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Trichotillomania and Thangka: disorder and predisposition

This is an excerpt from Focus on the Masters: a Conversation with Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo.

Focus on the Masters is a nonprofit art appreciation program that documents, preserves, and presents the works and lives of accomplished contemporary artists. Founder and executive director Donna Granata interviewed silk thangka artist Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo on March 28, 2015 in Ventura, CA in order to document her life and work for the archive.

Click here to watch the full one-hour interview.

 
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What is a Silk Applique Thangka?

This is an excerpt from Focus on the Masters: a Conversation with Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo.

Focus on the Masters is a nonprofit art appreciation program that documents, preserves, and presents the works and lives of accomplished contemporary artists. Founder and executive director Donna Granata interviewed silk thangka artist Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo on March 28, 2015 in Ventura, CA in order to document her life and work for the archive.

Click here to watch the full one-hour interview.

 
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Steeped in Dharma

This is an excerpt from Focus on the Masters: a Conversation with Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo.

Focus on the Masters is a nonprofit art appreciation program that documents, preserves, and presents the works and lives of accomplished contemporary artists. Founder and executive director Donna Granata interviewed silk thangka artist Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo on March 28, 2015 in Ventura, CA in order to document her life and work for the archive.

Click here to watch the full one-hour interview.

 
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Meeting the Dalai Lama (from Focus on the Masters, a Conversation with Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo)

Join Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo and Donna Granata for a live screening of the full conversation on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 in Ventura, California.

A Conversation with Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo (video screening)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016, 7 p.m.

Ventura College, Applied Science Center
4667 Telegraph Road, Ventura, CA 93003 (campus map)
(Corner of Telegraph Rd. and Estates Ave.)

FREE and open to the public.  Parking on campus $2.

Focus on the Masters (FOTM) is a non-profit art appreciation program that documents, preserves and presents the works and lives of accomplished contemporary artists, emphasizing the importance of the arts to a healthy society.

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is a contemporary textile artist and caretaker of a sacred Tibetan tradition: silk appliqué thangka.

A Conversation with Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is the edited version of Leslie’s FOTM Artist Spotlight interview filmed live on March 28, 2015 at the Brooks Institute. The interview, hosted by FOTM founder Donna Granata, took place as part of Leslie’s formal documentation for the FOTM Archive & Library. The all-encompassing documentation includes extensive oral histories, a videotaped public interview, digitized library of the artist’s work, and collection of historic photographs and ephemera. Established in 1994, Focus on the Masters, one of the oldest arts organizations in Ventura, is dedicated to celebrating and documenting artists in our community. Monthly artist interviews are open to the public, and lessons based on documented artists are included in the award-winning Learning To See school outreach program.

Just as Leslie puts together bits and pieces of materials to create a thangka, she also put together funding to create this film through a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The video will be available for online streaming following this live screening.

Dine at Ventura’s Himalaya Restaurant, 35 W. Main Street #A, anytime on October 26, and 20% of your check will benefit Focus on the Masters. To reserve a table, call 805-643-0795. 

 
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Snippet #2, The Perfection of Horsehair

I am finally writing a book about Tibetan appliqué and my unexpected quest to master this sacred art. Part art book, part memoir. A first-draft snippet from the art-technique part follows. I’d love your help in making it as fascinating and beneficial as it can be. Please read with gentle curiosity, then email me your comments and questions. 

Thanks in advance!

Leslie

 

Wrapping silk thread on horsehair

Wrapping silk thread on horsehair

 

The Perfection of Horsehair

To make a thangka painting, a painter fills in blocks of color on the continuous surface of a single canvas. He then applies wet and dry shading to the colored areas and draws the contour lines in ink with a very fine brush and a steady hand.

In stitched appliqué, colored areas are created with separate pieces of variously colored fabrics. There is usually no shading. And rather than drawing outlines and contours with ink, the appliqué artist constructs lines by wrapping silk thread around a core of horsehair or nylon, then stitches them to the fabric.

