Woven Histories Highlights – National Gallery, Washington, DC

Woven Histories Entrance
Entrance to Woven Histories, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo by Tom Grotta.

During our recent trip to Washington, DC we visited Woven Histories: Textiles and Modern Abstractionthrough July 28, 2024 at the National Gallery. We are not going to pout about the fact that it has taken a few decades for contemporary fiber art to make it into the hallowed halls of the National Gallery. We are just going to revel in this expansive textile coming out party — an exhibition that challenges, however belatedly, the hierarchies that often separate textiles from fine arts.

Woven Histories Installation
Installation view: Work by Ruth Asawa, Kay Sekimachi and Martin Puryear. Photo by Tom Grotta.

The 150 objects in Woven Histories highlight a diverse range of transnational and intergenerational artists who have shaped the field including: Ruth Asawa, Anni Albers, Lenore Tawney, Kay SekimachiSheila Hicks, Rosemarie Trockel, and Diedrick Brackens. There are also painters and sculptors like Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse whose work also played a role in modern abstraction. 

Ed Rossbach
Ed Rossbach, Constructed Color Wall Hanging, 1965. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Curated by Lynne Cooke, the exhibition offers “a fresh and authoritative look at textiles — particularly weaving — as a major force in the evolution of abstraction.” Basketry is given prominence. Cook notes in the book that accompanies the exhibition, Woven Histories: Textiles and Modern Abstraction, that basketry was a moribund artform in the mid-60s, when Ed Rossbach began his “[s]triving for expressive content, signification and meaning” within basketry’s time-tested techniques. The exhibition highlights others creating basket referents, including John McQueenDorothy, Gill Barnes, Martin Puryear, and Yvonne Koolmatrie.

Shan Goshorn
Shan Goshorn Baskets. Photo by Tom Grotta.

There are more than 50 artists whose work is included. The timeline is expansive — beginning with work created during World War I by Sophie Taeuber-Arp of the Zurich Dada circle, and continuing through to 21st century efforts to create community and celebrate the politics of identity by such artists as Ann Hamilton, Liz Collins, and Jeffrey Gibson. The exhibition will travel next to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, from November 8, 2024–March 2, 2025 and then the Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 20–September 13, 2025. 

Lives Well-Lived: Hiroyuki Shindo (1941-2024)

Hiroyuki and Chikako Shindo portrait
Hiroyuki and Chikako Shindo at browngrotta arts Sheila Hicks, joined by seven artists from Japan exhibition in 1995. Photo by Tom Grotta

We first met the talented and charming artist, Hiroyuki Shindo in 1995. Shindo was one of the artists in the east-west textile dialogue that Sheila Hicks crafted at browngrotta arts’ original location. Entitled Sheila Hicks, joined by seven artists from Japan, Shindo was one of the exhibition artists who created, in Hicks’ words, “strictly abstract, nonfolkloric works … Major statements in modest formats. Livable art. More than livable — inspirational and elevating, magnets of meditation.” Shindo and his wife, Chikako, came to Wilton, Connecticut from Japan, as did artist Chiyoko Tanaka, to install the exhibition with Hicks. Shindo served as an invaluable translator and witty raconteur. We learned about the virtues of cold sake, offerings made to the indigo gods, and his adventures in Broken Bow, Nebraska. (He had travelled, he told us, to Nebraska because it was where Sheila Hicks was born.) 

Indigo Thread Balls, Hiroyuki
Indigo Thread Balls, Hiroyuki Shindo, linen, cotton, indigo dye, 1995. Photo by Tom Grotta

We also learned in 1995 about Shindo’s remarkable art process. Shindo worked with indigo, which he first encountered as a student at Kyoto City University of Fine Arts in the late 1960s. An older artisan had told Shindo that he was the last of 14 generations of indigo dyers — Shindo was determined to prevent this art form’s extinction.

Hemp & Cotton, Hiroyuki Shindo
21hs Hemp & Cotton, Hiroyuki Shindo, linen, handspun and handwoven, indigo dye, 82″ x 44″, 1998. Photo by Tom Grotta

Shindo used only natural indigo for his work, which involved an elaborate ritual of his own formulation. He would first ferment the dye, pour it into a cement pool that contained pebbles. Next, he would move pebbles in a trough into the configuration he liked. Finally, he would press linen or flax into the trough of pebbles and dye, revealing the shapes and blurred edges he envisioned — from areas of nearly black to nearly invivible blue shadows. Shindo also made fascinating “thread balls” of wound thread where certain areas were highlighted with dye. As Hicks described the result, ”He is painting. He is sculpting. He is creating entire environments.” The white was as important to these works as the indigo Shindo believed. “If the white is not brilliant enough, or the undyed portion is not the right proportion, the balance is broken, and so I insist, white is as important to my work as is indigo.” Once dyed, the balls were placed in a nearby stream for rinsing, a process that is beautifully filmed in the video Textile Magicians by Cristobal Zanartu.

Wall Hanging, Hiroyuki Shindo
2hs Wall Hanging, Hiroyuki Shindo, linen and handspun and handwoven, indigo, x 12″, 1995. Photo by Tom Grotta

Shindo’s work has been exhibited widely. At the North Dakota Museum of Art, he created a series of panels responding to the flat landsape of the plains. He was among the artists included in Structure and Surface: Contemporary Japanese Textiles at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and Textile Wizards from Japan at the Israel Museum of Art in Jerusalem. His work is in a large group of museum collections including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York, and Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City. In 1997, he became a professor and head of the textile department at the Kyoto College of Art. 

