When I ask Dane Thomas how weaving came into his life, he says one word: “Hazel.” Thomas, 57, has his first show, Weaving El Dorado, at Jim Coates Gallery in Miami until June 4.
Hazel nurtured a seed in Thomas that was planted years earlier in Silver City, New Mexico. “I wanted to be a writer,” Thomas explains. “They have a little university over there [in Silver City] and I checked out a book on weaving. I was living in an old church as a caretaker and had no television or anything. I spent almost a year there. I sat in my cold room in the middle of the old building and strung up a loom and a warp and started weaving from this book.”
Fifteen years later in Hot Springs, Arkansas, “a woman at the unitarian church, Hazel, had strung up a warp and brought it into the church on a simple frame and as a community we started putting the weft threads across the warp.” Thomas’ credits the mentorship that he received from Hazel in part with his current commitment to the craft of weaving. “It had a great deal to do with meeting her and thinking ‘Oh, weaving. I’d probably like that.’” Now, Thomas spends 2-3 hours a day weaving in his Globe home. He still calls himself “absolutely an amateur.”
“I try to convince myself that I’m creating beauty—stealing that concept from the Navajos or something—but it’s really work. Especially weaving. A lot of it is just sitting down and putting your time in and it’s very selfish in many ways because—like meditation and yoga—it has become just essential,” says Thomas of his weaving practice.
Thomas works on a frame loom which sits up vertically in front of the weaver, as opposed to a floor loom, which is horizontal. As such, he likens working with a frame loom to building from the ground up. “I do kind of compare it to architecture because you start at the bottom and you just start going.” He doesn’t work from a plan when he weaves. “It just kind of evolves,” he explains. “I always have ideas I start with and then…”
A handful of the pieces on display in Weaving El Dorado are what Thomas calls “banners,” which are a foot wide and about three feet long. Thomas is inspired by rugs, “When I grow up, I want to weave rugs. I’m crazy about them,” he says. His favorite yarns to work with are single-ply rug yarns. While the most widely commercially available yarns are made of two or three strands woven together, single-ply yarns are a single piece of natural, spun wool.
Thomas enjoys playing with sculpture and a pair of three dimensional fiber art pieces in the show reflects that. “Both those pieces, part of what they have in common is, they have a very tight warp and I’m using really fine threads, so it’s too tedious to make a big piece,” explains Thomas. A “tight warp” means that the vertical threads on the loom are very close together. “In order to try to make something that can be appreciated, I ended up putting them into a three dimensional thing that you look at when you’re up closer to it.” Like his tapestry weavings, Thomas describes the process for his more sculptural pieces as, “kind of a building process and I figure it out generally as I go.”
Weaving El Dorado is one of many highlights of this weekend’s Miami Loco Arts Festival. The Jim Coates Gallery is located at 418 West Sullivan Street in Miami. The gallery is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 to 4 pm.
Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Edible Baja Arizona, Modern Farmer, Punch, Serious Eats, and elsewhere. Her first book, Beyond Canning was published in February 2016.