Pennie Alexander has had an interest in art all of her life. She has been drawing and sculpting since she was a little girl.
"I had to keep my hands busy all of the time," she said.
"Art became more serious in my adult years as I began experimenting with all kinds of art, going from one thing to another, to another, to another, looking for something that really interested me."
She does a lot of research before beginning any project. Prior to starting to weave, she went to the library and brought home and read every book she could ﬁnd on the subject. This research took about a year.
Then — this was about 35 years ago — Pennie saw a loom for sale. She was living in San Diego and the loom was in Los Angeles. The drive would take about two hours. She made a phone call and talked to the woman about the loom. It was priced at $500 and she had nowhere near that amount. She saved her money. About six months later she had saved $400 and called the woman to see if the loom was still available ... it was! She offered $400 and it was accepted. She and her husband drove the 200 miles north to pick it up.
"I knew nothing about the loom except what I had read. We struggled with getting it assembled (now I can take one apart and put it together with no problem). Assembled, we put it in our living room, a big beautiful loom. It sat there for several months."
Eventually Pennie contacted a member of the Weaver's Guild and a woman offered to help for one day only (she was moving to Europe and her time was limited). She was there for about two hours explaining about the loom and what could be done and how to do it. Within two hours, Pennie was weaving. The woman told her that she had learned more in two hours than most beginners would learn in a month. And she has been weaving ever since.
Her husband has made some looms which are used in weaving classes that Pennie teaches. She has ﬁve looms of her own, large and small. She makes rugs, some smaller pieces and enjoys making blankets. She commented that she likes the sound of the loom as she works, the textures, and the colors of the yarns. "I call the colorful yarns 'eye candy' ... so pretty!"
Pennie has two llamas that she bought for their ﬂeece to use in her weaving. That was a dream ... it's a lot of work. It took so long to process her own yarn that she didn't have time to do what she really wanted to do, to weave. So now the llamas are pets.
"When people come to me and say they want to learn to weave," Pennie said, "I explain to them about all you have to do. Many don't want to do all the preparation work, they just want to weave. It takes much longer to get ready to weave than it takes to weave and ﬁnish the piece. Math is needed to ﬁgure how much yarn is needed, knowing and deciding what kind of yarn to use, what design to incorporate, then it takes time to 'dress' the loom. Weaving, when you get to it, is over before you know it. It's the knowledge and preparation that takes the time and patience."
At the age of 50, she decided to go back to school to work on her degree in art while learning to do stone and bronze sculpting. It's an out-door thing and a lot of work, very dusty and dirty, but she ﬁnds it very rewarding and likes to sculpt native women. She thinks that stone needs a partner and bronze partners well with stone so she often combines the two materials in her sculptures.
Gourd carving is another interest of about 30 years. It started as something new to do. Her ﬁrst gourds were very crude. The further she got into it, she found that gourds, large and small, are so open to anything. She does a lot of heavy carving, all Southwest- art inspired.
As far as she knows, she is the only one to cover gourds in copper. "I saw something else being covered in copper and thought, 'Why couldn't I cover a gourd?' It worked! The thing about being a gourd artist is you keep your mind open because there is so much you can do with them, carving and embellishing as you go."
Usable gourds, the way she prefers to have them, can't be grown in this area. "The shells are too thin. I like the nice thick 1/2-inch-deep shells to carve. Gourds take 180 days to grow. They need hot nights to keep growing. I buy mine from a desert area in southern California."
Kachina dolls (made-in-America deity dolls) have always fascinated Pennie. Always doing things her own way, she has developed her own interpretation calling her creations, "Spirit Dancers." Bodies and hand-painted heads are made of gourds. All additional materials and embellishments used are recycled. Scraps of leather, pieces of fur from a taxidermist, chicken feathers, garage sale ﬁnds, and jewelry donated by friends adorn her "Spirit Dancers." Each one is individual ... there will never be two alike. On display at the Creamery are an eagle dancer, Shaman, and a raven dancer.
Pennie taught a recent class in Nuno, a Japanese felting method resulting in a scarf that appears to be made of gossamer. The process uses raw unspun wool or silk placed on a silk scarf and then the yarn is felted into the fabric, making your own design. The project is done outdoors because hot water is poured over the piece in the felting process and can be a bit messy.
Pennie is gallery manager and co-director at The Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss, sharing co-director responsibilities with marketing director Gini McNair. She keeps busy with her own studio at home, her responsibilities at the gallery and teaching classes. She has been on the board of directors for the "Render the Rock" and the Ute Museum in Montrose, is a board member at the gallery, and NACP (Native American Cultural Program) which is in charge of the pow wow, now held indoors at the fairgrounds in Montrose.
"One of my pet peeves is when someone says, "I can't do it." I ask, "Have you ever tried?" "No, but I can't do it," is often the answer. You are defeated ... instead, try saying, "That sounds like fun, I'd like to try that." If it doesn't turn out ... it's not a big deal, try again or try something else. I'm always looking and searching for something new. It's fun to experiment, it keeps my mind active."blog comments powered by Disqus