Weaver, refugee, designer, poet, teacher, entrepreneur, immigrant, innovator: Trude Guermonprez. Along with contemporaries Anni Albers, Dorothy Liebes and Marianne Strengell, Guermonprez was in the vanguard of the American modernist weaving movement, producing both functional and decorative textiles, and experimenting with industrial synthetic fibers. Co-founder of the Pond Farm Workshops, Guermonprez is most remembered for her novel three-dimensional fiber “space hangings” and poetic wall tapestries. Through Pond Farm, Guermonprez received numerous architectural commissions, including three ark curtains, or parochet, for newly-built synagogues, structures that reflected the broader modernist architectural spirit in post-World War II America.
Claude Stoller, architect of the Rodef Shalom (Keepers of Peace) synagogue in San Rafael, California, said he had always had Trude Guermonprez in mind for the ark curtains, and gave her free artistic reign. Devoid of icons and letters, the curtains were non-objective, a Bauhaus-inspired, geometric design of polychrome squares.The concentration of yellow, pink, orange and purple squares at the top dispersed as the eye lowered, giving way to a tranquil, tonal shimmering cloth of white and gold. Guermonprez advocated that the eye needed a place to rest. The tapestries embodied both the historical ritual of protecting the Torah, and the artistic and religious freedom of the new world. Deviating from the old-world practice in which female members of the congregation together embroidered the ark curtains, Guermonprez hand-wove the parochet, merging a traditional plain-weave technique with an experimental synthetic metallic yarn. No longer extant, this trial is all that remains of the commission, along with a drawing also in the Museum’s collection. Rodef Shalom was a progressive endeavor, each artisan hand-selected by Stoller, and linked in some way to Guermonprez herself: Bella Feldman (copper menorah), Ann Knorr (burning bush stained glass), Jane Slater Marquis (stained glass panels representing the twelve tribes of Israel), Victor Ries, co-founder of Pond Farm Workshops, (the bronze olive branch), and Edith Heath (triangular floor tiles in the entry).
Today is the first day of Rosh Hashanah