Taos Wholly Rags & Art from Discards

The occasion slipped by me last year this time, but Taos has had an annual recycled art exhibit for 10 years now. On August 27 the Arte de Descartes XI will have its opening. Being relatively new here I was simply attracted to “recycled” as a premise for making art and participating in a gallery show. When my pieces were done and the deadline near for submitting photos of my work for the jury process I chose to hand-deliver my application form to Melissa Larson at her spacious studio, the official home of Wholly Rags.

A picture is worth a thousand words and luckily this is a photo kind of blog. Here in her studio Melissa is surrounded by recycled fabric, by art created from fabric, by tools for making art from fabric, by some fine examples of such art and by a library of books for finding techniques and inspiration for it. To say I was impressed by the sheer amount of fabric would be a start, but before long it was Melissa herself who was amazing me even more so. Yes, she is the founder of the Art de Descartes 11 years ago. And no, Descartes, does not refer to a famous philosopher by the same name, but rather simply means “discards” in Spanish. Said gringa failed to put that one together.

Through conversation with Melissa I learned that she, more or less singlehandedly, keeps the flow of discarded fabric in Taos moving toward true recycled use as opposed to a final resting place in a landfill. This seems to be a self-oppointed mission and she works hard every day making her rounds. The CAV (Citizens Against Violence) thrift store is one of the major drop off places for people trying to “do good” by way of their castoff fabric things. There the donations are evaluated and most are put aside for a trip down the recycle road. They call Melissa often and she picks up these castoffs and adds them to what is accumulating in her storage unit, rented for this purpose.

Another fertile sourceof “overflow” is the “free box” at the Taos Recycling Center a few blocks away from Wholly Rags. When the storage area there gets overloaded it’s Melissa who comes to the rescue. Eventually her storage unit is full and then the contents are sold by the ton to some recycling entity from out of town. I’m oversimplifying this but hopefully I’m painting a picture that is somewhat realistic. The whole point of Melissa’s efforts is to keep fabric out of landfills and see that it find usefulness above ground, either as clothing, art or even in home construction projects (this may only be conceptual now). If you visit the Wholly Rags website, linked above in the first paragraph, you’ll learn more. And to find out more about the art show, Arte de Descartes, just select “EVENTS.”

I enjoyed seeing this 3D fabric art I found on one of the walls. At one point in my interview with Melissa the other day (yes, I had to return a 2nd time with my camera) we were standing next to a pile of old corduroy fabric. She pointed out that it was all 100% cotton and that this quality is getting rarer to find. We were both mesmerized by its velvety, rich texture and feel. There was so much beauty and even more potential beauty in the place that it was on one hand exciting and inspiring and on the other a bit overwhelming and chaotic.

Melissa states on the Wholly Rags’ website that its mission is “to piece together and re-thread the fabric of our community by gathering the cloth of the past to conserve the culture of the future.” I know meeting her has been eye-opening for me and as an enthusiastic participant in the Arte de Descartes show my wish is that it be well-attended and an inspiration to the community, as well as a boon for Wholly Rags.