Damascus Fiber Arts School is located in a very special building with a long history as a place of learning.
The building was first a public elementary school. Later, it became a church school. In 1967, it was purchased by Amy Miller, who named it the Damascus Pioneer Craft School. In the beginning, Amy taught crafts such as tole painting, rug hooking, and tin punching. Amy’s business partner, Dodie Gannet, filled the room with floor looms. She was a gifted teacher with a large, devoted following..
Spinning came next, taught by the Millers’ daughter-in-law, Barbara Miller, on spinning wheels set near the windows of the east room. Natural dyeing was not far behind being taught by Barbara. Her old centrifuge is still at the school.
Navajo-style weaving was introduced to the school by weaver Audrey Moore, who later founded the current Damascus Fiber Arts School.
In the early 1970s, Audrey invited Noël Bennett, the author of Designing with Wool: Advanced Techniques in Navajo Weaving and co-author with Tiana Bighorse or Working with the Wool: How to Weave a Navajo Rug (1971) and Navajo Weaving Way (1997), to meet her and a group of weavers in the woods near the McKenzie Pass. There, under the branches of red cedars and douglas fir, they learned to build looms, make warp, and weave in the Navajo style.
Audrey never returned to floor-loom weaving. She set up Navajo-style looms in the east room, and that became the room where she wove and taught Navajo-style weaving from 1973 to 2020. Noël Bennet remained her friend for life and Pearl Sunrise, another friend and Navajo weaver, occasionally came to Portland and taught workshops at the school. Pearl’s husband built a very small Navajo loom now displayed in DFAS’s foyer (the former cloakroom of the public school).
With the retirement of Barbara Miller and Dodie Gannett in 2005 it was the end of the Damascus Pioneer Craft School. Audrey, 80 years old at that time, decided to continue teaching. She took over the school, renamed it the Damascus Fiber Arts School and operated it as a small business. She rented the building from Barbara Miller and her husband Phil, who charged very little rent in order to sustain the school.
Retired from her own career, weaver Terry Olson began helping Audrey with the school. They started teaching on Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Navajo-style looms in the east room. The west room was mostly empty.
Soon after, Terry changed her focus to tapestry and began teaching students in the east room on small copper looms. Within two years, both rooms were full of weavers. By 2018 the school had to place people on waiting lists.
In 2020, Audrey Moore retired. With the support of Audrey, a group of DFAS teachers and weavers dedicated to keeping the school going formed a Board of Directors who decided that a 501(c)(3) nonprofit platform would best meet the needs of the community and honor the traditions Audrey had begun.
In the same year came two setbacks. One, a source of sorrow, was the death of Audrey Moore. Then, because of the pandemic, the school had to be shut down, cutting off traditional revenue streams. The board responded quickly to the loss of revenue by organizing two webinar lecture series (in 2020 and again in 2021). The series featured professional tapestry artists from around the United States, as well as local weavers.
The lectures were free; DFAS simply asked for donations. Support poured in from around the country and abroad. This support was crucial to the school’s survival. It also let us know that we should continue with our efforts to remain open.
2021-2022 saw a gradual return to in-person activities and the resumption of classes and workshops.
Thanks to its founders and the leaders who succeeded them, DFAS continues to support fiber arts in the Pacific Northwest and further afield.