Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Solar Project with Heart

By Tamie Meck, Published in the Delta County Independent, Wednesday, November 28, 2018, the Back Page. This article followed a delightful interview with Tamie in our home, and we are grateful for her kind and thoughtful story. I have made a slight factual corrections, in particular about the history of solar in Southern Peru. Much of this article is about our Peruvian project, but it does show a bit of our history as potters as well. We are currently in Peru, Jan-April, 2019, but you can use  This link:  Table of Contents   to help you find specific items of our work on previous posts.

A solar project with heart

When Paonia potters Sam Brown and Tara Miller married in the mid-1980s, they imagined selling their handmade pottery and living a simple life. She was educated in literature, he had a background in zoology, natural resources and recreation, and they shared a desire to visit the world's great mountain regions. "We live in Colorado," said Sam. "We love mountains."

In 1986 they took their first trip, to Peru and the Andes Mountains. The trip changed the course of their lives, and in turn, changed the lives of others.
Solar panels provides power for homes on Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru. Paonia potters Sam Brown and Tara Miller first visited more than 30 years ago, and over the years have helped bring solar power to the remote island while helping to market the beautiful textiles.

In the 1970s, Tara enrolled in an evening pottery class while teaching high school English in Coos Bay, Ore. Soon after, she took a year off and focused on her pottery skills. In the early 1980s she moved to Aspen to make picture frames for her photographer sister, and in 1982, began working solely in the pottery studio, studying under some of the biggest names in the field.

Her specialty was heavy ceramic mugs decorated with aspen leaves applied through a resist technique. They sold quite well in the local shops. In 1983, Tara met Sam, a National Parks Service back-country ranger stationed at Rocky Mountain National Park. Shortly after, he took off on a year-long assignment to Alaska, returned to Aspen, and joined Tara in the clay studio.

Sam added Rocky Mountain themes like elk, native birds, aspen trees, fishermen and skiers to Tara's motifs. Themes they continue to use today. "Our pottery sells well as long as we stay within the Rocky Mountain theme," said Sam.

Their trip to Peru took them to Lake Titicaca, located at almost 12,500 feet at the base of the Andes Mountains. A two-hour boat ride from the city of Puno took them to Taquile Island.

A terraced island of just over two square miles, Taquile's economy is based on agriculture and tourism. It has largely avoided outside influences for centuries. As a result, said Sam, there are no cars, bicycles, dogs or guns on the island. As they have been for centuries, major decisions are made collectively. Recently the residents thwarted efforts to commercialize and build hotels.

"It's a real peaceful society," said Sam. "You walk everywhere."

Taquile is known worldwide for its fine textiles, made using centuries-old knitting and weaving techniques, and from which their colorful and traditional clothing is made. In 2005, Taquile's textile arts were proclaimed "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO.

Most tourists stay a couple of hours, take photos and buy textiles before heading back to Puno. Sam and Tara planned to stay two nights and were assigned a host family.

One modern technology only beginning to be introduced in the region was solar power, but it was unknown on Taquile Island. What little power they had came from lead-acid batteries. Charging them meant a three-day round trip to Puno. Tara and Sam knew about solar power both through association with the Rocky Mountain Institute and through a new renewable energy program at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen, which in 1991 would morph into Solar Energy International. The environmental risks of the lead-acid batteries were a big concern, they said.

Their host couple were weavers. They showed Sam and Tara their beautiful textiles and shared their dream of going to America to sell their goods and teach their craft.

"Being craftspeople ourselves, we bought into the dream," said Tara. Their two-night stay turned into a week. In 1988, they returned, smuggling in a 9-watt solar panel. They wired the panel to a radio and played music. To the residents, "It was like magic," said Sam.

Everyone wanted a panel, they said. They traded the panel for textiles, which they sold back home at local craft fairs, and re-invested the money in more solar panels to take with them on their next trip.

Taquile's inhabitants gained more than solar power, they gained a family. On Taquile, says Tara, "We're 'Madrina and Padrino,'" Godmother and Godfather.

Tara and Sam moved to Paonia in the early 1990s and set up their clay studio. It hasn't made them rich, but that was never the plan, they said. Tara began ceramic mugs, platters, bowls, planters, and other objects, and Sam made clay coil stoneware fruit/bread baskets. They were busy with family life, and in winters sold Christmas trees in California for Sam's family's business.

In the mid-1990s they returned to their Taquile family, and have returned almost every year, always packing solar equipment for trade. Back home, they sold textiles alongside their pottery. "We figure that was their currency because it's good stuff," said Sam. Since they only need to make enough to buy more solar equipment, the markup is small. Items sell well, and people who know weaving recognize the fine detail of the weaving and understand the skills required to make it.

Through the years Sam and Tara have also brought Taquile residents to America. One year the Smithsonian Institution hosted a group of Taquile residents. The Smithsonian paid their expenses, but when offered money, "They wanted solar panels," said Sam. "The Smithsonian had to run around and buy solar panels to pay them."

