“My ordinary materials are fiber and air,” explained textile artist and scholar Joanne Segal Brandford in a university lecture in 1993, and it’s true. Whether made of coarse bands of rattan or fine strands of nylon, her nets, fabrics, and baskets seem to rest lightly in space. In its most basic form, a net is a network of threads woven, knotted, or twisted together at regular intervals. Exceptionally versatile, people have used nets for thousands of years. Today, we use them for sports, fishing, and shopping, among other activities.

Inspired by traditional examples in museum collections, Brandford began experimenting with netted structures in the late 1960s. She was interested in treading the line between visible and invisible, between light and shadow. Some nets she displayed in the round as diaphanous sculptures suspended from one or several strings. Others, such as the example above, she framed with multiple taut strings and affixed to the wall. These, she called ‘drawings’ because of the shadows they cast on the adjacent wall. In the above example from Cooper Hewitt’s collection, Brandford varied the spacing between knots, allowing the center portion to slacken and fall beneath the bottom edge of the frame.

Brandford’s knowledge of netting and basketry techniques was greatly enhanced by her work as a scholar and curator of ancient and ethnographic textiles. She catalogued the Native American Basket collection at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut, and curated The North American Basket, 1790-1976 at the Worchester Craft Center in Massachusetts, all the while exhibiting her own work in group and solo exhibitions. When Brandford created this piece in 1989, she had recently completed a contract as research historian for the Herbert F. Johnson Museum’s traveling exhibition, Knots and Nets, which also included several examples of her artwork. The exhibition combined ancient and contemporary examples of knotted netting, reflecting Brandford’s own practice, which merged research and art.

Mae Colburn is a master’s student in the Parsons-Cooper Hewitt History of Decorative Arts and Design program. Her focus is textiles.

2 thoughts on “Fiber and Air: A Net by Joanne Segal Brandford

I loved when you also included the spoken recitation. Why have you stopped? It was fantastic.

The SpokenLayer recitations are coming back! We’re working on making them fit better inside the new site design and the voiceovers will even be available in the RSS and email feeds.

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