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ABQ artist incorporates colorful geometric weavings

A tapestry by weaver Donna Contractor, who will be among the artists showing at the Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival Holiday Show.

A tapestry by weaver Donna Contractor, who will be among the artists showing at the Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival Holiday Show.

When holiday shopping beckons, many of us head to the mall or the Internet.

The 16th Annual Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival Holiday Show will kick off Black Friday with a handmade alternative to the mainstream.

Opening at Expo New Mexico on Friday, Nov. 27, the lineup ranges from leather, fiber art, glass, ornaments, as well as fine art, furniture and ceramics by 185 artists from 20 states.

Shoppers and browsers can choose from live entertainment, specialty food sampling, a kids’ creation station, face painting and a free photo with Santa.

Albuquerque tapestry artist Donna Contractor creates colorful geometric weavings honoring the precision of mathematics.

When she was a student at Santa Fe’s St. John’s College, Contractor began taking classes at the old Santa Fe Weaving Center on the city’s Canyon Road.

Soon she was a production weaver for clothing designers in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

“I love the machines; I love the look of the loom,” she said. “I also just love the process. My favorite thing to do is weave all day.”

She read up on tapestry weaving after her father asked if she could put pictures in the rugs she wove.

Today she creates free-hanging double-sided tapestries in various series reflecting her interests in geometry, architecture, Gustav Klimt’s fractured squares and the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui. She uses only hand-dyed wool from New Zealand.

“Most people would say it’s contemporary abstract and geometric,” Contractor said. “I’m a math geek.”

Contractor has incorporated everything from Pythagorean proofs to M.C. Escher-inspired depictions of stair-steps leading nowhere.

She uses a Feng Shui color system for individual clients. The red fire of the South can enhance career recognition and fame, she said.

“I do a lot of greens for the bedroom where people have health problems,” she added.

The artist’s work hangs in the University of New Mexico Hospital, Santa Fe’s Christus St. Vincent Hospital and in three Albuquerque galleries.

Years ago, Contractor traded the potter’s wheel for the loom with the arrival of her children. Colorado artist Peggy Crago fell in love with the slippery kneading of clay from the start.

When the Englewood artist took her first pottery class, she didn’t even know what a kiln was.

A piece by ceramic artist Peggy Crago of Colorado.

A piece by ceramic artist Peggy Crago of Colorado.

“I always loved to draw and paint since I was a kid,” she said. “I’d get home from work and do that in the evening and give it away as presents.”

When she decided to return to the local community college to pursue a degree, she discovered ceramics.

“I just loved it so much,” she said. “I would spend as much time as I could there.

“First, I had to learn how to throw” or turn the clay on the wheel, Crago continued. “It was very hard, but I just had to do it. It was obsessive.”

She settled on majolica, a process often found in ceramics from Italy and Portugal. Low-fired earthenware, it features a decorative glaze.

“You dip it in the white glaze,” Crago said. “Once it dries, it’s very absorbent. I do a lot of brushwork and painting.”

Her painterly touch produces florals and images from nature. Lately, she’s been featuring travel scenes; she recently returned from a trip to Italy.

“I used to work from photographs, but now I just put scenes together in my head,” Crago said.

Her current inventory encompasses cups, teapots, trays and vases. She’s been experimenting with tiles and travels across the country to show her work at arts and crafts shows.