Somethings Wonderful This Way Came

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

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!