Wade Gruhl – Deadhead Turned Tie-dye Artist
By Sue Todd
Imagine the year is 1987, and you are a Grateful Dead fan. To see the Dead in concert has been your dream for a while, and it is happening now. Wouldn’t it be great if you could follow their tour? The people, the endless jams, the vibe, and so much tie-dye! Then the idea strikes you. If you can learn to make and sell tie-dye, you can afford to follow the Dead on their tours. That is how it happened for Wade Gruhl, in 1987, the soon to be tie-dye artist extraordinaire.
Gruhl grew up in the Midwest – Le Claire, Iowa. Midwestern childhoods have been depicted on television for decades as simple, wholesome and all-American. Gruhl could have been a character in any of those shows. Growing up before play dates and helicopter parenting, he played outdoors until dark and walked himself to school with nary a concern about safety. His father worked at a tractor factory, for heaven’s sake. It’s textbook Midwest.
It was in his teens that Gruhl became familiar with The Grateful Dead. In 1986, he arranged to see them in person, but it was not to be. The tour was canceled after Jerry Garcia wound up in the hospital in a diabetic coma. Garcia triumphantly recovered, though, and when he returned to touring the next year, Gruhl finally attended his first live Dead performance.
Not only did it seal his passion for the Dead, but he developed a love of tie-dye, the consummate Grateful Dead attire. He saw vendors selling all sorts of goods, and he surmised that if he made and sold tie-dye himself, he could fund his ability to see the Dead over and over again. He became a student of the tie-dye process, learning the shibori folding and pressure techniques and soon creative resist techniques to create his signature designs. Tie-dye became his art form. By selling his wares at shows and to friends, he was able to see 10 to 12 shows a year before Garcia died in 1995.
I asked if he had an art degree, to which he replied, “I can’t draw a stick man.” Between Dead concerts, he earned a degree in Recreation, with an emphasis on Recreation Therapy. While most recreational therapists work for health care agencies, inpatient hospitals or health facilities, Gruhl gravitated toward the outdoors.
He has used his education in several interesting jobs – at a residential treatment center for Alaska Native youth, at Anchorage Community mental health services, but also he has been a wilderness guide, manager of a guide company and now is an Alaskan tour director, which puts him on the road over much of the summer.
He continues to develop his art form and is now incorporating dots and animal shapes into his designs. The internet has facilitated connections with many tie-dye artists. Gruhl has collaborated on two pieces with a Russian tie-dye artist named Timofey Malyrov. Malyrov’s work attracted Gruhl’s attention.
He appreciated and recognized Malyrov’s style as complimentary to his own, and they have collaborated on a couple of pieces so far. Since most of the tie-dye market is in the U.S., it only makes sense for Malyrov to apply dye first, then ship to Gruhl, which eliminates the need to ship more than once. Malyrov tends to use earth tones, while Gruhl uses a brighter palate.
Together they create unique finished pieces that are far different from what either produces alone. Malyrov leaves plenty of white space for Gruhl to fill in. Gruhl finds the subtle colors Malyrov has worked into his earth tones and uses them to introduce bold color.
What results is a unique, beautiful, complex design. The current tie-dye collaboration is listed for $500, and makes a beautiful backdrop for a music stage, a stunning tablecloth, or a bed cover. One’s imagination is the only limit to its use.
Gruhl’s intention is to continue to work on his art form and to collaborate with Malyrov in the coming years. Gruhl is available for commission work, should you desire a customized piece. Art comes in many forms, and there is no argument that Gruhl is a master at his craft.
Facebook and Facebook Messenger – @wade.gruhl