Thursday, December 18, 2008

Contemporary Makers: Tom Conde, Fingerweaving

In this fast paced world of instant gratification it’s rare to find people who take the time to create pieces from a distant past. Pieces done in a way that would be very familiar to someone living in the 18th century. Tom Conde is just such a person. Tom is a devoted reenanctor and accomplished artist. He knows well how his pieces will be used by reenactors and how they were used in the past by the first people of North America. He is well aware of the effort that Native artisans put into each and every piece. When at an event Tom becomes an 18th century man.

Tom does not offer a huge selection of items, instead he prefers to do the absolute finest work available within his range. He uses only the best raw materials that are carefully chosen to represent as closely as possible the original materials used so long ago. His sensibilities are closely aligned with the Native American.

He is always available to offer advice or share his knowledge. Tom’s work can be viewed at a number of events around the nation as well as at his website Conde Trading.

Q: Have you always been interested in history?
A: As a child, my love for history drove me to read everything I could get my hands on about colonial and American history. Later in life that interest led me to the 18th and early 19th century events called rendezvous and re-enacting and my introduction to the art I now produce.

Q: How did Conde Trading come about?
A: Conde Trading came about as a way to help me, and my son, afford to attend rendezvous and re-enactment. I am and always will be a participant at these events first and a seller second.

Q: What is the driving force behind your work?
A: The love of trying to re-create the time period, and the people who are also trying to do the same, is what drives me. It doesn't matter at what level of research and authenticity you are comfortable, as long as you remember the goal is to do without the modern as much as possible, not as much as is convenient. The idea is to do the best we can and have fun doing it.

Q: What intrigues you about fingerweaving?
A: Finger weaving, to me, is more than just history; it is an art. I am an artist by my own hand. When I became interested in finger weaving, I had never seen a piece of work. Had never laid eyes on a bag, sash, or tumpline. I taught myself this art with the aid of two publications. From these and many questions and endless hours of research, the products I now produce were born.

Q: Can you give us a brief history of fingerweaving?
A: Fingerweaving seems to have no definite beginning. It's origins are lost in time but it has existed for thousands of years. Fingerwoven pieces were used to make impressions on clay pottery. These weavings were often done by a method called “twining.” The work more commonly thought of as fingerweaving, the items I make in wool yarns, are representative of the items that begin to appear in collections around the middle of the 1700's. Although beautiful in their design, these items were not just for show. Fingerweaving produced functional items for daily work. Sashes, bags, garters, straps for bags and powderhorns, tumplines (burden straps for carrying and dragging loads), garters and other items were useful tools.

Q: What about the colors used?
A: Some pieces were dyed using a technique called "resist" dying. Resist dying is the art of dying material and using something to block the dye from penetrating certain predetermined areas of the material being dyed. This creates an un-dyed place on the piece, forming designs of contrasting color. On other pieces these lighter, or different colored areas seem to have been achieved by “reducing” or “bleaching” the main color. By asking people who specialize in natural dying I was able, over a period of several years of experimentation, to reproduce what I believe to be the methods used in dying items made in the 18th century.

Q: Its obvious that you take a great deal of pride in your work.
A: I take great pride in my work. Not because I am self-taught, but because I am reproducing a piece of history from a time in our nation that intrigues me. I take enormous joy in discussing my work and its era with the public. Although mine is a very small selection, my goal is to provide the best goods and raw materials we can find for the participants of these events. If I do not have what you need, then I will try to tell you where you can find what you want, rather than try to sell you what I have that comes close

Photos by Tom Conde (top two and bottom).
Photo of the 4 tumplines was taken by Rick Lambert.

Article previously published in the Broadside a publication of the Contemporary Longrifle Association.

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