The Ridge Tapestry Project A community’s history woven into art |
Nancy Nelson
Special to Prospector

The Ridge Tapestry Project A community’s history woven into art

The San Juan Ridge has been an active community for more than a century. In the last 40 years, it has been home to a rich culture of individuals and gatherings that make it a unique and special place. The North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center is at the center, where such events as hootenannies, concerts, poetry readings, shindigs, art shows, theater, weddings and all-around good times take place.

The Ridge Tapestry Project, now being exhibited at The Center for the Arts Granucci Gallery through Jan. 14, was created to express the history and culture of the San Juan Ridge and its meaning as a "place." Four of the 15 planned tapestries will be on display along with the original drawings, photographs, historical documents and tools. The titles of each piece reflect the stories portrayed: "Celebrations, A Fall Gathering"; "The North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center"; "The Land Then and Now"; and The Cattle Drive.

Inspiration for this project is an illustrious medieval work of art, The Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the history of the invasion of England by the Normans in 1066. This 120-foot-long tapestry is now exhibited at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Normandy, France. In common with other embroidered hangings of the early medieval period, this piece is conventionally referred to as a "tapestry," although it is not a true tapestry in which the design is woven into the cloth; it is in fact embroidery.

The Ridge Tapestry Project was initiated in 2005 by longtime San Juan Ridge resident and weaver Marsha Stone and two other Ridge residents: fiber artist Mary Moore and artist Jennifer Rain Crosby who creates the detailed illustrations.

Bruce Boyd, Gary Snyder and Jerry Tecklin helped frame the concept. Many community members compiled lists of key events and images, including Steve Sanfield, Mike and Barbara Getz, Holly Tornheim, Tony Mociun, Bob Erickson, Liese Greensfelder, Carol Koda, Rainy Blue Cloud and Lucy Bottrell.

Artist Jennifer Rain Crosby translates these key events and images into drawings that are the basis for the embroideries. Mary Moore, besides being the main embroiderer, contributes her expertise in color and stitch design to bring forth the images.

"The series of 15 Ridge Tapestries, when completed, will wrap the entire main room of the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center on the San Juan Ridge," said Stone. "The tapestries, which belong to the Schoolhouse, are displayed there at least twice a year, during the summer Storytelling Festival and at the Winter Membership Party."

More than 100 local volunteer embroiderers have spent 2,600 hours embroidering the four tapestries. Some embroiderers, Allison Schell, Greta Broda, Susan Mosier, Saria Farr and Jane Brice Hill have been faithful weekly participants. Group embroidering occurs at the cultural center and all embroiderers sign their names on fabric sewn to the back of the tapestries.

The artists' drawing, linen fabric, wool yarn, needles and conservation quality storage materials are all paid for by contributions to the project. If you are interested in donating to the project please send a check payable to the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center (note the Ridge Tapestry Project), 17894 Tyler Foote Road, Nevada City, CA 95959.

An Artist's Reception will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at The Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley. The artists will be doing a live demonstration of their embroidery techniques and will discuss the stories and process.

The Ridge Tapestry Project was coordinated by Nevada County Arts as part of the 2013 Wild & Scenic Film Festival Art Exhibition that will include the display of more than 60 artists during the festival in 40 venues in Nevada City and Grass Valley in January.