The Recorder - Bound by beauty: Greenfield home filled with artistic vitality

Walker Saville’s Greenfield home bears witness to her greatest aspiration: to create beauty.

Even in winter, her gardens convey elegant order, and the interior of the home she shares with her partner, Matt Campbell, is a visual feast. Stunning artwork adorns many walls, and Saville, 78, knows many of the artists and photographers.

One abstract painting in shades of blue, orange, pink, and yellow draws the eye. When asked about the artist, Saville replied, “I did that one.”

Viewing art solely on Saville’s walls, however, would mean missing some of her loveliest treasures. Looking down, one can see Saville’s handwoven rugs adorning wood floors with earth tones as well as brighter colors.

As a child, Saville yearned to produce lovely, useful items and began designing her own clothing at age 10 with assistance from her paternal grandmother. From her mother, Saville learned to knit, and she’s made many sweaters and other items for loved ones and for herself.

But when she discovered weaving at age 12, Saville embarked on a path along which she’s traveled for much of her life.

Saville was born in New York State near the Hudson River, and her family moved to the Detroit area when she was four, where they lived until she was 15.

At age 12, Saville attended a summer camp at the Cranbrook Art Institute in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where “all campers were expected to engage in drawing and painting, ceramics, and weaving,” said Saville. “Later, we were asked to choose one discipline to focus on, and I chose weaving.”

She loves setting up a weaving project, called “dressing the loom,” and seeing different colored threads lined up. “Once I start the actual weaving, it becomes very rhythmic and meditative,” said Saville.

At Cranbrook, she felt “at home, truly at home, for the first time. My parents were fun-loving and enjoyed lots of parties with social drinking, but they were not aesthetic people. Cranbrook was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.”

Saville attended the Kingswood School for Girls on the Cranbrook campus. “It seemed like everywhere I looked, things were handmade: curtains in the classrooms, seat cushions, even the fabric that graced the yearbook covers. It was phenomenal. They had light switches cast to match radiator grills.”

Beauty inspired Saville, and her Swedish weaving teacher insisted on rigid discipline, which helped set the tone for a lifetime of artistic output. “I was in heaven,” said Saville.

A change in her father’s work life led to Saville’s family moving back east. “I wanted to stay at Cranbrook, but wasn’t given that choice,” she said.

Saville earned an associate’s degree after high school and then became the mother of three while in her early twenties. Her young family lived in California, and later in Wales while her husband studied and taught English. Eventually, they landed back in the U.S., at the Northfield Mount Hermon School.

When Saville was 27, her mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage. “I was devastated,” said Saville, “and needed some time to myself.” Leaving her family for a year, Saville went to New Mexico and got a job at a weaving school. She was hired after easily meeting the owner’s request that she produce five yards of high-quality weaving on the spot.

“I missed my kids terribly,” she said, “but I learned so much that year, including chemical dyeing, outdoors over a wood stove.”

Saville also learned to work with Churro wool, the material she uses when weaving rugs.

Saville’s mention of Churro wool inspired some research, as the Navajo-Churro sheep breed has a fascinating history. Imported from Spain to North America in the 16th century, Churros were initially used on these shores as food for Spanish soldiers and settlers. Within a hundred years, flocks were acquired through trading by the Navajo, also known as The Diné, meaning “The People.”

Due to U.S. government policies, the importance of Churros to the Navajo figured into the breed’s near extinction. A series of government-sponsored flock reductions decimated numbers until the Churro nearly disappeared.

A resurgence came about in the 1970s, however, when breeders began focusing on preserving Churros, according to a 2010 report on National Public Radio. The sheep are renowned for their hardiness and adaptability to climate extremes; their wool consists of a protective topcoat and a soft undercoat. It is this wool that graces the floors of Walker Saville’s home.

Over the years, Saville operated weaving studios in New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, in addition to New Mexico. While her first husband was head of the Putney School, Saville maintained a studio in their home and taught weaving classes while also employing seven people.

“We sold at big wholesale shows all over the northeast,” she said. “One holiday season, we mailed out 120 dozen scarves.”

The 1980s recession changed the financial picture. With three of her four children in college, Saville needed to make some money. “I took a break from weaving and got a job as a fundraiser for an orphanage in Westminster, Vermont called Kurn Hattin,” she said. “It’s a wonderful organization.”

Saville became a stockbroker in the late 1980s and later moved into socially responsible investing. “I’ve found that much more appealing than being a stockbroker,” she said.

But Saville never stopped creating, and retirement allows for more art work, including painting, collage, and mono prints. She’s taking art classes again, and wishes to deepen her commitment to her Buddhist-centered spiritual path. She’s also very devoted to her three granddaughters.

Of art as a way of life, Saville said, “I learned that beauty is the antidote to aggression, and that the more a person is surrounded by beauty, the more their higher self emerges.”

The phenomenally talented Saville also writes poetry. Her new book, “Offshore,” is available at World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield. An excerpt from her poem “Beauty” sums up what it’s like to visit her home:

No wonder I seek beauty

Everywhere–

That one exquisite cord

That has bound me gently together

Always.

Eveline MacDougall, the author of “Fiery Hope,” is drawn to beauty in all its forms. Readers may contact her at eveline@amandlachorus.org or by postal mail at P.O. Box 223, Greenfield, MA 01302

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