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MailTribune.com
  • Weaving community and art

    A fiber artist finds many uses for her talents
  • In a world of speed and ephemera, Thalia Truesdale finds her bliss quietly spinning wool into yarn, and then using the yarn to make impressionistic weavings that can be hung on a wall.
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  • In a world of speed and ephemera, Thalia Truesdale finds her bliss quietly spinning wool into yarn, and then using the yarn to make impressionistic weavings that can be hung on a wall.
    The Applegate artist's yarn landscapes of hand-dyed wool depict rivers, mountains, forests and ocean beaches. She gets her inspiration for each piece from the driftwood she uses as the base of her weaving.
    "I didn't know you could spin in the 20th century, but I stumbled into a spinning class and it just clicked with me completely," Truesdale explains. "I spin and dye most of my own yarn. I used to use all my own yarn, but now I like a bigger variety of textures. ... My design is usually vague before I start out," she says. "The design depends on the yarn."
    Truesdale drills holes in the driftwood she has selected and strings it with the weft yarns, then mounts it on a wall to do the weaving. The weaving follows the contours of the driftwood. She also adds other elements.
    "I've used lichen and cedar bark and other sorts of weeds," she says. "I don't usually use too many nature items, because they aren't as durable, and I want my art to last a long time."
    She also uses as much natural dye as she can, including onion skins, madrone bark and lichens. The brighter colors come from commercial procion dyes created specifically for dyeing natural fibers.
    "I love all of it," Truesdale says. "I love the spinning, I love the dyeing, I love gathering the driftwood."
    If it sounds like a lot of hard work, that is hardly out of character for Truesdale. She works as branch manager for the Ruch library and also teaches piano. When she isn't weaving, she tends her vegetable garden. And she wrote a 577-page book about her life.
    As a young wife with small children, she and her family built their own home on remote Sawyer's Bar near the California border in the 1970s, bathing in the river and living with kerosene lights and a woodstove. She taught school, then for more than 20 years worked as a visiting artist, first in California then in Oregon schools. She would travel around the state, staying at each school for one to three weeks, teaching the children various art techniques, including her favorite — weaving.
    "It was such a joy to see kids who could not apply themselves to academics just light up doing weaving," Truesdale says.
    In 2006, she took her skills to Africa for a year. A cousin who is C.E.O. of a corporation offered to support her while she worked with AIDS orphans and HIV-positive adults in five different locations. It was quite a revelation for someone who thought she understood poverty.
    "Part of our project was to record family histories and include them in a memory box to be passed on," Truesdale says. She soon abandoned the box concept, because the people she was meeting had no mementoes, nothing at all to pass on except the clothes on their backs.
    "Instead, I made cloth envelopes for the transcripts of the interviews (of family history). "
    She also taught basket weaving to a widow's group who turned their new skill into a thriving business. She also showed kids how to paint murals, and in one village that had purchased 20 sewing machines, she taught them how to use them.
    "It was a very exhausting project," Truesdale notes. "But it was also very rewarding. I learned so much about death."
    With two generations affected by the AIDS epidemic, many children are being raised by great-grandparents.
    For more than 25 years, Truesdale has sold her weavings at the annual Oregon Country Fair outside Eugene, and she is now preparing new weavings for this year's fair. (They can also be ordered through thaliaweaver.com.)
    She loves the sense of community at the fair, as she once loved it at Sawyer's Bar and now loves it in the Applegate, where she has lived for the last 25 years.
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