The May/June 2023 NYGH Member Spotlight features weaver and dyer Susan Weltman.
Susan's love of textiles began long before she began weaving. She grew up at a time, and in a family, where many women sewed their own clothes; her grandmother and mother both sewed beautiful clothing for her and her sister. One of her first purchases in college was a sewing machine - the idea of being able to dress and adorn herself to her own taste has always been important to her. Having always loved cloth, textiles, color and decoration, she has been weaving scarves, shawls and blankets for many years now.
She has traveled to every continent, and the colors, textures, plants, and people she sees informs her work. She considers herself fortunate to live in New York City where she can visit museums and galleries frequently for ideas and stimulation.
Susan weaves with an 8-harness, 48" wide floor loom, preferring to work with silk or wool, or a combination of the two. She is beginning to work with natural dyes, finding as many dye plants as she can at Brooklyn Bridge Park, close to where she lives.
Susan has a Master's Degree in Social Work, and for 40 years worked as a family therapist, including many years in an adolescent inpatient unit. She taught family therapy and published on family therapy with Jewish families. Membership Chairperson Katy Clements and Susan had a fascinating conversation together! Here are some highlights:
On being a member of the NYGH: “I love the fact that the Guild has become more diverse. I think it’s an honor to be a member and the Board should feel so proud. I speak to people all over the country from WARP (Weave A Real Peace) and I don’t know that there is any other guild that’s experiencing this kind of growth, and this increased diversity, so it’s a very exciting place now. I love seeing new faces, and I love the new perspectives. It’s become an increasingly exciting place.”
On weaver Pam Pawl’s online classes: "If people have an opportunity to take a class with her, I would strongly recommend it. She talks more about using your feelings or your experiences in your work than any teacher I’ve ever had. During the pandemic, when we were hardly going outside, one of the classes was about sound. Walking was all we could do by ourselves at that time. It tuned me into things in my environment and ways to reflect it in my work. So she’s very influential in that way. She’s a terrific teacher."
On seeing the results of the shibori technique: “Getting these kinds of forms, without having to do it on the loom, it still feels like a miracle. It’s exciting.”
On rust dyeing: “It’s interesting as a weaver because weaving is so structured to be perpendicular. This is so wild – even more than shibori, because shibori, you’re stitching it in a way that you know what you’re getting. But with this kind of thing (rust), it’s wild. And so that’s really stepping out of the box of being a weaver, to get to that kind of wild.”
On the mission of Weave A Real Peace (WARP): “The WARP members work, both in this country and all over the world, to make the lives of the makers better. It’s largely women, but not entirely. During the pandemic, we were able to provide grants to people all over the world, where a $1000 made a difference – the people could eat for a month or two. Everybody does wonderful, fascinating individual work to make the world a fairer place. And we have a good time – we have fun together… It’s really been a big part of my life.”
On her first WARP meeting: “It was just a very, very exciting place to be. That was when I learned that enslaved people had bought indigo plants with them (from Africa). And at that time, we always thought indigo as being from India or other countries, and that’s when I learned that rice and indigo were both brought from Africa by enslaved people. So this was an area that grew indigo. And when we were there (at the WARP meeting), there was a woman from Nigeria with an indigo pot. I just felt like I found my home among this community... They’re just a very inspiring group.”
On what else she finds inspiring: “Even though I describe myself as not much of a risk-taker, the people who are, I find inspiring. I still read Handwoven and my eyes are mainly drawn to the articles about color. This latest edition had a few things that really drew my eye. And people connecting with their heritage. People working on projects that they can relate to something that they remember from their grandmother or somebody from where their families from, because everybody in this country, except a tiny minority, is from somewhere else. So it’s all about connections.”
About weaving as a choice: “At the Newark Museum at one point, I was bringing in a portable loom and there was a man working there who was African and he said I’m from Ghana and that’s what I used to do as a living, is to be a Kente weaver. I was like ‘oh my god, how fabulous’. And he said I’m very happy to be working in a parking lot. He said weaving was not a passion, it was not something I chose. It was what my family did to survive. And working in a parking lot at Newark sounds great to me. So that was for me a real reminder that we’re doing this from choice and love, and people all over the world do it because it’s what they have to do. So we can make their lives easier and appreciate what they’re doing, but it’s important to remember we’re choosing this.”
We are very grateful to Susan for participating in our Member Spotlight Series, and to Katy for doing these interviews. If only YouTube had existed back in 1940 when Berta Frey started the NYGH! Future members will cherish this Series.
Links to People, Places and Groups mentioned in the video:
Weave a Real Peace https://weavearealpeace.org/
Handweavers Guild of America’s Convergence https://weavespindye.org/convergence/
Penland School of Craft https://penland.org/
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts https://www.haystack-mtn.org/
Newark Museum of Arts https://newarkmuseumart.org/
Daryl Lancaster https://www.daryllancaster.com/
Donna Ritter https://www.donnacreates.com
Rowland Ricketts http://www.rickettsindigo.com/
India Flint https://www.indiaflint.com/
Complex Weavers https://www.complex-weavers.org/
Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers https://pghw.org/
Pam Pawl https://www.pampawltextiles.com/
Kate barber https://www.katebarbertextiles.com/
Susie Taylor (origami weaving) https://www.susietaylorart.com
Maiwa (Clothing and weaving supplies) https://maiwa.com/
Brenda Rosenbaum / Mayan Hands https://www.mayanhands.org/
Handwoven Magazine https://handwovenmagazine.com