In a 1971 article, Lenore Tawney’s studio was described as a “gymnasium sized” space filled with “clumps of projects in progress – feathers, egg shells, and delicate animal bones ready for inclusion” in the artist’s weavings and assemblages.[1] One can easily imagine Mourning Dove, pictured above, coalescing from these materials. Tawney is a revered figure in American fiber art, recognized for her ability to translate and combine diverse techniques and materials in her abstract woven constructions. She was one of the first American fiber artists to revive ancient Peruvian gauze weave, and even modified her weaving equipment to manipulate warp threads in gauze-like patterns. In this piece, she employed another ancient technique, slit tapestry, to separate the warp threads into the thin bands that fan into the bottom fringe. Tawney was born in Lorian, Ohio and spent her early career working as a proofreader for a court publisher in Chicago. It was not until the early 1940s when, newly widowed, she began taking art classes at Chicago’s Institute of Design, studying under Russian avant-garde artist Alexander Archipenko and Hungarian Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy, also the Institute’s founder. She studied weaving under Finnish textile artist Martta Taipale at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina in 1954, and moved to New York in 1957. It was then, at age fifty, that Tawney’s life and art became one. She settled in a loft that had once been a sail maker’s workshop in Coenties Slip, near where the Vietnam War memorial now stands in Lower Manhattan. There, she joined a community of artists that over time included Agnes Martin, Robert Indiana, and Ann Wilson, among others. Many artists in the area used local found objects in their work, and Tawney was certainly one of them.[2] A 1994 photograph of Tawney’s studio echoes the 1971 article mentioned above, picturing rows of rocks and gears standing at attention. Tawney found inspiration both within and without, in complex woven structures and in the natural objects in her midst. This black woven hanging with a crown of feathers, in Cooper-Hewitt’s collection, appears to tell us as much. Tawney’s New York loft, 1994, Photo: William Seitz Mae Colburn is a master’s student in the Parsons-Cooper Hewitt History of Decorative Arts and Design program. Her focus is textiles.

[1] Molly Siple, “Renaissance of the Weaver’s Craft,” The Christian Science Monitor, August 23, 1971.
[2] Lenore Tawney and Judith E. Stein, Lenore Tawney: Meditations, Assemblages, Collages & Weavings: April 2-May 31, 1997, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York (New York: The Gallery, 1997).


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