The world lost an artist at the forefront of contemporary tapestry last week. James Koehler, of El Dorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico passed away on March 3rd, 2011. His passing leaves a rift in the tapestry world. James was a tapestry artist unlike any other. He took tapestry and reinvented it into an art form that was so contemporary, so basic and simple yet so complex. His interworking of color, design and form was done with such mastery, with such deft strokes,
that the tapestries James created were a rare thing of color and light. They took on a life of their own and everyone who gazed upon them saw something different in them.
I first met James when I took a tapestry class from him in Taos in 2008. I had really put the cart before the horse and didn't know it when I signed up for his Hauchere, hatching and color gradation class. Up until that time I was just playing at weaving. The day before the class a friend who had a yarn shop in Arroyo Seco told me "your selvedges will never be the same after a class with James Koehler". Well let me tell you that wasn't the only thing that was never the same. I fell in love with weaving and I really "fell" for James Koehler. The way you feel when you meet someone who is so kind, so real and yet as a teacher is demanding in that way you respect. You just want to be good at what you are doing because he respected you as an individual. I imagine I felt about James the way my Buddhist friends feel about their master. You really just want to learn all you can from that person because a light switch has come on inside you and you want to create. The skill level in that first class I took was all over the place yet James treated every one of us as if we were all equals. Even though his advanced students were there he showed no favoritism and was willing to help each and every one of us whenever a hand was raised.
The next year when I needed advice about a loom or was trying to work out a weaving problem I would shoot James and email and he would reply the very next day as though we were old acquaintances. Sad to say because of time and distance and circumstances I was only able to take one other class with James. Happy to say I was able to introduce one of my best friends to his work and his teaching and weaving in that class.
James has left behind many, many talented students. Several of them who are now making their own mark in the tapestry world. He has shared himself and his art and discipline with others to live on in not only his works but in his students continued efforts to send out the art of tapestry to the world.
Farewell James. I wish you blue skies and a tailwind and peace upon your journey.
A note about the photo. This shot of James was from his website. I did not see a copyright so I included it.