Archive for September, 2008

The film has been released in Wisconsin!

Creating Buddhas: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas premiered at the Deer Park Buddhist Center in Oregon, Wisconsin on Saturday, September 27.

Visit www.creatingbuddhas.com for a continually updated calendar of screenings.

The Daily Page wrote:

CREATING BUDDHAS: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas

a film by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost

Creating Buddhas is the unique not-for-profit documentary film about Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, a western woman who painstakingly mastered the craft of fabric thangkas, a silk embroidered and appliquEd art form in Tibetan Buddhism. Leslie’s transformation into a Tibetan fabric thangka master began with a voyage to Dharamsala, where she began learning the ancient tradition from two renowned fabric thangka makers. Through her devotion to the culture, she became one of the few western women to have ever mastered this revered art form.

Upcoming Wisconsin Screenings:

Creating Buddhas Premiere Deer Park Buddhist Center, 4548 Schneider Dr. Oregon, WI Sat. Sept. 27th, 8pm

Shambhala Center of Madison, 408 S Baldwin St Madison, WI
Thursday Oct. 2nd, 7:30pm

Mimosa, 260 W Gilman St, Madison, WI Friday Oct 10th, 8pm

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, UW-Madison, location TBA, Sun. Oct 19th, 4pm

Proceeds from the sale of Creating Buddhas will be donated to the Deer Park Buddhist Center’s temple fund in Oregon, WI. Deer Park’s new temple was blessed on July 19th, 2008 by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

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The Norbulingka Institute has a beautiful new website!

I first met Tibetan appliqué work at the Norbulingka Institute in 1992 while engaged in volunteer work with the Tibetan Planning Council in Dharamsala, India. I was part of an economic development team touring some of the refugee community’s handicraft centers, together with the founder of a company marketing Tibetan products in the US for both commercial and cultural preservation purposes. I still remember the awe I experienced when I came in contact with the vivid colors and rich textures of these forms. For me, it was like Amish quilts met spiritual awakening in an explosion of joy and beauty! I loved the intensity of the colors, the energy of the forms, the profundity of the tradition. And I determined that day to learn to make these artworks myself.

It took a while to find a teacher, and I never did study at Norbulingka. My teachers were Tenzin Gyaltsen and T.G. Dorjee Wangdu. But I have always retained great respect for the Norbulingka Institute as the seed inspiration for my career. And I’m so pleased to see their new website, which beautifully displays their work with grace and integrity. I wish them the best in their efforts to preserve and enrich Tibetan artistic traditions.

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Okay, this may be old news for many of you — since apparently Faith Ringgold started painting her own version of “thangkas” in 1972 after visiting an exhibition of Tibetan art at a museum in Amsterdam — but I just found out. Thanks to my Google alert for “Tibetan art,” I learned something new a few days ago in this article about a current exhibition of Faith Ringgold’s work at the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College in New Hampshire. I have loved Faith Ringgold’s work since the early 1990s, and I decorated my room at the Tibetan Library in Dharamsala with a pack of notecards of her story quilts. I’ve looked her up several times over the years, admiring her innovative textile art and her courageous creativity in exploring questions of race and gender. But I never knew she had been influenced by Tibetan thangkas! Or that she had produced a series of paintings (the Slave Rape Series) framed in cloth borders VERY similar to the traditional brocade borders of thangkas. What a revelation! I’m going to buy this book to learn more!

Reading around the web, I’ve discovered that the thangka form appealed to the seamstress in her (her mother was both an inspiration and an assistant in this regard) as well as to the woman artist with limited means who wanted to show her work widely and couldn’t get her big paintings down the stairs. Paintings framed in cloth, not stretched on a rigid support, are infinitely more portable and less costly to ship.

I have appreciated this portability issue myself recently after experiments in the other direction. Departing from the flexible softness of thangkas and quilts, I began to stretch works on a wooden frame. I was drawn to the smooth tautness such a support provided. And with John Annesley‘s help, I learned to stretch my finished pieces like canvas on high-quality wooden stretchers. Three Mongolians and Pool of Light benefited from this new skill, as did a couple of smaller pieces. But recently, I’ve returned to the soft format partly motivated by a newfound fascination with machine quilting and partly motivated by the same economic and portability advantage that appealed to Ms. Ringgold.

Three Mongolians has appeared in two juried exhibitions in the US (New Fibers 2008 and Fiber National). I finished the work in Italy and subsequently took it off the stretcher to carry it to the US since it exceeded airline baggage limitations. I then restretched it on a new stretcher frame in California and shipped it to the show in Pennsylvania. The re-usable packing crate from Ashley Distributors and two-way insured FedEx shipping were costly then, as they were again to Michigan this summer. I’m looking forward to an upcoming solo exhibition in Milan this autumn, but cannot even consider carrying the Mongolians back to Italy for inclusion in that show. Likewise, I could not carry the Pool of Light to Nottingham via Ryan Air in May. So I’ve returned to soft works for both traditional and contemporary pieces.

And I feel, more than ever, connected to and inspired by the deep and moving, whimsical and wonderful artistry of the great Faith Ringgold.

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