Two Large Indigo wall hangings by Hiroyuki Shindo
Two Large Indigo wall hangings by Hiroyuki Shindo. Photo by Tom Grotta

In 2005, Shindo founded the Little Indigo Museum, in an old thatched-roof house, in the village of Kayabuki-no-Sato, north of Kyoto. This private art museum includes examples of indigo works not only from Japan, but also from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central America — a representation of indigo dye culture from all over the world. The collection features indigo textiles found by the artist among discarded belongings, collected during field trips, and pieces received “from people along the way.”

Hiroyuki Shindo Large Wall Hanging detail.
Hiroyuki Shindo Large Wall Hanging detail. Photo by Tom Grotta

We are among the people he met along the way. He will indeed be missed.

Art Assembled – New This Week in June

Summer has brought sunshine, adventures, and an abundance of art to browngrotta arts! We’ve been immersed in exhibitions, shining a spotlight on our fabulous artists, and proudly launched our catalog for Discourse, art across generations and continents.

As June draws to a close, join us in recapping our featured artists from the New This Week series, including Norma Minkowitz, Rachel Max, Sue Lawty, and Hisako Sekijima. Let’s dive in!

Norma Minkowitz
105nm Swept Away, Norma Minkowitz, fiber and mixed media, 40″ x 40″, 2022. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Starting off the month, we featured the work of artist Norma Minkowitz. Renowned sculptor Norma Minkowitz has dedicated years to exploring the potential of crocheted sculptures, intricately interlaced and hardened into mesh-like structures.

Her artworks seamlessly blend structure and surface, offering profound reflections on themes of enclosure and entrapment. Minkowitz frequently contemplates the cycles of life and renewal, leaving twigs and branches embedded within her sculptures. These elements peek through the exterior, evoking comparisons to human skeletal or circulatory systems.

We are lucky to be able to work with her, and we hope everyone else enjoyed her feature as much as we did!

Rachel Max
13rm Caesura, Rachel Max, woven cane sculpture, plaited and twined, dyed
11” x 16.5” x 8”, 2023-24. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Next, we featured the talented artist Rachel Max, known for her innovative approach to contemporary basketry from her London base. Max’s artistic journey explores the intricate interplay between lace and traditional basketmaking techniques, resulting in finely woven sculptural pieces designed for interior spaces.

Her creative process involves meticulous refinement, exploration, and development of delicate openwork structures, where the juxtaposition of precise patterns with more relaxed weaves emerges as a recurring motif. Throughout her work, color plays a pivotal role, serving as a unifying element essential to Max’s artistic expression.

Sue Lawty
33sl Juncture, Sue Lawty, lead, 15.25″ x 12.25″ x 1.5″, 2023. Photo by Tom Grotta

We then turned our spotlight to artist Sue Lawty; renowned for her extensive experience as an artist, designer, and educator, with works displayed in prestigious collections worldwide, including a notable residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Lawty’s creative practice delves deep into emotional, spiritual, and physical connections with the land. Through intuitive and meticulous exploration of materials and construction techniques, she constructs unique textual languages. It’s no surprise her contributions are revered across the art world.

Hisako Sekijima
668=680 Grasp V, Hisako Sekijima, walnut, black and kan-chiku bamboo, 9” x 11” x 5.5”, 2023. Photo by Tom Grotta

Last, but certainly not least, we featured the work of artist Hisako Sekijima. Sekijima is known in the art world for her sculptural baskets created with diverse materials including cherry, hibiscus and cedar bark, kudzu, and bamboo.

She describes herself as a perpetual experimenter, fascinated by concepts of order and disorder, connection and disconnection. Her artistic pursuits encompass a wide range of techniques and themes, from binding and wrapping space to exploring spheres, handles, and the interplay of materials.

We look forward to continuing this exploration with you in the months ahead. Stay tuned for more inspiring stories and artists featured in our upcoming series!

Discourse — the book, out now

Discourse: across generations catalog

Our 59th catalog, Discourse: art across generations and continents, is now available from the browngrotta.com website. As you may know, we produce our catalogs in house. If you’ve purchased a copy, you should have gotten a Handle With Care insert that reads: ”Each browngrotta arts catalog is individually printed and hand bound. Once you have a copy in hand, please treat it gently. If you crack the spine to see if the pages will flutter out, they just might. So, please don’t. Thanks.” Our catalogs “have never been anything but labors of love,” Glenn Adamson observed on the occasion of our 50th catalog, “quite literally products of a family concern, a cottage industry.” (“Beyond Measure,” Glenn Adamson, Volume 50: Chronicling FIber Art for Three Decadesbrowngrotta arts, Wilton, CT, 2020.)

New Press

This Spring we had a brief delay in producing while we acquired a new printing press — smaller, faster, and with more bells and whistles. Our previous press, which we bought second-hand, had given up the ghost in May. But it did not give up until browngrotta arts had published more than a million pages, mostly on fiber art and artists. Our new printer has expanded features: it can handle heavier and larger sheets and spot varnish.