With my first teacher, I’d experienced the perfection of horsehair for this purpose. And I returned to horsehair when I began my own work. In Dorjee Wangdu’s studio, where I completed my apprenticeship, we used nylon fishing line. Each material has its advantages but, for me, horsehair is clearly superior. Here’s why…

Have you ever looked at a hair under a high-powered microscope? Any kind of hair — your own will do. If you have a microscope handy, go look now. Just pluck one hair off your head and put it under the lens. (Be careful if, like me, you suffer from trichotillomania. Don’t pluck if doing so will set off a pulling spree!) In truth, I don’t imagine any of you are taking the time to find a microscope now. So take my word for it. Or go look it up.  Here’s what you’ll find. Your hair is not smooth. It has scales along its surface. And so does the hair from a horse’s tail. Different kinds of hair have different surface characteristics, but they all have scaly cracks and crevices. (See the diagram below from MicrolabNW.)

 

The scaly surface of hair. Image from MicrolabNW http://www.microlabgallery.com/hair.aspx

The scaly surface of hair. Image from MicrolabNW

 

Now, if you have any loosely spun silk thread handy, you can put that under the microscope too. Or just look at it closely with good reading glasses. Pull it apart with your fingers. Or trust me again. It is composed of ultra thin fibers.

When I wrap that fibrous silk thread around a scaly horse hair, the fibers get caught in the scales. They cling, causing the thread to remain securely wrapped around the hair without any added adhesives.

Now, I admit it takes practice to wrap thread around hair! It doesn’t happen easily or immediately. But as you gain skill in wrapping the thread tightly and evenly, guiding it with your fingernail so that each turn of silk lies right next to the one before it, the thread clings to the hair.

Put nylon thread or fishing line to the same microscope test and you’ll see that it’s slick. No scales, cracks, or crevices there. Nylon is a type of plastic, as are the other materials used to make monofilament fishing line. So an adhesive is needed to make silk thread grip the nylon. (In Dorjee Wangdu’s workshop, I think we used a gelatinous paste similar to the old Le Pages mucilage… Either that or I’ve mixed the two sticky substances in my memory. Memory does things like that!)

Horsehair also beats nylon on the critical characteristic of pliability. It has just the right amount of rigidity not to flop and wiggle along a line, and just the right amount of flexibility to curve and bend as directed. Nylon has a similar degree of rigidity and seems at first to be similarly flexible. But when nylon thread is called upon to follow intricate shapes, it reveals its subtle shortcomings. It has a kind of muscle memory that makes it resist the artist’s guidance. It dislikes alternating curves, preferring to continue curving in the direction in which it was rolled at the factory. And it tends to bounce back when folded into a sharp angle, distorting a sharp point into a gently bulging cupola. (Perhaps there is a modern synthetic polymer that overcomes these drawbacks of pliability. I don’t know. But as long as we have horsehair to work with, without hurting horses, we don’t need to know.)

Nylon does have the advantage of length. Occasionally, an artist will want to make a continuous line longer than the longest horse tail. In that case, and only in that case, nylon wins the contest.  In my thangkas, I sometimes use nylon to outline the moon seats on which my deities sit and the circles of light they emanate.

One last consideration in choosing the core of one’s colored cords is diameter. Nylon fishing line is produced in a variety of gauges (thicknesses), which allow an artist to create lines of varying weight. But hairs also grow at varying thicknesses, naturally. An appliqué artist using horsehair at the core of her cords can choose coarser hairs for heavier lines and finer hairs for finer lines. She can also vary the number of strands of hair used — three for most lines, just one for the finest lines around eyes and on small fingertips.

 

Horsehair, silk thread, and the cords made by wrapping one around the other.

Horsehair, silk thread, and the cords made by wrapping one around the other.

 

*****

I’m writing a book and I’d like your help in making it as fascinating and useful as possible. You’ve just read a draft snippet. Your loving feedback will help me refine it. Please email me your comments and questions. Remember it’s a first draft. Let me know what touched you and what lost you.

With gratitude overflowing,

Leslie

 
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