This story is about an artist who traveled a long, winding road of career choices until he came home to weaving. His family history and his own life and work are a tapestry rich in color and design. Meet Crane Day, artist and Marana resident.
Crane Day is of French and Native American ancestry. His mother was part Osage, and he grew up on a ranch on the Osage Reservation near Pawhuska, Oklahoma. He credits Native American influences for some of his designs and, as an altar boy, he became fascinated with the richness of design and color in the ceremonial garments and decorations of the Catholic Church. Some of his designs come from the days when, as a boy lying on the living-room rug, reading his mother's book-of-the-month selections, he gained insights into medieval times. He attributes his designs he calls Pueblo Gothic to this blend of Native American and medieval culture.
Although he tried many different career paths, Day eventually discovered weaving.
"I started looking into genealogy in 1990, and perhaps my inclination toward weaving came from the French side of my family," says Day. "I have traced my family history back to three men in France who were weavers in the late 1500s and early 1600s."
The name Crane comes from Day's maternal great grandfather, Horace Hiram Crane. Day's first name is Horace, and all the first-born sons since 1850 have been named Horace. He used to go by H. Crane Day but eventually decided to be known to the world as Crane.
In 1873, Day's great grandfather, H. H. Crane, purchased land from an Osage chief then later leased additional land from the tribe, creating a 196,000-acre cattle ranch. By the 1880s, Crane's sons were running the ranch. One son, Horace Orlando Crane, married Marie Herard, whose mother was half French and half Osage. Their daughter, Frankie, was Day's mother. In 1907, as members of the Osage tribe, Frankie and her mother were given land allotments on the reservation. Later, after oil was discovered on the reservation, they also began to receive money from the oil production. Frankie married Dr. Benjamin Day, and Crane was born in 1937. Although a doctor, Crane's father also went into ranching, and Crane and his two brothers grew up on the ranch in Oklahoma.
"I was not given an indian name," says Day. "l was brought up more in the white culture than the Osage culture, although we did go to some of the cultural events such as dances." Day says that one particular Osage event holds a lasting memory for him, as it gave him a glimpse into traditional Osage life. As an altar boy, he took part in the funeral for Chief Fred Lookout and was impressed by both the Catholic and Osage ceremonies that took place, which were followed by a traditional Osage feast.
Day started his long road to becoming a weaver when he left home in the fall of 1951 to attend a parochial boarding school in Tulsa. In 1955, he started college as a pre-med major at Notre Dame. For two years, he struggled through the likes of Zoology and chemistry but never really enjoyed the subjects. By the time he was a junior, he had changed his major to liberal arts and discovered an interest in art when he enrolled in an art-history class. Day said this was his introduction to art since the parochial schools he attended as a kid did not teach any art classes. After the positive influence of anthropology professor Dan Crowley, Day changed his major to sociology and anthropology.
During the summers of 1956 and 1957, Day got some travel experience as a tour escort and was able to visit the southwestern United States, Mexico and Europe. This travel was later to influence some of his designs as a weaver. Since he had discovered an aptitude for cooking, Day went on to enroll in a master's program in hotel and restaurant management at Michigan State University. Again, aside from the cooking and party-planning courses, he did not like the business aspects of the major. After becoming friends with a professor in the home-economics department, he was influenced to finish his master's degree in this department. It was here, in the clothing, textiles and related arts (meaning interior design) area,that he found his niche when he took a weaving class.
"I remember sitting down at the loom and feeling a control over my universe that I had never before felt," says Day in his as yet unpublished autobiography. His first weaving project was a poncho that he designed for riding his palomino horse on the family ranch. With the encouragement of one of his professors, he submitted this poncho for display, and it was accepted for a show at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City. The name of the show was "Young Americans 1962."
In the spring of 1963, Day got his first teaching job as an associate professor of clothing, textiles and related art and taught basic courses in art. He then became involved in wallpaper design and moved to San Francisco where he designed a line of wallpaper for Winfield Design Associates. Some of them received an international design award.
Crane began to teach weaving classes in San Francisco, then left California for a teaching position at the University of Arizona. He quit teaching at the university to open his own yarn shop in the 1970s. The mid-1970s found him in New York City, working at a silk-screen shop where he printed a line of wallpaper, while teaching and taking art classes. Later, Day was back in Tucson, and once again weaving.
After a decade, Day took weaving classes in France and spent nine years in Santa Fe as a weaver. In 1980, he created the "Disco Chasuble" a religious garment that took first place in an exhibition of religious art in Washington, D.C. at the Institute of Art and Architecture. In 1988, he created an alb of cream-colored silk with crosses painted on the sleeves, which was taken to Rome by his third-grade teacher, Sister Mary Inez, and presented to Pope John Paul II. Day’s Disco Chasuble was not considered by the clergy as a suitable garment, but after removing the crosses, he created the Ultimate Cocktail Poncho, which has been one of his most successful garments.
Nowadays, Day describes himself as the Great American Bedouin, but can't stay away from Tucson.
I love the Sonoran Desert and have always felt at home here after many journeys," Day explains. He moved back in 1990 and has been pursuing his career of weaving ever since. He likes to work with mohair because it can be brushed to create a fur-like texture and it is lightweight, warm, and maintains its shape over the lifetime of the garment. He also likes to work with rayon since it is non-allergenic and easy to weave.
He weaves tapestries with medieval or Native American designs because you can put "your hear into the project," says Day. "But garments such as ponchos and scarves are more popular and are the bread and butter of my work." He considers the garments he creates as wearable art, saying they are "shining a new light on an ancient tradition" based on the designs of traditional native peoples of the American Southwest and Mexico. His garments include the Q Poncho ('q’is for quechquemitl), and a versatile garment he calls the Abrazo, and the Outrageous Long Scarf, an accessory for both men and women. He also creates rugs and table runners.
Day moved his creative endeavors into a studio in downtown Tucson, a manufacturing building near the railroad tracks in what is known as the Historic Warehouse Arts District. Besides Day’s studio, the building houses eight other studios for artists whose work includes ceramics, painting, woodworking, jewelry and photography.
You can visit the studio at other times (call to make sure he will be there) or mark your calendars for the Spring Open Studio Tour, from 11:00 until 5:00 on April 14 and 15. The studio is at 549 N. 7th Ave. in Tucson.
You can contact him by phone at (520) 624-7419, or visit his website at www.craneday.com