Mika Watanabe spread
Mika Watanabe spread

In Discourse: art across generations and continents, you’ll find work by 61 artists from 20 countries. There are 176 pages and hundreds of color photographs, including details. There are also short compilations of collections, exhibitions, and awards for each artist included.

Federica Luzzi spread
Federica Luzzi spread

Also included in the Discourse catalog is an insightful essay by Erika Diamond, an artist and curator and the Associate Director of CVA Galleries at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. In “Consonance of Strings,” Diamond identifies several themes that influence the artists in Discourse. These include textiles like Federica Luzzi’s and Mika Watanabe’s that mirror the human body, works like Stéphanie Jacques’ exploration of the void, that express a yearning for connection, and those  finding order in chaos and harmony in disorder like the subversively “crushed” baskets by Polly Barton. Diamond makes broader observations about textiles’ ability to provide interconnections and common ground for viewers. She compares textiles to quantum physics’ theory of vibrating strings of energy making up the world. Textiles, she sees as “… lines in space — stitches, braids, weavings — moving and bending in search of unity and reconciliation between even the most vastly different materials and ideas.”

installation spread
installation spread: works by Adela Akers, Thomas Hucker, Norma Minkowitz, Neha Puri Dhir, John McQueen on the left and Lia Cook, Ed Rossbach , Sue Lawty on the right

Get your copy of the Discourse catalog from our website: https://store.browngrotta.com/c53-discourse-art-across-generations-and-continents/. It’s a good read!

Dispatches: Washington, D.C.

We travelled to Washington, D.C. this past weekend in search of art and archival info. 

We had some delicious meals — Indian (The Bombay Club), Latin Fusion (Mercy Me), lox and bagels, (Call Your Mother) and returned to Shashuka (Tatte), a dish we first discovered in South Africa.

We did some great walking — DC is a very pedestrian-friendly town. 

We scheduled the trip as a celebration of textiles. We visited three exceptional exhibitions — Subversive, Skilled, Sublime at the Renwick, Woven Histories: Textiles and Modern Abstraction at the National Gallery, Irresistible: The Global Patterns of Ikat at the George Washington University and The Textile Museum, and did some research on artists and art history at the Archives of American Art. (We’ll cover exhibition specifics in upcoming posts on arttextstyle.)

In addition to catching up with artists, curators, and friends at Sublime, we learned something interesting about the Renwick. The building was completed in 1874 and opened as DC’s first art museum, housing William Wilson Cochran’s collection of European and American art, In 1899, the building was comandeered by the Court of Claims. In the 1950s, the Court proposed demolishing the building. Happily, it was saved by First Lady, and tireless patron of the arts, Jacqueline Kennedy in 1963. President Lyndon Johnson transferred the building to the Smithsonian Institution for use as “a gallery of crafts, art, and design.” It was renovated in 1972 amd again in 2013. Between 2016 and 2023, 176,000 people have visited.

We also visited the National Gallery, East Building to see Woven Histories which has traveled from LACMA in California and which will arrive at MoMA in New York in 2025. We’ll share images and info about Woven Histories in a future post.

The National Gallery is a delight — an inspired building — widely considered I.M. Pei’s most ambitious architectural design. (Side note: David Ling, the architect behind the renovation and addition to browngrotta arts’ home/barn/gallery, worked for I.M. Pei.) The East Building houses the National Gallery’s collection of modern and contemporary art and temporary exhibitions. From the Alexander Calder sculpture in the lobby to the massive Urula von Rydingsvard wood sculpture and the striking Theaster Gates work on the 2nd floor mezzanine, to the permanent collection itself (500 works), there is much to see. Hard to pick just a few highlights but we wlll. They include: 45 Calder sculptures and paintings, a choice selection of works from the Washington Color School of the 50s and 60s, including Kenneth Noland and Alma Thomas, and an impressive collection of Mark Rothko paintings (who is a major influence for several artists who work with browngrotta arts).

Our last stop was The Textile Museum at George Washington University for Irresistible…(Watch this space in future weeks for more on that ikat exhibition.) The Museum’s collection is truly remarkable — 21,000 objects in all, Rugs and Textiles from the Islamic World, East and Southeast Asian Textiles, African Textiles, and Indigenous American Textiles. In 2016, the Museum began collecting textiles from the 20th and 21st centuries to showcase textiles as a “vibrant medium of contemporary expression.” The contemporary collection includes works by Ed Rossbach, Lia Cook, Helena Hernmarck, Cynthia Schira, James Bassler, and Polly Barton. 

The Museum also houses one of the most significant textile study collections ever assembled. Nearly 4000 fragments from around the world are housed in the Cotsen Textile Traces Study Collection, compiled by philanthropist and collector, Lloyd Cotsen, who was also a patron of browngrotta arts.

One of the great things about museum hopping in DC — so many of them are free!! We just scratched the surface in the three days we were there.

The National Museum of the American IndianNational Museum of African American History and Culture and National Museum of Women in the Arts are our first stops for our next trip. (If Rhonda hadn’t been there twice already, The International Spy Museum, would be high on the list, too — it’s great fun.)

More Pop-Ups Please!

