For the past few months, the battle between the sun and the Earth has not been favorable to me. To be honest, I can handle the cold just fine, but there's something about the quality of the light in the winter that takes some work to appreciate, and more often than not it just brings me down. It's a season where lack of light and warmth drives people indoors and, for the industrious, causes them to supply missing color with the works of their hands.
The color-filled walls and displays of Beadweaver (503 Old Santa Fe Trail, 955-1600) are what initially caught my attention and led me inside the store on a cold December day. "Color makes you happy. People come in and get happy," according to Karima (who wished to go by her first name alone), one of several talented artist-salespeople who staff Beadweaver. In business since 2004, the owners Sudasi Clement and Ruthie Parrott have also operated bead businesses in Oregon and Florida. "We've noticed the landscape affects people's color preferences," Clement says. "We carry a lot of gemstones and beads in shades of rust, sage, sienna, chartreuse, turquoise, et cetera. Tropical colors and bright pastels were popular in Miami; Portland favored dusty blues, purples, grays and greens."
Each person who works at Beadweaver also creates and sells their own creations. The countertop is full of necklaces, earrings, ornaments and art pieces that they've made. The work of Hollis Chitto catches my eye in particular. "This is our rising star," Karima says, while Chitto smiles shyly nearby. His work is shown at several Native American art markets and events around the country and was highly acclaimed at our own Indian Market last year. An amulet of his sits on the counter reflecting the sun, shining like a jewel from another galaxy. I can't even bring myself to touch it for how radiant it is.
My search for color continued thereafter; I wanted to find a little more warmth than colored glass when a simple yellow sign across from the foot of the Cross of the Martyrs caught my eye: "YARNS ETC." Yarns and et cetera are two of my favorite things, and great carriers for color.
I found warmth and light in spades at Miriam's Well (614 Paseo De Peralta, 982-6312), and in the person of Miriam Leth-Espensen herself. I walked in on Leth-Espensen knitting pairs of small red booties. "Whenever talk turns to war, I knit a few pairs of these—the only boots we need on the ground," she says.
Born in Denmark under Nazi occupation in 1944, she initially began knitting clothes for her dolls and herself before moving to Jerusalem in 1965 to study knitting at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. After immigrating to New England in 1967, and making a name for herself as a high-fashion weaving designer and producer, she settled in Santa Fe in 1988 while continuing to sell her weaving on the East Coast. She stopped selling her work direct on the East Coast in 1998, and in 2000 she opened the Santa Fe School of Weaving. She continues to teach despite ceasing her efforts in the craft herself in 2010.
Weaving for 30 years on a full loom takes a lot out of the hips and back. Now, she exclusively knitsy; racks of sweaters and cardigans fill the floor between rainbow shelves of fine Japanese and Italian yarn blends, and she surprises me when she says it's a one-woman show. "People come in and ask how many people I have helping me make all this … but it's just me." She offers me a few skeins of a wool-silk-bamboo blend to touch while she describes her work. "I developed my own knitting technique—knitting in all directions," she says, pulling off the rack a green sweater with patches of blue, beige and mauve—her first experiment. Her technique enables her to move between colors, create shapes and form textures in ways that are impossible in regular knitting.
While I'm there, a customer comes in looking for felting wool. Each bag of wool Leth-Espensen has prepared comes with a specific palette, but the sets available are not quite what the customer is looking for; this invites her to give a quick lesson on color theory. "Each color has a value on the grayscale," she says. "If you mix this color with a little bit of something darker, you can make the original color more intense."
This seemed like appropriate parting advice; the season of darkness doesn't really dampen our color and light, but enables it to shine forth all the brighter through the work of our hands.