Zacatecas 6. Cerro del Grillo. After the Fire.

Patricia Dunn

Click here to get a printable .pdf copy of this article

I was pretty dreamy one spring morning in 2008 as my dog and I walked beside the highway on our way to our usual jaunt on the mountain, Cerro del Grillo. An acrid smell woke me. Puzzled, I looked up across the highway, discovering that there had been a brush fire on a part of the mountain. My heart sank as I saw a swath of scorched nopal cacti, young eucalyptus trees and bushes. Needing our morning walk I sadly continued up the mountainside through the burned area, finally leaving it behind.

Zacatecas 6. Cerro del Grillo. After the Fire. 57" x 47"

The next morning having no other place to walk where I could release my dog to run, I returned with some reluctance to the mountain. When I looked around seeing the singed cactus paddles, coppery and bronze-green, thick cactus trunks sooty, silvery ash flowing across the ground, the grays of burned grass, it was a suck in your breath moment. I was surrounded with color. I knew there would be a tapestry, so on the third morning after the fire I was there with my camera. It was the colors on the mountain that were the foundation of the palette. (I didn’t in this case, but in my Zacatecas series I have taken my yarn samples to actually compare them with the color of the object. Because of different light this can be tricky.)

First I reviewed the photos and selected those I wanted to print. Using those, I checked my supply of dyed yarns. What was missing? How did the colors work together? Since silk reflects and wool absorbs light, I dyed some together thus creating a shift in the hue. These two will be side by side in opposite sheds in the same block of color. There are 45 hues in this tapestry. There is movement of color gradations within a “solid” shape.

I did not work from a cartoon, rather a drawing. On the drawing I noted within each shape the formulas for the colors I planned to use, e.g. 30 yellow 70 violet (50 magenta 50 turquoise), .05 value (a gray). I drew a grid over the drawing. During the design process, I referred to the photos and confirmed my conclusions on my walks. The sketches originally were curvilinear. The design finally came together when I made the “cactus paddles” angular,  offering contrast.

This process of selecting colors from nature was used in my series of sculptures: Silent Voices. On the Mountain that can be seen along with the Zacatecas series at


“Nature-color used at its best.” (Michelle Whipplinger, 1988, Boulder Weavers’ Guild sponsored color class.) Found reviewing my notes in 2011. Synchronicity.

Yarns: Henry’s Attic Crown Colony 2-ply wool, Rapunzel 2-ply for weft, and Normandy Linen gray 16/6 for warp.

Ciba Gigy Lanaset Dyes. “Shades of Wool for Lanaset Dyes”, Linda Knutson, with over 600 dye samples and their formulas.

Archives of yarn samples and formulas of my work since 1990.

Johannes Itten, The Art of Color