This would have been a great column twenty years ago. Much like my breathless exhortation on the world of podcasting (HLP May 2011), I am late to the dance with this revelation (to me only) of the puzzle-solving power of Internet communities. Other than bemusement at Lindsay Lohan’s multiple escapes from justice, I do not follow any topic closely enough to grasp the full force of the axiom that everyone is smarter than any one. That changed when JoAnne was stumped by a weaving problem.
I have watched her chase the two sirens Curiosity and Creativity for four decades. As a serious artist and president-elect of the Southern California Hand Weavers Guild, and even with decades of experience, she continually seeks challenges. Being temporarily over her head attempting to refine the weave structure on a project is a normal state of affairs. The goal is creation not extension. Following a pattern is merely replication. The art and anxiety comes from bringing together your own vision with the wisdom of other artists. Being a “fiddler on the roof” at times is the price of originality.
When she is off in her own world, a bobbing, riffing, weaving John Coltrane, I usually grab a good book and the nearest dog and retreat. But, her latest caper intrigued me. She had a copy of the not totally obscure 1926 text How To Weave Linens by Edward F. Worst. Using Worst’s instructions, charts, and black and white photos, JoAnne used her weaving software to digitally represent one of the cloth designs. Her computer program revealed the same weave structure except it came out sideways. Analyzing 17 other weave drafts in that chapter, she discovered all were inexplicably a quarter turn off.
Rather than just rotate the patterns 90 degrees, JoAnne wanted to know what had gone wrong. She needed to understand Edward Francis Worst (1869-1949), unfortunate name and all. Worst was a manual arts teacher, a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement, and the author of four books on weaving. By 1926 Edward Worst was America’s foremost authority on hand weaving. Surely the man knew what he was doing. JoAnne, after blaming her own reading of the instructions, the software, and briefly me for hovering, turned to WeaveTech, an international 2,000 member Yahoo group, for answers.
A WeaveTech member from Sweden solved the mystery. The photos in Worst’s chapter were lifted directly from Nina Engestrom’s book Prastik Vavbok, published in Sweden in 1896. Nina or a careless typesetter had turned the fabric photos 90 degrees in her book, and Worst had included them (unattributed and still sideways) along with instructions in How To Weave Linens.
I was ready to write an expose on “Fast Eddie’s” grab for the gold when I began to read other posts and articles. Worst, a Chicago, Illinois native, looked like Daniel Day Lewis looking like Lincoln. Rather than a quick-buck plagiarist, he was more of a saint, committed to reversing the divorce between the hand and the brain. He was a school principal and early advocate for nascent programs in occupational and physical therapy. He taught weaving and other arts that emphasized the therapeutic value of handcraft to staff at state mental institutions. He pioneered handweaving as a resource for low income people suffering the effects of The Great Depression.
Worst was so taken by the early efforts to establish a weaving cooperative in North Carolina that a feel-good made for television movie could be made from what happened next.
Worst, the Yankee school principal, traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Penland, North Carolina to teach weaving in the summer of 1928. His classes were so popular the community committed to building a studio. A visionary local woman, Lucy Morgan, “borrowed all the money they would let me have” and led grass roots efforts to finance and construct the log “mansion in the sky.” In May 1935 the locals came together like an Amish barn raising (but with liquor). They cut logs and used their mules to drag them into place. The women cooked the noon meals, which became a community event. In August of 1935 the last nail went into the roof of the four-story 50 X 80 foot Edward F. Worst Craft House the day before Worst’s arrival.
If this is a movie, the locals will be lining the streets of Penland as a deeply moved Edward Worst (Tommy Lee Jones if Mr. Lewis is unavailable), and his wife Evangeline (Holly Hunter?) slowly motor into town. Prominent in the crowd would be Lucy Morgan (Meryl Streep?), the driving force behind the school. The closing credits reveal The Penland School of Craft has become internationally recognized, and the Edward F. Worst Craft House and particularly the Chicago Room is a cornerstone of the campus. The next to last visual would state “Edward Worst began teaching summers in North Carolina in 1927, and returned every year until his death in 1949.” Then the last screen: “During his more than twenty years of teaching at Penland, he never accepted compensation.” There will not be a dry eye in the house, and I am misting up as I write this. It is amazing what you can learn on the Internet.
Tom H. Cook is an adept blogger and the host of four sites dedicated to Philadelphia Athletics left fielder Gus Zernial.
JoAnne adds: You can read more about Penland, Lucy Morgan and Edward Worst at http://www.wcu.edu/library/DigitalCollections/CraftRevival/people/edwardworst.html
By the way, my handwoven linens came out beautifully. Still sideways, but lovely.