SEI moved from Carbondale to Paonia in 2002. When they offered a class on solar energy in the developing world, Tara and Sam gave a lecture on Taquile. Most lectures were filled with technical speak, they said. They spoke about smuggling solar panels into Peru, trading panels for textiles, and how much they loved the people. "We were the project with heart," said Tara.
Sam shares a happy moment with three young sisters on Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru, where he and wife Tara are known as ‘Madrina and Padrino,’ Godmother and Godfather.

Tara and Sam are still living simply and making pottery in the home studio. At the height of their career, they did as many as 12 craft shows a year. They could have had more lucrative careers, but instead made a conscious choice to maintain control of their lives. They wanted the flexibility that allows them to hike or travel and work in their studio. "We knew we were choosing the lower money route, but we were choosing a quality of life, other than a 9-to-5 job," said Sam.

After more than 30 years, they're cutting back on craft fairs and slowing production. They plan to create more local venues and set up shop online. The demand is still there, said Tara. She recently enlisted the help of an assistant to work in the studio.

They also plan to continue visiting their Taquile family. They recently established a program to provide school supplies to the local children. Two years ago, Brad Burritt and Danielle Carre with Empowered Energy Systems in Hotchkiss traveled to Taquile to install two small solar systems. Through a YouCaring campaign, they raised money and returned last year with son Asa, a solar installer who speaks Spanish, to teach a solar installation class. Four Taquile residents earned their diplomas and now have textbooks to refer to.
Paonia Artists Sam Brown and Tara Miller wear traditional clothing for the annual Carnival celebration on Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru. In 2005, UNESCO proclaimed Taquile Island’s centuries-old tradition of textile weaving and knitting as “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

Their positive influence on the island continues. Recently their godson was re-elected to town council. When a diesel fired water-pumping project was proposed, which would belch diesel smoke and not bode well with the tourists, he lobbied for solar, and won. Thanks to the resulting project, the island now has three water pumping systems, virtually eliminating the need to haul water.

Hauling water, said Sam, is considered one of the biggest jobs in the developing world. On one trip to Taquile they had to haul water, and almost cried when they got home and turned on the faucet. "It's so amazing that we have running water, both temperatures, and it's clean," said Tara.

On their most recent trip, they brought home dozens of textiles -- hats, gloves, scarves, belts and purses. Some pieces are tagged with the artist's name, type of wool used, and a short story. As they have for many years, this Friday and Saturday they will have a booth at the annual Holiday Art Fair at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts in Paonia.

Their years of work and visits to Taquile Island are documented in words and photographs at www.taquilefriends.blogspot.com.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Delta County Independent Story

Check out our Amigos de Taquile post about a story in the Delta County Independent, written by Tamie Meck, about both our Pottery and our relationship with Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru. My blog post with the article is at http://taquilefriends.blogspot.com/2018/

The newspaper story can be read at: https://www.deltacountyindependent.com/a-solar-project-with-heart-cms-13611
Note the house in the background has a panel as well. This belongs to Delia and Jesus.
We continue to do holiday markets as we can find them, but focussing on our large textile collection for sale more than our pottery. You can search this site with This link:  Table of Contents    to help you find specific items of our work on previous posts.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Planters and Plants

My newest, and fun challenging project is to make planters--some of which have the value-added inclusion of houseplants! I have been propagating jade and other houseplants for some time, with stunning results, and offer them as a complete unit. Here is one with a blooming Amaryllis from last spring: 
Note: This link:  Table of Contents    will help you find specific items of our work on previous posts.
The other aspect of my planters is a result of what I like to call "the problem of the saucer." I have solved the problem by constructing the saucer on the side as part of the planter, a "side saucer." These planters are constructed with various techniques, allowing rich textures and fun finishing details.
This pair just came out of the kiln this morning and don't have their plants yet:

Some of my planters are still the traditional under-the-pot saucer:


And, just for fun, the following is a picture of the kiln this morning, in the process of unstacking. Note the various planters, including one in blue on the third shelf down:


The 47th Annual Carbondale Mountain Fair is July 27, 28, and 29, 2018 — This Weekend!
We will be showing our pottery (though not many plants) and you can find us on the map in booth #55, along Weant Street in the NE corner of the park.
The show opens at 12 Noon on Friday, July 29,
 10am on Saturday and Sunday, July 30 and 31.
Selling closes around dusk on Friday and Saturday; 5pm on Sunday.
For more information about the fun fair schedule, check out:
http://www.carbondalearts.com/mountain-fair/

See you at the fair!



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Paonia Holiday Art Fair 2017

2017 is the 25th Annual

Paonia Holiday Art Fair!
Friday, December 1, 3-8pm
Saturday, December 2, 9am - 5pm
Blue Sage Center for the Arts
228 Grand Avenue - Paonia, Colorado

I am one of the main organizers of this artist-run event and I'm pleased to share the space with 15 wonderful artists and community organizations. The artists are listed below.

At this local show, we have the privilege of selling the textiles that we fairly traded for solar gear with our family and community of Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, in addition to our pottery. We have two new kiln-loads of pottery this week, so lots of exciting new work.


