slightly aware that Tubac was my Harwood Steiger Mecca.  The Saturday we set out for Tubac was glorious:  warm, sunny---the very reasons for living in Arizona.  We packed up the car with lots of bottled water, snacks and dog biscuits.  Tipatina (Tina), also known as Singing Heart, loved road trips.  She woof woofs driving through the city, but when we reach the rural areas, she settles down for naps on her back seat quilt.  It's about a three hour trip from Phoenix to Tubac, most of it through the beautiful southern Arizona desert.  As a new resident I am always thrilled to see more of this stunning landscape.  So many people who have never been here believe that all of Arizona is desolate and empty except for rattlesnakes and scorpions.  We have those, for sure, but you seldom see them.  What Arizona does have in abundance is beautiful vistas, unbelievable varieties of cactus in the low desert, and amazing botanical specimens everywhere else.  Phoenix, my home, is in the low desert.  As a city, the yards and public scapes are well manicured and nearly tropical.  Palm trees, citrus, bouganvilla and other exotic shrubs are the norm.  Tubac, on the other hand is a higher elevation in the foothills of the mountains that separate it from infamous places like Tombstone.  There's lots of mesquite and palo verde everywhere.  There are cactus, too,  but, also grasses and shrubs.  It's lovely and a little wild.  I've been told that the village is open range and that means that occasional cattle along with skunks and havelina may just munch in your garden.

Tubac is a tiny, unincorporated village.  One would be surprised to learn that it's the first European settlement in the United States.  The very oldest part of Tubac is a hodge podge of ancient adobe structures around the Presidio and St. Ann's Church.  Newer Tubac, where most of the art galleries are located, is a mix of brand new pseudo adobes and buildings erected all through the 20th century.  Harwood Steiger's silk screening studio was one of these.  You would never recognize the building today if looking at a picture from his brochure.  The building has been remodeled into a predictable Spanish style retail space.  There's no evidence of the original adobe structure from the outside.  I had to ask around before finding it. 

Nonetheless, Tubac is charming.  The streets are lined with galleries, sellers of Talaveras pottery and small shops of every imaginable kind.  We finally parked after circling the village a time or two to get our bearings.  Tina was happy to get out of the car.  The first out door gallery we came to held beautiful bronze sculptures of animals.  The wolf sculpture captured Tina's attention.  As soon as she saw it, she took a stance between it and us, then started a low growl.  When the wolf didn't respond, she started barking outright.  This is really funny to us.  As a Tibetan Terrier weighing a little over 20 pounds, she'd make a good lunch for a wolf.  But, to a bronze wolf, frozen in place, she was the aggressor.  We laughed.  Finally she realized something wasn't right and slowly approached the bronze.  When the wolf still didn't move, and she could get a good sniff, her tail started wagging again.  What a hoot!  We moved on pulling Tina with us.  She was still keeping an eye on that wolf.

I checked into some of the shops selling vintage linens and quilts.  I thought that if some Steiger pieces survived in the village, they would be there.  Wrong.  I asked a few of the shop owners about Mr. Steiger.  Old timers just clucked and said it was a shame he wasn't around anymore.  Sure do miss him, several said.  No, no Steiger family left in Tubac.  Many of the shop owners were relative newcomers who had heard of Harwood Steiger, but didn't know anything about him.  I mostly struck out in the Harwood Steiger department.  I was disappointed, to be sure.

We had lunch at a lovely little outdoor bistro we'd seen on Arizona Highways.  Great food.  I also had a chance to admire Kim Yubeta's jewelry on display in a gallery window.  Georgous.  We visited the large outdoor sculpture garden and I had a chance to lust after many beautiful works of art.  When my lust filled heart could stand it no longer, we packed Tina into the back seat of the car and headed back to Phoenix.  I didn't find any traces of Harwood Steiger.  However, I did find Tubac, and I loved it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Uncovering Harwood Steiger

My fate was sealed when a few weeks later an Ebayer posted a listing for three different Steiger remnants.  One was black printing on a luscious blue, one was green printing on a natural linen and the last was black on rust.  They were totally different from my earlier purchases.  The first two were different leaf designs.  The rust piece was a stylized Native American design. Gotta have 'em.  My addiction was taking hold in a big way.

