Georgianne Smolenski used to watch little old ladies weaving rag rugs at craft shows, never dreaming she would one day become one.
"But then I discovered what you can do on a loom," she said.
It was, in fact, a bout with breast cancer, that introduced Smolenski to the art of weaving, an art that will be on display at the Payson Art League's third annual studio tour this weekend.
"I was 38 years old, and my father said if I survived he was going to send me around the world," she recalled. "When he found out I was going to survive, he took me out to dinner instead -- but he also bought me a loom."
Before her weaving career could begin, there was the matter of putting the loom together.
"I guess I thought the UPS man was going to put this big loom on my front door, but instead it came in eight boxes, and it had to be put together, and everything had to be sanded and oiled, and I only had one usable arm. The other one didn't work yet.
"I sanded and oiled every piece and put it all together and went back to the doctor for my checkup. He was going to show me these exercises to get my arm back in shape, so I lifted my arm up to show him I could.
"‘Do you play tennis?' he asked. ‘No,' I said. ‘I'm a weaver.'"
Smolenski practices an art that is centuries old.
"Before the Industrial Revolution, weavers were travelers," she said. "They'd bring their loom to a farm, stay a month, and weave all the linen -- the towels, the bedding. So they would go from place to place."
Because weaving reaches back before the advent of technology, a loom is foolproof device.
"Nothing can go wrong on a loom," she said. "There are no mechanical parts. The same principle has been used for centuries."
Smolenski works with fibers created by a spinner made from cotton, rayon and from the hair of such animals as llamas, alpacas, goats, rabbits, and even dogs.
"When someone takes a dog in to be groomed, a spinner will come and just take bags and bags of the dog hair away," Smolenski said. "But dog hair has to be at least 3 inches long to be able to spin it."
Smolenski uses a "wonderful spinner" by the name of Katherine Speiss, who will also be demonstrating her work at the studio tour. In fact Smolenski and Speiss will share a venue with Barb Bourscheidt and Jackie Bond at 111 W. Rancho Road.
Most of Smolenski's creations are items of women's clothing -- skirts, tops, vests and dresses. They range in price from $100 to about $270.
"I design my patterns ahead of time on a piece of paper," she said. "It takes a lot of math to figure out how many yards. You have to measure each cone of yarn with a little gizmo that shows you how many yards are on there. I use graph paper and color in every little square with colored pencils, but then sometimes I don't follow it."
While her creations are wearable, they are also works of art.
"Anything a painting can be, a weaving can be," she said. "I paint with fiber.
"That's why I don't do consignment or custom work, because it would be no
fun for me," she said. "Every artist, when they produce something, whether it's on a canvas or whatever, it's not just a picture. It's an emotion. You get a feeling about something in your mind.
"That's why I will always be a weaver -- because you never tire of conjuring up a feeling and trying to represent it, whether it's on a canvas or a loom."
The Payson Art League's 'Neath the Rim Open Studio Tour features 29 artists working at 19 studios throughout the Rim country.
The event provides a rare opportunity for patrons to get a glimpse into the private, workaday world of successful artists during a leisurely, self-guided, 3-day tour. Studios will feature demonstrations of various painting techniques, jewelry making, pottery making, sculpture and more. The event runs Friday, May 7, from 1 to 6 p.m., and continues Saturday and Sunday, May 8 and May 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free tickets and maps are available at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, Payson Public Library, Art & Antique Corral, PostNet, Buster Kittwhistle's Santa Fe Furnishings & Gifts, Pearson & Company North Plants & Artifacts, The Wild Brush, Payson Art & Frame, and at all studios during the tour.
The tour that can be taken in any order. Pick the artists whose work you are most interested in, find them on the map, and begin your adventure.
For more information, contact Barb Bourscheidt at (928) 474-0373 or e-mail: nlclayworks@ yahoo.com.
1. Debra Farrell, Michael Shane
2. Barb Bourscheidt, Jackie Bond, Georgianne Smolenski
3. Sue Jones
4. Jan Hodson, John Finkey
5. Claudette Barker, Jim Barker
6. Donn C. Morris
7. Conrad Okerwall
8. Ruth Overton, Brenda Baker
9. Patricia Allebrand
10. Donna Rokoff, Mike Rokoff, Edward J. Lazzeroni
11. Solveig (Sally) Myers
12. Robert Barela
13. Linda Nannizzi, Dan Basinski
14. Jim Garrity
15. Delores Hartless
16. Alan and Carole Snyder
17. Jay Kemp
18. James M. (Jim) Hagen
19. Marilyn Salomon