A common thread: Athenaeum marks director Erika Torri’s retirement with a showcase of her weavings
In her more than 30 years as the head of the music and arts library at the Athenaeum of La Jolla, Erika Torri has incorporated concerts, lectures, film series and educational opportunities into her offerings. Now, as she prepares to retire at the end of this month, a showcase of her own woven textiles, as well as artist books, portraits, publications and ephemera that represent her time at the library, will be presented in a special exhibition from June 11 to July. 16.
The show, titled “Erika Torri: The Continuous Thread,” will feature about 40 of Torri’s 1,400 textile pieces created in the late 1970s and 1980s, according to the Athenaeum. The weavings, as Torri calls them, are several narrative series that depict family, landscapes, travels and architecture. They were widely exhibited in the 1980s but have not been shown since Torri became executive director of the Athenaeum in 1989.
The weaves were made throughout Torri’s life and may have helped keep her in Southern California.
“My husband and I lived in Boston — he went to MIT and I was at Harvard — and when he got his doctorate he wanted to come to California for a year,” Torri said. “He just loved it. He loved the ocean and we had avocados in our backyard.
“I had more difficult times,” said Torri, from Germany. “I missed the culture of European cities.”
UC San Diego in La Jolla offered her a job, but because she had two young children at the time, any job had to be part-time.
“They couldn’t offer me half time, but I told them what most people do in a day that I could do in half a day.” she says. “Still, they couldn’t do that, which turned out to be a blessing.”
Instead, Torri devoted those days to her artistic weavings, which she learned to do as a young girl in church confirmation classes. “I always wanted to be a weaver and loved creating little pieces,” she said. “I kept weaving when we got here and it became a real thing for me. I did miniatures that were accepted into local galleries because everyone had a little wall space where they could hang my weaves.
As she settled into her new home and new role as executive director of the Athenaeum, the weaves helped her when she was homesick, as they reminded her of her childhood in Germany, Torri said. .
“I was homesick for Europe, and mostly did things that reminded me of Europe,” she said. “When we got here…I was so depressed and I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ I did a few big rug sized pieces, but they took forever. I thought I should weave what I saw when I returned to Europe. I started with small miniature weavings from France, where my sister has a place, then things about Germany. That’s how I got over my homesickness. It took a long time before I could weave a [image of the] ocean, because most of my images were about Europe.
When she moved to San Diego County, she saw a newspaper article about local weavers. “It saved me,” she said, as it gave her the opportunity to pursue her passion here.
“As a child, I had small looms. Now I have three bigger treadle looms,” Torri said. She added that one could be seen as part of the exhibit.
“Making a weave doesn’t take a lot of time and it’s very rewarding, and I have weaving ideas everywhere. I saw something beautiful and decided to draw it and do a weave.
Sybil Roubottom, the Athenaeum’s artist-in-residence, came up with the idea for the exhibition, but at first Torri didn’t want to do it. “It was a surprise for me,” Torri said. “I thought, ‘My weaves? I haven’t shown them in 30 years!’”
Nonetheless, Roubottom said, “When Erika mentioned she was retiring, I knew people were realizing all the amazing things she had done at the Athenaeum, but I had this idea that maybe people didn’t know she was also this amazing weaver.”
The two have known each other for 45 years and were part of the same group of weavers for some time.
“I’ve always loved her weaves; it was these miniature landscapes,” Roubottom said. “She’s an artist and she’s approached everything she’s done as an artist, and it’s a way of seeing a big side of her that people don’t know about.”
With 30 weavings already available in Torri’s home, along with others that had been sold or given to friends and relatives that they presented at the show, the groundwork for the show was laid.
In addition to the weavings, the exhibition will include portraits of Torri by other artists, as well as pieces from his personal collection by local artists. “But my specialty is artist books, which are the books that artists make, and they become a work of art,” she said. “Since the ’60s it’s become an art form…and I have 1,000 at home, so I’m going to bring some that we don’t have here.”
Having an exhibit that shows “the wide range of Erika’s personality” seemed appropriate to honor her retirement, Roubottom said. ” The circle is complete. … I hope now that she will get back to weaving.
In addition to the exhibit, jazz pianists Mike Wofford and Josh Nelson will perform a tribute concert to Torri on Wednesday, June 29 at the Athenaeum.
When: from Saturday 11 June to Saturday 16 July; public reception from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday June 17
Exhibition hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday
Where: Joseph Clayes III Gallery and Rotunda Gallery, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St., La Jolla
Jazz at the Athénée: Mike Wofford and Josh Nelson — Tribute to Erika Torri
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 29
Where: Joan & Irwin Jacobs Music Room, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St., La Jolla
Cost: $35 for Athenaeum members, $40 for non-members
Information: ljathenaeum.org/events/jazz-22-0629 ◆