Space 67 - bogarts Pop-Up installation
From left to right: Repos + Paix-side by Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Embarrilado Azul by Carolina Yrarrázaval, Fire Fright and Range Fire by Lewis Knauss, CMA-CGM by Laura Foster Nicholson, Arm & Hammer by John McQueen and Peninsula by Mary Merkel-Hess. Photo by Tom Grotta

We had a chance to do an expanded Pop-Up at Space67 in Norwalk, CT last month. We were first asked to curate an exhibition that would be enjoyed by individuals who attended The Supper Club. Then, with the exhibition in place, we decided to create a public Pop Up for one day and invite our fans, people in Norwalk, and those just walking by. 

Haiti inspired Chicken Tender
Haiti-inspired, Braised chicken tender in creole sauce – yuka – plantain crisp – cilantro avocado salsa verde was one of extraordinary seven courses served at The Supper Club. Photo by Tom Grotta

The Supper Club dinner was a project of the Kitchen Incubator at the Village Community Foundation in Stamford, CT. The Incubator Program at The Village is a nonprofit program that supports local, diverse entrepreneurs and startups in the food and beverage industry. 

Supper Club Chefs
Chefs Xavier Santiago, Marta Garcia, and Ivan Romero, their crew, and Village Community Foundation President, Jon Winkel, addressing diners. Photo by Tom Grotta

The Supper Club at Space67 involved three exceptional chefs — Chef Xavier Santiago, Chef Marta Garcia, and Chef Ivan Romero — who, with a talented crew, prepared a 7-course meal with offerings from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republican. 

Supper Club at Space 67
Between courses at Space 67. Photo by Tom Grotta

Sixty people were served, music was provided by The Briefly Educated & Friends and a great time was had by all!

browngrotta Pop-up Space 67 art exhibition
Falling Fruit by John McQueen, Cimbreante by Eduardo and María Eugenia Dávila Portillo and Pre-Columbian Meets Mid-Century Modern by James Bassler. Photo by Carter Grotta

In support of the South American food and drinks (Cuba Libre, Clarified Piña Colada, and Hibiscus Lemonade) that were served, we chose a Pan-American theme for the works we exhibited: Continental Divide: Fiber Art from North and South America included artists from Chile, Venezuela, Canada, and the US. Falling Fruit by John McQueen, Carolina Yrråzaval’s Embarrilado AzulCimbreante by Eduardo Portillo and María Davila and CMA-CGM by Laura Foster Nicholson were among the most-commented-upon works in the exhibition.

John McQueen and MAry Merkel-Hess
Arm & Hammer by John McQueen and Peninsula by Mary Merkel-Hess. Photo by Tom Grotta

For the public Pop-Up we added work by Mary Merkel-Hess and a large sculpture by John McQueen.

Claude Vermette by the vaults
Coq-de-Bruyere by Claude Vermette by the Vaults. Photo by Tom Grotta

Pop-Ups serve an important objective of ours at browngrotta arts — to bring fine fiber art to more and varied audiences. Watch for more!

Art Assembled – New This Week in May

May has brought with it a fresh wave of inspiration as we embrace the new opportunities that Spring offers. Alongside the launch of our exhibition, Discourse: art across generations and continents, we’ve been thrilled to introduce our audience to a diverse array of New This Week features, showcasing the work of talented artists we’ve had the privilege of collaborating with over the years.

Now, as the month comes to a close, we’re excited to recap each artist we’ve highlighted.

Polly Barton
14pb Guardians, Polly Barton, silk warp with pictorial weft ikat in rayon and viscose, woven in 3 panels. walnut frame, 24 x 49.875”, 2023. Photos by Tom Grotta.

To kick off the month, we featured the remarkable artwork of Polly Barton. In the art world, Barton is a nationally recognized artist who has been working in fiber for 40 years. Trained in Japan, she is known for working with traditional methods of binding and dyeing bundles of fiber to weave contemporary imagery.

In her practice, Barton incorporates a wide range of materials in her work including pigment, soy milk, pastel, metallic threads, stitching, papyrus, and metal leaf. She was also one of the many talented artists featured in Discourse, which is now live on Artsy.

Neda Al-Hilali
1na Crystal Planet, Neda Al-hilali
plaited color paper, acrylic, ink drawing, paper, 43″ x 49″ x 2.5″, 1982

Next, we highlighted the work of talented artist Neda Al-Hilali. This Czechoslovakian artist, who works in the US, is known for for vibrant, detailed works of paper created in the 80s and previously, dramatic “Rope Art,” (featured in Life magazine in the 70s). Al-Hilali is one of the artists included in Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women, that opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum this week.

Her work has been long recognized, and we are honored to be able to exhibit this strong work by Al-Hilali!

Michael Radyk
8mra Lift, Michael Radyk, cotton jacquard, 66” x 52” x 1”, 2014.

We then turned our spotlight to artist Michael Radyk. Radyk is an artist who explores woven textiles and the qualities inherent in their structure, production, design, craft, and history. He uses both the hand loom and Jacquard loom to produce his work. Radyk designs, weaves, cuts, sculpts, and manipulates his textiles into both two and three-dimensional sculptural forms.

