Santa Fe-based artist Rhiannon Griego (Tohono O’odham, Spanish) weaves wearable and displayable artworks that pay respect to the land and her Spanish and Native heritage.
A light flurry of snow falls through the chilly air and settles outside the studio of Rhiannon Griego (Tohono O’odham, Spanish), located on Santa Fe’s historic Canyon Road. Inside, the brightly lit space—spilling with natural textiles, fibers, and yarn—remains earthy and warm.
Griego, a textile artist and weaver, says she has spent the bulk of her time working on her art since moving to Santa Fe in 2020, right when the pandemic started. Stitched and woven textiles, hanging freeform or mounted on canvas, adorn the walls. A clothing rack filled with handwoven wearables stands to one side. Two sleek Japanese looms sit in the center of the room.
The studio is filled with the product of years of practice from a disciplined artist. “This, for me, is ten years of honestly weaving six days a week, just trying to figure out what’s inside my head, and allowing the loom to teach me,” the self-taught artist says.
Griego, who is originally from Southern California, took up weaving on a whim ten years ago while living in Oakland. Through mentor Lynn Harris, she learned to weave in the style of Saori, a Japanese form of weaving that Griego describes as “an invitation to play and to explore… [in Saori] there is this embracing of wabi-sabi, and there are no mistakes.”
Years later, she would learn that the Spanish, patrilineal side of her family is made up of weavers, spinners, and dyers who settled in New Mexico as early as 1598. The revelation helped explain why she felt so drawn and connected to the land here.
Her mother’s side of the family is Tohono O’odham of Arizona, a lineage full of traditional basket weavers and backstrap loom weavers. Through her artistic practice, she says, “The convergence of my Spanish and Native heritage is coming to fruition for me.”
“Weaving is very much a spiritual understanding,” she explains. “For me, sitting at the loom offers me the moving meditation… it’s very much an invitation to enter. Just a blank space.”
Her process deviates from the traditional, highly mathematical approach to weaving. If the warp breaks, she works right through it, and revels in billowing edges and other unexpected outcomes. “Perfect does not exist in my work,” she says.
Lately, plein air weaving has also figured into her practice. She’s worked on her loom in locations around Washington, Oregon, California, and New Mexico, carrying the device up to a mile and a half to the ideal spot.
While weaving outside, she is “listening to the sounds of nature and listening to my own pedals and the rhythm,” she says. “I really can’t imagine being anywhere else to be in direct communication with the land, with the colors, with all the different strata in the landscape that really reflects the way that I create and weave my textiles.”
The land is also reflected through her use of natural and organic materials, such as horsehair, alpaca, churro wool, and hemp. She sources local fauna from wherever she’s living. In New Mexico, she gets churro wool from farmers in Tierra Amarilla, and she is beginning to work on creating locally centered natural dyes.
“Creating artwork from that perspective feels very clean. It feels very mindful of the environment… it’s also not toxic to the earth,” Griego says. “I’m always trying to think of the type of legacy I want to leave, and I want my artwork to be not only beautiful and meaningful for people, but I don’t want it to degrade in a landfill.”
For Griego, land and art are naturally intertwined.
“Everything for me is just this mimicking of what I see in nature,” she says. Indeed, her layered, large-scale textiles are reminiscent of a wave of bent grass, of a field of blonde weeds receding into winter. “It is me trying to bring in the landscape for people in their homes.”
Shifting from her intuitive practice of creating, she has recently begun drawing out designs more conceptually. Over the past few years, she conceived an idea for a series that honors both her Native and Spanish lineages. In this new body of work, textiles are interwoven and layered out dimensionally, mimicking basket weaving. She plans to continue the process of layering and building up pieces, eventually moving into three-dimensional objects.
Griego finds herself a part of the resurgence of a slow-moving tradition, and the evolution of textiles into the fine and sculptural arts. On a personal level, she says the forward movement represents the “intersection of my heritage and the experiences of life that are now all coming together to weave themselves into being.”