Weaving in emotion
West Linn loom artist uses experiences in her works
The living room of Bonnie Garlington's lovely West Linn home is in a state of colorful chaos.
There are two large looms, a spinning wheel, a big basket full of yarn and scarves hanging from just about everywhere.
Obviously, Garlington is getting ready for something big. She is planning to showcase her work at the Portland Handweavers Guild's annual sale in Portland May 4 through May 6 at the Oregon Convention Center.
'In the first book I ever read about weaving, the author said her mother-in-law thought that a wheel should be in every living room,' Garlington said. 'I'm lucky I had the same kind of mother-in-law. My husband gives me lots of support, too.'
Garlington's career as a master artisan of the loom began with that library book more than 20 years ago. Until then she was a pottery maker and was getting a little tired of it.
'I always had to rely on somebody else's kiln and their clay and glazes,' Garlington said. 'I talked to my sister-in-law, who was a weaver in Massachusetts. It occurred to me that weaving was a lot cleaner, and you got to do it under your own roof.
'That day I borrowed a used loom, and I never went back to get the pots I had glazed.'
If you have a scarf made by Bonnie Garlington, you are lucky. They are things of beauty and can even be highly symbolic. Like the scarf she made after 9/11. She was asked to contribute to a charitable event and she wanted to make something special.
'I could have taken a scarf off my rack and said, 'Sell this,'" Garlington said. 'But I wanted to do something special. I channeled all of my enthusiasm into weaving a scarf.'
There was also the time Garlington wove a scarf for a little girl at Forest Hills Elementary who was dying of cancer.
'I used all of her favorite colors,' Garlington said. 'All of the kids in her school participated. We came up with a scarf and a little pillow for her.
'I like to work when it's not just for my own pleasure or my own profit. For me, when something significant happens, I ask, 'What can I weave?'"
Garlington also likes helping her sisters of the loom, which she will be doing at the big guild show in May.
'Any weaver can participate,' she said. 'We get 40 to 50 weavers every year. We get professionals from the high end of weaving and we get weavers who have done only a few dishtowels or a rug. Our fee structure accommodates both ends of the spectrum.'
Weaving has been a great retirement career for Garlington, who served for 30 years as a school psychologist for the Lake Oswego School District.
'It was a great job,' Garlington said, but it did have its drawbacks.
'Every conference I went to involved dealing with some kind of problem in psychology,' she said. 'Weaving has been a nice change of pace. The focus isn't on problems, it's on producing beautiful things. It taps into my love of color, texture, structure, patterns and intricate designs.'
Garlington is so dedicated to her craft that she recently purchased a computer-operated loom with 40 harnesses. This amazing loom is capable of producing a billion different patterns.
'That should keep me busy the rest of my life,' she said.
Still, with all that she has done, Garlington's greatest work lies before her. Like her finest work, it will come from emotion arising from a memorable event.
'My husband and I were in Japan when the earthquake hit (in 2011),' Garlington said. 'We were well away from the danger, but the first response that occurred to me was, 'What can I do?' I thought maybe my husband and I could travel north and dig up rubble. But I know that we would only have gotten in the way.'
Instead, the same question occurred to Garlington as before: What can I weave?
The answer is a major work that will symbolize the tragedy.
'The image is in my mind,' Garlington said. 'I want to turn it into a tapestry.'
For more about the guild show, visit portlandhandweaversguild.org.