In his artistry, Radyk’s work involves the reinvention of manufactured materials and familiar textiles such as corduroy. He creates work that is based in place and material research using mainly recycled and repurposed materials. ​

Ésme Hofman
4eh Dialogue No.4 (a study in black and white willow skeins), Ésme Hofman, peeled and boiled willow skeins, 7.625″ x 5.75″ x 5.75″, 2024

To close out the month, we highlighted the work of artist Ésme Hofman. Hofman is a traditionally trained basketmaker who learned the foundations of my craft at the German basketry school. When creating, Hofman looks beyond the borders of this traditional handcraft. This gives her freedom to explore creative possibilities, and generates other ways of making. 

Her techniques and materials now vary from the traditional to the contemporary using natural stems, leaves, bark, wire, plastics, vellum, paper and occasionally color. Although fascinated by different possibilities, her my main focus is with the very time-consuming willow skeinwork, a nearly-extinct basketry technique that results in an extremely fine surface texture. Almost like textile, it enables her to create fine objects.

We hope you’ve enjoyed discovering these remarkable works as much as we have. Stay tuned for more exciting updates and features in the months ahead!

A Lasting Legacy – Dorothy Liebes and artists at browngrotta

Rhonda Brown

Hommage á Dorothy Liebes: Mariette Rousseau-Vermette
Hommage á Dorothy Liebes I & 2, 1948-49 I, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, silk leather, aluminum, flourescent tubing (including some materials obtained from Dorothy Liebes) 54″ x 15″ x 15″ (each), 2001. Photo: Tom Grotta

Dorothy Liebes (1897 – 1972) was an influencer before the term was coined. Known as the “mother of modern weaving,” and initiator of “The Liebes Look” she served as a national arbiter of interior design and fashion trends reaching thousands of people through print magazines, television, film, and significant collaborations with architects and corporations from Frank Lloyd Wright to Dupont. Liebes created luminous, jewel-toned fabrics, often incorporating nontraditional materials and metallic threads.

Life Magazine, Dorothy Liebes

Her influence extended well beyond influencing consumer trends. She impacted the careers of numerous artists – some who only met her and studied her work and others who worked in her studios in San Francisco and New York.

Rossbach, plaited Metal Foil Baskets
120-121r Tribe of Baskets IV, Ed Rossbach, plaited metal foil, 14” x 3” x 3”, 13.5” x 3.5” x 3.5”, 1970. Photo by Tom Grotta

Ed Rossbach met Dorothy Liebes only in passing, but her influence on his work was marked. In 1940, after he had finished college, he visited an International Exposition at Treasure Island in California and saw the decorative arts exhibit that Dorothy Lieber had installed there. “I didn’t know anything about Dorothy Liebes, naturally,” he told Harriet Nathan in 1983. (Charles Edmund Rossbach, “Artist, Mentor, Professor, Writer,” an oral history conducted in 1983 by Harriet Nathan, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1987, p. 14.) “I saw these contemporary textiles and weavings and wrote in my diary that I would like to learn how to weave so that I could weave upholstery.” Years later, when Rossbach had moved to the Bay Area, he visited Liebes’s studio. He recounted being awestruck by the things she inserted into her warp, by her whole personality, and how she interacted with those who worked for her. (Lia Cook, “Ed Rossbach: Educator,” in Ed Rossbach: 40 Years of Exploration and Innovation in Fiber Art, Lark Books and Textile Museum, 1990.) Liebes “had a sense of [her] own importance,” he said later, in an interview with the Archives of American Art. (Oral history interview with Ed Rossbach, 2002 August 27-29. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.) Like Liebes, Rossbach would become known for incorporating non-traditional materials into his work.

Three other artists whose work is shown by browngrotta arts in Wilton, Connecticut – Sherri Smith, Glen Kaufman, and Mariette Rousseau-Vermette — were among Liebes’s studio alumni  — their experiences with the designer were evident throughout their artistic careers

1ss Linde Star, Sherri Smith, plaiting, discharge; cotton webbing, 34″ x 37″, 1976. Photo by Tom Grotta

Artist and educator, Sherri Smith, went to work in Dorothy Liebes’s studio after she completed MFA in weaving and textile design at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1967. From there she went to Boris Knoll Fabrics, where she headed the Woven Design Department. Smith was well situated for her first major museum success — the inclusion of her piece Volcano No. 10, 1967 in MoMA’s Wall Hangings curated by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen in 1969.

Portrait of Glen Kaufman, courtesy of Glen Kaufman estate

Glen Kaufman spent a year at Liebes’s New York studio from 1960 to 1961, after a Fulbright in Scandinavia. Kaufman was also a Cranbrook graduate. There he created handwoven pile rugs among other items. At the Liebes studio, he and Harry Soviak, a Cranbrook classmate, concentrated on carpet designs and created pillows in “wild colors.” The pair would try to “out-Dorothy Dorothy Liebes,” making pillows using Liebes’s daring color combinations and metallic yarn, Kaufman told Josephine Shea in an oral interview in 2008. He recalled that the designer “had this reputation of being the arbiter of interior taste. And she would put together things like red and pink and orange, which were absolutely out in left field,…”  (FN4 Oral history interview with Glen Kaufman, 2008 January 22-February 23, Josephine Shea.)

