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?

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