When they arrived I just kept holding them and searching each piece for clues about their maker.  Now, I had to know who is this Harwood Steiger, guy???  This time I read every item that came up on the Google search.  There were referrences to Harwood Steiger, the painter and examples of the work of Harwood Steiger, the silk screen artist.  It wasn't until I talked with a gallery owner in Tucson that my suspicions were confirmed.  Harwood Steiger was both painter and silk screen artist.  Not much was known about him.  There were lists of exhibits in which he participated, sketchy biographical information, and photos of his paintings.  But, there was nothing, absolutely nothing about silk screened textiles.  There was nothing to connect this landscape/cityscape artist with the botanical and Native American subjects depicted on the textiles.  People in the art world sort of knew about the textiles, but nobody had any information about what was proving to be a large body of work from Tubac.

As the weeks and months rolled on, I acquired more Steiger fabrics, usually from Ebay.  Each one was a treasure.  More cactus, desert birds, Native American symbols and abstract designs.  I would lay them out on the dining room table and just look at them.  My husband, a usually indugent man, finally asked what I was going to do with all this seemingly unrelated fabric.  He was accustomed to quilting auditions where I'd lay out fabrics to see if they worked together.  Obviously, this fabric was not a quilting audition.  None of it seemed to work together.  I don't know, was my answer.  But, I sure do love it.  I carefully combed through all the blog postings that mentioned Harwood Steiger.  Most were from folks like myself who happened to find a piece (usually in a thrift shop) and made something wonderful with it.  Finally, one blogger said Somebody ought to write a book about this guy.  That's the seed that was planted and explains why I am where I am today:  developing a book on the silk screened textiles of Harwood Steiger.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Discovering Harwood Steiger

A few years ago, right after moving to Arizona, I discovered Harwood Steiger. It was an accident, really.  I wasn't seeking to add yet one more obsession to my life.  I already had indigo fabrics, quilting, arts and my furry friends.  But, as luck would have it, while indulging a existing addiction, I found another. I conducted a search on Ebay one day for indigo fabric, as was my daily custom, and up popped a charming little white linen table cloth with saguaro, roadrunners and other cactus printed in indigo colored ink.  How sweet, I thought.  As a newcomer to the desert, I simply had to have it.  So, I bid and I won.  When my Ebay item arrived, I smiled.  It made me happy and connected me to the landscape in which I now lived.  To my surprise, the design was signed, "Harwood Steiger".  Well, I thought, I wonder who that is.  I spread the tablecloth in the dining room and walked away, quite pleased with my very Arizona acquisition.

Every day thereafter, as I walked through the dining room, I'd stop and admire that little cloth and finally, curiosity got the best of me.  I had to know, Who is Harwood Steiger?  I was surprised when an internet search turned up information on an artist named Harwood Steiger who had paintings in the Whitney Museum and who also had painted a significant mural in Alabama.  There was no mention of any Harwood Steiger, textile designer.  I didn't think they could be the same artist, as the painting styles were radically different from my tablecloth.  Shrugging, I left my initial internet search and got busy with quilting.  Only since then, my daily Ebay searches included Harwood Steiger.  I wondered if there were any other textiles produced under this name. 

It didn't take too terribly long before another Steiger item appeared on Ebay.  This time, it was yardage in an overall design.  Hmmmmm.  You guessed it.  Had to have it.  When this item arrived, I was thrilled.  WOW!  This was a mid century modern design very unlike the cactus tablecloth and very unlike the paintings. The colors were bright, like it was made yesterday. On the selvage, the same Harwood Steiger signature appeared with the word, "Flair."  Well, I thought, this has got to be the same guy.  There must be two Harwood Steigers:  a painter and a textile designer.  So, I went back to the internet and this time, there was a listing for Harwood Steiger Studios in Tubac, AZ.  That had to be the one.  The only problem was, the studio no longer existed and there were no Steigers in the Tubac phone book.  Phooey!  I decided I didn't have time to waste looking into dead quilting was screaming at me.  As it turns out, my quilting was turning over its place of prominence without me even knowing it.  An obsession was in the making.