On any given day you can find weaver-storyteller Priscilla “Cilla” May Alden at Starfish Studio in Boothbay. There Cilla, and her rock sculpture artist husband Dick Alden, moved by their muses connect with the energy of the earth and sea and let creativity flow.
The tapestries that she weaves - of silk, wool and other fine yarns – depicting ancient civilizations, spiritual journeys – take shape using the traditional techniques she learned in Taos, New Mexico. And, most of her tapestries are woven on her Rio Grande Spanish Walking Loom. Each loom is custom built to accommodate the weaver’s height because these artists will literally be weaving while walking the treadles. Not all of her tapestries are inspired by the southwest U.S.; there’s a bit of Peruvian influence too.
Cilla’s tapestries have always spoken to me. The ancient ones speak through each one. Chances are you’ve seen her work over the years – maybe not in the traveling shows through the U.K., Denmark and Canada (but, hey, it’s a small world so, maybe you have!) - but for many years she displayed at Studio 53 Fine Art in Boothbay Harbor, and a show at Gold/Smith Gallery, also in Boothbay Harbor ended last week. Fear not! You can still see her brilliantly colored tapestries locally at Brad and Danielle Betts’ Down East Gallery on Route 27 in Edgecomb – Dick has some sculptures to there, BTW.
OK. Now it’s time to do what I love most when writing about art … take you with me where each painting, sculpture or tapestry takes me … A tapestry of lighter colors – pink, peach, lavender, and white, among others – woven in silk really drew me in. It’s called “Vieques Pastures.” Cilla said she wove it plein air(!) on the island of Vieques, which is part of Puerto Rico.
“These were the colors that surrounded me. I wove several of these … they are small and silk and framed behind museum-quality glass. The one at Down East Gallery is the only one left,” said Cilla. “I’m looking forward to weaving more of these this winter in Vieques.” That makes two of us!
This tapestry of green pastures, the blue and turquoise waters of the Caribbean Ocean in the distance, a purplish mountain, two tiers of clouds in the sky … and a red star or the spirit of a person (perhaps Cilla herself) rising up and will soon be over the top of the uppermost cloud … smallish red shapes are in front of the spirit person like a path to be followed.
The red impressions or footprints are also in the pastures, very small, but clearly there. Two abstract heart-spheres, one red and slightly elevated off the ground, the other is peach and it is on the ground. The symbol on both spheres appears to be the number 6, which has been woven into them. In addition to being on the ground, the peach sphere symbol has a darker peach tone wrapped within it. The red sphere has two red lines behind it, as though it has just arrived from the spiritual plane to lift up the grounded peach sphere. The number 6 is symbolic of completeness and beauty. It is also the number of The Lovers tarot card. This tapestry reads to me as a love story; a rare love that lifts the spirit and fills the soul. I do so love this piece.
“Damariscotta Pier” is a lighthearted detailed piece of blues, reds, greens, brown … there are even tiny shells and crustacean bodies near the water. It must be a sunny day because the water is glistening like diamonds!
Cilla’s tapestry “Journey 1I” that was part of her recent show at Gold/Smith Gallery in Boothbay Harbor until Aug. 20, has been sent to Falmouth, Massachusetts – Highland Hall and Gardens to be exact. It will be in the exhibition “Tapestry in New England and Beyond” running Sept. 9 through Oct. 31. This show (says the website) “exemplifies the wide range of style, subject and vision evident in contemporary tapestry weaving.”
Cilla, like all tapestry artists, is very passionate about her work and about keeping the ages old weaving techniques she learned alive throughout the 21st century and beyond.
I can see her at Starfish Studio now … tossing skeins of many colors onto the floor … mulling over which colors she will use to weave her next story ...