Glenn Kaufman Banner
500gk Banner, Glen Kaufman, silk, wood, 76″ x 41″ x .75″, 1960s. photo by Tom Grotta

Kaufman’s work from the early 60s like Banner, paired vibrant colors. In others, like Herringbone, Odd Man In and Polymaze, Kaufman continued to explore carpet making techniques. Over time, however, he adopted a more muted palette. Liebes remained enthusiastic but bemoaned the color change. In her essay for Cooper Hewitt exhibition on Liebes and her legacy, Erin Dowding quotes a 1967 letter from Liebes to Kaufman in which the designer writes about seeing his works, “which I thought were wonderful. I missed color, though, and I’m sure you do too.” (Glen Kaufman essay by Erin Dowding, Cooper Hewitt Museum).

Portrait of Mariette Rousseau-Vermette
Mariette Rousseau-Vermette. Photo by Tom Grotta

Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s experience with Dorothy Liebes was perhaps the most formative. The details of the year she worked in Lieben’s California studio have been compiled and generously shared with us by Anne Newlands. Newlands is the author of Weaving Modernist Art: the Life and Work of Mariette Rousseau-Vermette and the guest curator of an upcoming retrospective of Rousseau-Vermette’s work at the Musée National des Beaux-arts du Quebec in Quebec City in 2025.  

After graduation from the École des beaux-arts in Montreal in 1948, Mariette, then Rousseau, later Rousseau-Vermette, looked to the United States to further her education, unlike fellow students who travelled to France. She was inspired by a 1947 issue of Life magazine in which an article titled “Top Weaver” introduced her to the innovative Dorothy Liebes studio in San Francisco. Years later, she described the impact: “The article blew me away — this magnificent woman was radically changing textiles in the United States, she was returning them to art. For her, textures, colours, techniques had no limits.” (Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, public lecture, Musée du Québec, 23 August 1992. Translation by Judith Terry. Cited Anne Newlands.) In addition to Liebes’s innovations with non-traditional weaving materials, Rousseau-Vermette said she was captivated by Liebes’s “prophetic instinct for trends in color.”

Mariette Rousseau-Vermette maquette
Mariette Rousseau-Vermette maquette for stairwell commission. Photo by Tom Grotta

After graduation, despite the fact that she spoke little English at the time, Rousseau traveled to San Francisco for two reasons: to secure a job or an internship at the Liebes studio and to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts in nearby Oakland. Her mornings were spent at the college in Oakland, and in the afternoons she waited patiently in the reception area of the Liebes studio, her thick sample books from the École des beaux-arts on her lap, trying to convince the studio to hire her. With a determination that would become legendary, Rousseau-Vermette returned daily and finally Dorothy Liebes relented, saying that she could not pay her (although later she would), but that she would let her work. (Material on Mariette Rousseau-Vermette. Cited by Anne Newlands.)  “Try — Do not be afraid — Make ‘research’ a pleasure – Share with others. These are the ‘gifts’ I received during my stay in Dorothy Liebes’s studio.” Rousseau-Vermette wrote. “At the end of the 1940s, Dorothy Liebes’s endless energy and joie de vivre, and the friendship among her thirteen assistants, started me on the path that became my way of life.” (Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, “Fiber-Optic and Other Weavings,” in Wiredbrowngrotta arts, 2001.)

Roy Thompson Hall ceiling by Mariette Rousseau Vermette
Roy Thompson Hall. Building designed by architect Arthur Erickson; ceiling sculpture by Mariette Rousseau-Vermette. Photo by Tom Grotta

Like Liebes, much of Rousseau-Vermette’s career was devoted to creating textile works on commission to mediate architectural spaces, notably, The Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, Exxon in New York City and Arthur Erikson’s Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Working with architects was central to Leibes’s practice. As Alexa Griffith Winton has noted, “Liebes encountered architectural blueprints and quickly learned to read them.” (“’None of Us is Sentimental’: About the Hand: Dorothy Liebes, Handweaving, and Design for Industry,” Alexa Griffith Winton,The Journal of Modern Craft, Volume 4—Issue 3, November 2011, pp. 255.) Rousseau would follow suit; her most preferred commissions would be those that involved collaborations with architects. Her files were thick with blueprints and architectural drawings. Where buildings were hard and cold, Liebes’s textiles were warm and soft says. Like Liebes, Rousseau-Vermette’s brilliance came from building and bridging a tension between textiles and architecture. (“How the Mother of Modern Weaving Transformed the World of Design,” Sonja Anderson, Smithsonian Magazine, July 19, 2023.)

Brilliant coloration also featured in Rousseau-Vermette’s work and she utilized unique materials as Liebes’ did. Canadian architect, Arthur Erikson, wrote of a series of color fields of luscious color and texture composed vertically or horizontally of combed wool that he commissioned for a building in Vancouver, B.C. “I found the simplicity of her work blended perfectly with the simple structural expression of the building, the building transformed through the artist’s eye.” (Arthur Erickson, “Introduction,” in Wiredbrowngrotta arts, 2001.)

626mr Elégante, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, wool, optical fiber, metallic thread, mylar, 48″ x 48″, 2000. Photo by Tom Grotta

In the 1990s, Rousseau created a series innovative weavings, like Elegante, that incorporate optical fiber. Another work from 2001, Hommage á Liebes, incorporates silk, leather and fluorescent tubes, some of it material that Rousseau-Vermette had sourced from Liebes. In its title, the student explicitly credits the mentor as an impetus for her work. Liebes also influenced the way in which Rousseau-Vermette would manage her studio. Like Liebes, Rousseau-Vermette created detailed cartons and maquettes for each of the 644 tapestries she created in her career. Her meticulous notes are now in the archives of the National Gallery of Canada. She was motivated by Liebes’s success as an independent owner-operator, holding as she did a singular place in the male-dominated business world.

