When Pam Oddi put
"feature writer" on her wish list for help with CGOA's Chain Link newsletter,
all humility left me and I jumped for the chance. I have wanted to help CGOA in some way
since becoming a member and this was an opportunity I found feasible.
Ironically, one of the people Pam suggested I interview was
someone with whom I have personally been wishing to talk for some time: Carol Norton
Ventura. I was introduced to Carol through her article, "The Striking Tapestry
Crochet of Guatemala," in PIECEWORK magazine (Sept./Oct. 1995). It was at the Chain
Link '96 Conference in California that I purchased Carol's book, "Tapestry
Crochet." Needless to say when Carol agreed to be interviewed, I was elated and the
session was every bit as fascinating as I expected it could be. One of the overriding
themes that came out of our conversation is how Carol's life experience is interwoven with
her art in crochet.
Carol Ventura, Ph.D., is adept in ceramics, printmaking,
photography, papermaking and, of course, crochet. She holds her Ph.D. in Native American
Art. A professor at Tennessee Technological University for the past three years, she finds
herself currently in the position of having to take over the fibers area of study as well
as being responsible for teaching art history and photography. Due to budget cuts,
the Crafts Center,
which is located some
20 miles away, is being phased out of the University. Because of this, the permanent
fibers teaching position has already been eliminated.
This is a trend that frustrates Carol. It has been her observation that
art is neither respected nor appreciated in the United States to the degree that it is in
Europe. As an educator, she escorts groups to a different county in Europe each summer
where they visit local art galleries. She says that it amazes Europeans, who think of art
as being a part of life, that Americans, in general, do not value art in the same way. In
the United States, according to Carol, all the benefits that come with doing art or craft
such as personal expression, self esteem, a sense of accomplishment and the therapy and
healing that come through artistic endeavors, are being overlooked. "We are going to
be a country of couch potatoes," she says. Crochet is treated the worst. At one art
show in which she entered one of her large tapestry crocheted portraits, the juror refused
to believe it was crochet in spite of Carol's insistence that it was!
"This is one of the reasons why I am so glad to do this
interview," says Carol. "I want people to try tapestry crochet and to see the
possibilities that are there."
The best way to promote craft is to teach it, claims Carol. When people
understand what is involved they appreciate the work and are even more willing to pay for
art. "When an artist says that they do not want to give their trade secrets away by
teaching them, they are saying that they do not have (a special) talent," says Carol.
Spreading knowledge about a craft is what creates an interest in it, says Carol. Happily,
she will be offering classes in flat tapestry crochet as well as tapestry baskets at the
upcoming CGOA Conference in Chicago.
It was through a four-year stint in the Peace Corps in Guatemala
(1976-80) that Carol first came upon tapestry crochet. She had been assigned to the
village Jacaltenango in Huehuetenango in the highlands of Guatemala where the government
and the missionaries were attempting to set up a weaving cooperative. The idea was to
enable women to get more money for their weaving which also increased quality and helped
women to become more independent. Carol fell in love with the colorful weaving, Guatemala,
and one of its citizens - a medical student. They were married and had a daughter. In
time, the volatile political situation in Guatemala had its effect on this town as well.
It was after her baby was born that Carol realized that she was not able to subject her
child to the violence and instabilities of war. Although Carol says that she had purchased
and continues to use the colorful crocheted bags that men of the region made, she did not
really value their potential until she, along with her small daughter, returned to the
Before long, Carol became curious about how the Guatemalans crocheted
their bags. She received many compliments on them and realized that most Americans thought
they were woven. So she unraveled one to find out the secret. She found that it lies in
the fact that they are almost entirely made of single crochet which allows many colors of
yarn to be carried at the same time. Each stitch is simply crocheted over the colors not
currently being incorporated into the fabric. When a color is desired the single crochet
is made to the point where two loops remain on the hook at which time the new color is
pulled through. The resulting fabric is very firm. A unique quality of tapestry, also
known as Jacquard or Mosaic crochet, is that after completing the first row you turn the
project upside down and crochet over the beginning chain row. In addition, the top of the
single crochet stitch remains hidden. It is this quality that makes it difficult to
identify the technique as crochet.
Another aspect of crochet that was an impetus for Carol's endeavors in
tapestry was its portability. For a while Carol did not have a studio available to her in
which she could pursue other art forms. Crochet required no chemicals or large equipment.
She could take it wherever she went. It was while sitting in a doctor's waiting room
during her mother's chemotherapy sessions that she worked on a large self-portrait wall
By projecting a photo image onto graph paper, Carol has not only been
able to crochet portraits but other photographed images as well. The Guatemalans crochet
in the round and Carol learned that in order to apply their technique to a flat piece she
had to change the graph paper she was using. Finally, she developed her own which she has
included samples of in her book. It is the possibilities of flat tapestry crochet that
have continued to interest Carol. Her latest crochet projects have been scenes or
portraits that incorporate written messages across them. They are matted and framed and
many people mistake these as well - for prints.
As I listened to Dr. Carol Ventura speak, a profound sense of
admiration, yet camaraderie came over me. She and her daughter, now a teenager, have
recently moved into a new home and are busy redecorating. Besides being a professor, Dr.
Ventura is a real person doing usual things. My special interest in her work started off
because I am a Latin Americanist myself. In years past, after spending hours studying,
writing, or just facing the incredible suffering caused by the complexities of the
conflict in Central America, I found myself escaping to crochet. I kept my projects simple
since I had little time to pursue those that were complex. Yet, in the back of my mind,
scenes from Nicaragua as portrayed by my photographs or in the painted naive art that
became popular during the Nicaraguan Revolution, refused to depart. Perhaps, someday, the
tapestry crochet that Carol has unveiled and so generously shared will provide an
opportunity for us all to express our experience through crocheted art as well. For me,
the irony is that it can be a Central American art form that I use is still beyond my
In her sincere wish that others become familiar with tapestry crochet,
Carol made a video entitled
Crochet through Victorian Videos. The book, Tapestry
Crochet (ISBN: 0-932394-15-9) by Carol Norton, is available through
Amazon.com. Be sure that an
Finally, think about taking a class from Carol this coming August in
Chicago but be sure to leave room for me!