Somethings Wonderful This Way Came

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

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.

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