Dorothy Liebes exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt
Dorothy Liebes exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt. Photo by Tom Grotta

Want to know more? Liebes’s life and design have received renewed attention in the past year as a result of the expansive exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt in New York, with many resources available online. A lush volume accompanied the book, both entitled, A Dark, A Light, A Bright: the Designs of Dorothy Liebes.

Art into Words into Food into Art

For our Spring exhibition, our accomplished chef and close friend Max Fanwick worked up some foods that embodied themes from Discourse: Art Across Generations and Continents. Max’s cuisine is thoughtful and inventive. For Discourse, he looked at themes that emerged as we curated the exhibition and translated them into exciting canapés and desserts. For us it was a treat, to eat and to see our words and thoughts transformed into edible art. Here are some of the highlights — bites paired with the artworks that inspired them. They embody Discourse’s overarching aim to celebrate connections and contrasts.

Tomato Soup
photo by Carter Grotta

Generational and Geographical Correlations: Tomato Soup Spheres with a Grilled Cheese Crouton
Max’s Musings: Few flavors better resonate across the generations than grilled cheese and tomato soup. This modern take captures all the flavor in  modernized bite.

Margareta Ahlstedt-Willandt weaving
1awm Nåky Vision II, Margareta Ahlstedt-Willandt, fabric, 20″ x 19″ x 2″, 1950’s. Photo by Tom Grotta

Art Inspiration: Discourse paired work like Nåky Vision II from the 1950s by Margareta Ahlstedt-Willandt of Finland and On Balance by Blair Tate from the US made 70 years later for generational resemblance The exhibition also paired Słońce Szafirowe, (Sapphire Sun) by Zofia Butrymowicz of Poland and Tracking Nasca Patterns by James Bassler of the US for cross-continental comparison.

Unstructured Gyoza
photo by Carter Grotta

Structural Explorations: Unstructured Gyoza
Max’s Musings: What makes a dumpling? The shape? The wrapper? The flavor? If you remove the structure, we have all come to recognize what does it become?

Complex Plaiting sculpture by Norie Hatekayama
10nh.1 Complex Plaiting Series, Norie Hatakeyama, plaited paper fiber strips, 9.5″ x 18″ x 16″, 2001. Photo by Tom Grotta

Art Inspiration: Perhaps no work in Discourse presented more of a structural mystery than the complex plaiting works by Norie HatakeyamaNaoko Serino’s ethereal works of jute raised many eyebrows, too. 

Salmon Tartare on Lotus Crisps
photo by Tom Grotta

Reading Between the Lines: Salmon Tartare on Lotus Crisps
Max’s Musings: In Japan lotus root represents good things to come. If you read between these lotus root lines, you will find the good thing to come is salmon tartare.

Who? in twigs by Gyöngy Laky
204L Anticipation, Gyöngy Laky, apple, trim screws 18.5” x 50” x 2”, 2023. Photo by Tom Grotta

Art Inspiration: There were many messages between the lines in the works in Discourse. In Anticipation, Gyöngy Laky asked “Who?” a question, she says, “that underlies the search for a way forward to a better day.” Laura Foster Nicholson reflects on man’s role in the environment, in Rural Road, Freight Train which depicts a train slicing through the Midwestern landscape.

baklava cheesecake
photo by Carter Grotta

Weaving Emotion into Art: Filo Threads Woven into Cheesecake Bites
Max’s Musings: This take on baklava cheesecake creates a nostalgic flavor profile known to make people so emotional they will make a special journey  just for a bite. 

Gold wall hanging by Aby Mackie
4am We Can All Be Saved, Aby Mackie, mixed media, cotton, 76.25″ x 60″ x .2″, 2023. photo by Tom Grotta

Art Inspiration:  Works in Discourse often provoked viewers on an emotional level. Our engagement with fiber art is deeply personal. Our first memories are of cloth — fuzzy blankets, soft towels — and they remain strong ones. Aby Mackie sources and recycles used clothing and linens from flea markets in Spain, fabrics laden with memory. She gilds this repurposed material in works like We Can All Be Saved 13, asking viewers to consider what creates value.

Floating Ice Cream
photo by Tom Grotta

Technical Departures: Flaming Ice Cream
Max’s Musings: Ice cream in a chocolate crust is lit on fire which is as big a technical departure as we could fit into one bite.

paper knot sculpture by Shoko Fukuda
7sf Knothole III, Shoko Fukuda, knotted paper, 4″ x 8″ x 4″, 2023. Photo by Tom Grotta

Art Inspiration: Discourse also highlights the wide range of technical innovations and experiments that fiber art has featured since its inception, including work by several artists who make vastly different uses of paper. Scrolling of encyclopedia pages by Wendy Wahl from the US, knotted paper objects  by Shoko Fukuda of Japan, sculptural works of rice paper by Pat Campbell and paper cord by Mary Merkel-Hess from the US, and woven paper patchworks by Eva Vargö of Sweden were all included.

