Somethings Wonderful This Way Came

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

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!

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