Somethings Wonderful This Way Came

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

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.