The diversity of the works in Discourse made for an engaging exhibition. Max’s Musings were an inspired interpretation. 

You can find the works in Discourse  exhibition on Artsy and you can purchase a full-color catalog at browngrotta.com.

Five Days Remain to See Discourse at browngrotta arts in Wilton, CT

from left to right: works by Hiroko Sato-Pijanowski, Aby Mackie, Tim Johnson, Jane Balsgaard, Gyöngy Laky, Gizella Warburton, Margareta Ahlstedt-Willandt photographed through a basket by John McQueen. Photo by Tom Grotta

Join us this week, through Sunday May 12, at 6 pm to see our Spring Art in the Barn exhibition, Discourse: art across generations and continents. Traffic has been steady, including a guided tour for 15 people on Tuesday, but we still have slots available for gallery appointments and drop ins.

Viewers will enjoy 150+ works by more than 60 artists from 20 countries. Many people take two trips through the space to ensure they have not missed anything.

While here they learn more about works in the show including Irina Kolesnikova’s Spectator, a filmstrip- like group of woven portraits of her alter ego. She places him in discomfiting situations.  “Sometimes the events happening around him are frightening,” Kolesnikova says, “he wants to go away, to run far away. But curiosity makes him come back again, secretly observing, trying to memorize all impressions.”

Irina Kolesnikova Spectator weaving
28ik Spectator, Irina Kolesnikova, handwoven flax, silk, wood, 58.5″ x 43.25″ x 1″, 2013. Photo by Tom Grotta

James Bassler’s This Old House, is another work that encourages viewers to take a closer work and consider its inspiration and origins. “Over a year ago, a friend gave me a book, Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson,” Bassler writes. “It  caused me to begin yet another weaving of a flag, which includes references to the textile traditions of Africa.  In my early days of learning how to weave, the late 60s and early 70s, I wove many samples, and after weaving, experimented with batik and dyeing.  After all these years, those woven samples — maybe eight or ten of them —  were sewn together to become the surface on which the flag would eventually, after about a year, emerge.”

James Bassler Flag weaving
20jbas This Old House, James Bassler, multiple cotton and silk warps, patched together, multiple sisal, silk, linen, agave, ramie wefts, synthetic and natural dyes. batik plain and wedge-weave construction
27” x 42”, 2024. Photo by Tom Grotta

Same Difference by John McQueen draws appreciative comments (“That’s clever!” “I get it.”) when people learn its backstory. It’s comprised of three items on pedestals made of sticks tied with waxed linen — a wooden sump pump, the skeleton of a bonsai tree, and a representation of the elephant god Ganesh made of tied twigs. The items seem to have been chosen randomly, but they are not. Each draws water from the ground and uses it to slake thirsty crops and people, trees and animals.

John McQueen Same Difference three willow sculptures
21jm Same Difference, John McQueen, wood, sticks, bonsai, 54” x 60” x 24”, 2013, photo by Tom Grotta

Wendy Wahl’s work in Discourse explores inversion  a reversal of position, order, form, or relationship — and requires people to take a closer look. Wahl writes that she reassembles encyclopedia pages because of their symbolism, conceptual reference, and unique paper quality.  “My interactions with these materials,” she writes, “are meditative. These pieces are created by deconstructing the books, rolling and pinching the individual parts, and, like a puzzle, fitting them to the panel. The interconnected spiral elements become the picture plane that explores dimension, direction, texture, color, and reflection.” 

44ww Inversion, 2023/24, Wendy Wahl, encyclopedia britannica pages, wood panel, 40″ x 30″, 2024. Photo by Tom Grotta

The evocative forms of Rachel Max’s work draw viewers in for inspection and introspection. Over the last few years, Max has been making forms that explore notions of infinity and time. The title for her piece in this exhibition, Caesura, came to her while she was making it. “I was thinking about the composition, working out where the weave should become less dense and where one section would end and another begin. I wanted to create a visual interruption, my equivalent to a break in music or a pause. In poetry, I discovered,  this is called Caesura.”

Sculptural blue basket form by Rachel Max
13rm Caesura, Rachel Max, woven cane sculpture, plaited and twined, dyed, 11” x 16.5” x 8”, 2023-24. Photo by Tom Grotta

There are dozens of works to discover at Discourse: art across generations and continents and five days remaining to join us. Hope we’ll see you!

Schedule a visit
Times to visit Discourse: art across generations and continents can be scheduled on POSH

Exhibition Details:
Discourse: art across generations and continents
Through May 12, 2024
browngrotta arts
276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, CT 06897

Gallery Dates/Hours:
Wednesday May 8th through Saturday, May 11th: 10am to 5pm (40 visitors/ hour)
Sunday, May 12th: 11am to 6pm [Final Day] (40 visitors/ hour)
Schedule your visit at POSH.

Safety protocols: 
POSH reservations strongly encouraged • No narrow heels please 

A full-color catalog, browngrotta arts’ 59th, Discourse: art across generations and continents, with an essay by Erika Diamond, Artist | Curator | Associate Director of CVA Galleries | Chautauqua Institution, will be published by the browngrotta arts in May 2024 in conjunction with the exhibition.

browngrotta arts will present a talkthrough of slides from Discourse on Zoom, Art on the Rocks: art art talkthrough with a twist, on Friday, June 11th at 7 pm EST.