Artists:
Robin Arthur, RobiniArt - paintings - https://robiniart.com/
Diana Brekke, Rockwall Gardens – wreaths and ornaments
Sam Brown, Textiles of Taquile – Peruvian textiles
Nina Clouse - upcycled clothing, original paintings, earrings
Virginia Columbo - masks and ceramic sculptures
Josh Columbo - jewelry
Agustin Goba, Agustin Goba Fine Arts - aspen leaf monoprints
Charles J. Jankiawicz - pastel paintings
Tara Miller, Tara Miller Claywork – stoneware pottery
Sally Owen - women’s clothing, hats slippers, pillows
Sherrion Taylor - photography and paintings on wood
Patricia Weller - cards, jewelry

Community organizations:
Shannon Castle, North Fork Montessori - student crafts
Jim Brett, VOGA and Slow Foods
Annalise Lord, Art Partners Mentoring Youth

Thesa Callinicos, NFSISchool, Soup and bread


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Elk, Aspen Forest, Mountains and Hawk

Elk are the predominate wildlife theme in
Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk "Chip & Dip" Bowl: 12.25" diameter and 2.75" high
We will be showing at the Grand Lake Arts and Crafts Festival, on the western edge of the Park, presents July 9-10, 2017
SHOW HOURS: Saturday, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM and Sunday, 10:00 AM-4:00 PM We will be bringing a fine selection of Elk-themed pieces: platters and serving pieces as well as pie plates and mugs and steins; also elegant fruit baskets made of strong, washable stoneware clay. Note: This link:  Table of Contents    will help you find specific items of our work on previous posts.
Here I show you the slip-painting process of the large, wall-hanging serving piece that I call a "Chip & Dip," one brushstroke at a time.
first, the blank stencils

next, shadows under the branches

then all those wonderful knots and scratches on the aspen bark

and finally, the trunk wrinkles, horizontal but with a slight curve
The following is the side view, showing the open curved foot. See the face of the final fired piece at the top of this page.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Current Galleries

Happy 2017!
January to April, 2017, we are returning to Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru, where we have been in adopted family relationship for over 30 years. You can see stories from this trip and previous years at Amigos de Taquile, including how we have introduced and promoted solar energy on this off-grid island of UNESCO-recognized textile artists.

Note: This link: Table of Contents 
          will help you find specific items of our work on previous posts.

In the meantime, you are welcome to inquire by email, which I will check now and then from Peru. Otherwise, please be welcome to patronize our friendly COLORADO GALLERIES:

Sundance and Friends 1111 River Park Road --Buena Vista -- (719) 966-5361
http://www.sundanceleather.com/Retail-Store_ep_46.html

Pfister's Handworks -- 302 Elk Avenue -- Crested Butte -(970) 349-6731
https://www.facebook.com/Pfisters-Handworks-1072934496065933/

Working Artists' Gallery -- 520 Main Street -- Grand Junction -(970) 256-9952
https://www.facebook.com/workingartistsgallery/?rf=134534513264915

Earthen Vessel Gallery-- 115 W 9th St -- Durango -(970) 247-1281

Limited selections can also be found in Paonia, Colorado, at
The Blue Sage Center for the Arts 226-228 Grand Ave --Paonia --(970) 527-7243
The Old River Road Trading Post -- 15495 Black Bridge Road -- 970-527-4740

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY Read about who we are.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Paonia Holiday Art Fair

Our final show of the year next weekend! 
Paonia Holiday Art Fair
Friday, December 2 from 3pm to 8pm and
Saturday, December 3, from 9am to 5pm

We will show our pottery as well as Textiles from Taquile, Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru. See www.taquilefriends.blogspot.com to learn more about our 30 year relationship with this community and how we trade solar gear for quality textiles.

Note: This link: Table of Contents 
          will help you find specific items of our work on previous posts.


This intimate show of about a dozen regional and local artists features:

Celia Roberts Photography,
Tara Miller Claywork and Textiles of Taquile,
Patricia Weller, Goddess with an Attitude, polymer jewelry and cards
Diana Brekke’s Rockwall Gardens, wreaths, holiday centerpieces, ornaments
Ashley Leiber’s EcoArt (see to believe)
Jaycee Adams, hula hoops
Kathie Johnson’s new creative works of book beads, catnip sox and more
Peggysoup Lovey’ s People Aren’t Perfect, upcycled fabric dolls and hand-engraved glass
Lynn Gillespie of The Living Farm, felted slippers, scarves, mittens, pillows
Saschwann Langston, crochet and knitted fiber art
Kathie Sabatke of Sunshine Mesa Designs, bead weavings
Mary Key with hand-dyed silk scarves
Mark Weinhold with handcrafted flyfishing nets
Christina and Stephanie Clouse, Two Little Birds, with feather earrings, art prints
Mary George of Hungry Mother Foods, food available to eat, YUM
VOGA (Valley Organic Growers Association) 
Slow Food Western Slope