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The Arts

Weaving a life

Margaret Miller Silvia closes Margies Muse to concentrate on her own work

JAMAICA—Margaret Miller Silvia, who maybe didn’t always know what she really wanted to spend her life doing, appears to have figured it out at the age of 52.

But not before graduating from high school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and then from Hobart and William Smith colleges in upstate New York; working odd jobs around Boston; running five women’s shelters in three states; and joining her carpenter husband Mark Silvia, 55, who had taken up residence as an assistant to a medicine man on a Lakota reservation.

Or before moving around from Boston to Colorado to South Dakota to Vermont; getting her master’s degree in counseling and psychology from Cambridge (Mass.) College; moving to West Jamaica 15 years ago; working at the Wardsboro store; picking blueberries and making wreathes and doing some teaching and shop-managing.

Finally, years after her husband built her first loom, Silvia figured out it was full-time weaving she craved, and making high-end and richly colored household goods and clothing from that craft.  She also spins, knits and does just a little sewing.

At one point when she was in the Boston area, she worked for a Cambridge knitwear designer and learned to use a knitting machine, which was her introduction to yarns and textures and colors.

“I loved that job but I didn’t like the machines,” Silvia said.  “But that’s when I fell in love with weaving.” 

Her love was further nurtured some years later when she took a class from West Townshend weaver Suzanne Lovejoy.

“At the time Mark and I were doing renovations at Stratton – I was learning contracting, and working at the Wardsboro store and I had this dream that I was selling my stuff at a craft fair. When I woke up, I knew I was going to make a commitment to weaving.”

Silvia believes in the chakras and their colors, concepts prominent in several Eastern religions, that relate to perceived energy centers of the body and the colors that are most effective with that energy. As she points out, every color is used and a brief glance of her studio reveals garments and household goods of many colors but somehow red, yellow and orange stand out.

“You can see I love earth colors,” she said, pointing to a work-in-progress in yellow and red on one of the three looms in the studio. “But people order certain things in certain colors,” she said, gesturing toward a group of thread cones on the floor in half a dozen shades of blue, waiting for feeding to the loom.

At the end of August, Silvia will move out of Jennie Blue and Margie’s Muse Handweaving, the combined pottery and weaving studio/shop, she has shared with potter Jennifer Connor for two years, and move into the studio her husband is building for her at their house in West Jamaica. 

She’s been managing the shop for two years on Jamaica’s combination Main Street and lively alternative-living mall, noting that her shop had opened nine years ago across the street. During the life of the shop, Silvia also became known as a consignment person.

“That was part of my business plan and I’ve had more than 200 people leaving me their crafts to sell,” she said.  And the shop in mid-August was hung with smartly sewn jackets and whimsical baby sweaters, stuff Silvia likes.

The Silvias, in their travels and experiences, present a familiar and perhaps enviable picture of 20-somethings in the 1980s looking for a place where answers might be available. Margaret (or Margie, with a hard “g”) Silvia grew up in the liberal tradition of the Congregational Church where her father was a minister.  There was very little that she did that wasn’t in some way appreciated. Mark Silvia’s family, in construction, from Merrimack, N.H., was more traditional.

Margie Silvia says they met in Boston and fell in love instantly and began their self-discovery narrative, working in and around Boston. A visit to friends in Wyoming drew them to the west. Just after, Margie did her master’s they moved to Boulder, Colo.

“Mark really felt called,” Silvia said. “We’d visited friends in Wyoming, so we knew we loved the land. Right away Mark met Galen, a Lakota medicine man who lived and worked on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota. He really became part of (Galen’s) extended family and he began spending more and more time there. He was also teaching carpentry.”

Margie was working at a Boulder County safe house, setting up a children’s program.

“We decided that we wanted our marriage to work, so I moved to the reservation, taking a risk,” Margie said. “Mark was learning Lakota songs and helping with ceremonies and I was working at a shelter on the reservation.  I experienced some culture shock between the women there and myself, a communication break.”

After four months, the couple felt they’d been away from their families for three years and it was time to go home. They looked for a place that was sort of between their two families.

First, they ended up renting a house in South Wardsboro from a couple who had the same kind of dog they had and the men in both families were named Mark, which Sylvia took as a kind of sign. Also, an aunt told her she was descended from the Kidders, an early family in the town.

Her parents then helped them to buy their house in West Jamaica.

Besides plans to sell on line, Silvia says she now has enough incentive and experience to concentrate on her craft and to help support her and her husband.

On a Monday afternoon at the shop, Silvia spends a lot of her time with customers and on the telephone. She’s involved in town projects and on another day was busy writing a press release for a town event.

A sadness in the Silvias’ lives, a sadness she says they have overcome, relates to the miscarriages she’s endured.

“Now, I’m going to put my heart and soul into this and, instead of making babies, I’m going to weave.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #64 (Wednesday, August 25, 2010).

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