Date of this Version
Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
While this presentation does not address oppression in the global textile industry and injustices to leagues of anonymous enslaved women workers, it does raise questions about the vicissitudes of fame and obscurity of two women relative to artistic creation and textile arts revitalization efforts. This is the story of two Varos sisters, who married two Graves brothers, and lived in Carson, New Mexico. In the early 1930s Frances and Sophie Graves with their extended families repaired Spanish colonial textiles for the Santa Fe market. At some point they began to recreate traditional Spanish colonial-type colcha embroideries from recycled materials salvaged from nineteenth-century colcha fragments and market them as authentically colonial. Both sisters continued to create what ultimately became known as Carson colchas, a sub-genre of colcha embroidery within the canon of Southwest Hispanic arts revitalizations, until their deaths. Initially, their early work celebrated romantic visions of the West complete with Indians threatening covered wagons. They eventually chose to reproduce non-anachronistic compositions of sparse fields populated by local fauna and flora.
In 1994 a few years before she died, Frances Graves was awarded the highest honor a folk artist can achieve, the National Heritage Fellowship. Articles and books credit both sisters with originating the Carson colcha embroidery style. While their work is often indistinguishable when seen in museum collections, Frances Graves was well-known to outsiders, collectors, scholars, and curators. Although Sophie also pursued colcha embroidery all her life, she was more private, creating pieces primarily for the market in order to support her family. She rarely received the public or critical attention paid to her sister.
The disparity between the creative lives of these sisters raises questions about artistic intention and visibility, promotion, arts revitalization dynamics, originality, authenticity, aesthetic judgement, and the allure of replication.