Tag: Mariette Rousseau-Vermette

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.


Discourse, Our Spring 2024 Exhibition, and the Theory of “Unexpected Red”

Discourse art installation: Pagter, Klein, Rage, Luzzi, Hatekayama
Works by Gudrun Pagter, Anneke Klein, Lija Rage, Federica Luzzi, Norie Norie Hatakeyama. Photo by Tom Grotta

In curating our exhibitions, we develop an idea, then begin to compile art to build out the concept. We tweak the theme and design the installation in response to the what arrives. The process, and the artists we work with, always deliver surprises. 

The impetus for this Spring’s Discourse: art across generations and continents exhibition was formed by our hanging abstract weavings by Warren Seelig from 1976, one white and black, one red and black, next to a strikingly kindred work of black and red and grey and off-white by Blair Tate from 2023. The works seemed to have something to say to one another. We realized we had other works from different time periods and artists who approached the same material and techniques very differently. The result: Discourse, an exhibition inviting dialogue, discourse, comparison and contrast.

Warren Seelig and Blair Tate tapestries
Warren Seelig’s White Plus and White, 1976 tapestries, Blair Tate On Balance, 2024. Photo by Tom Grotta

As we compiled work for Discourse, an unanticipated subtheme emerged. The color red featured in several works that would be included. There was Anneke Klein’s Dialogue that we wanted to include, for obvious reasons. Gudrun Pagter sent us Red. Lija Rage sent us Leaves. Jin-Sook So offered us three red bowls, Federica Luzzi a dramatic wall sculpture, Red Shell No. 4, and Mary Merkel-Hess a red-tipped basket. After much online research, we had discovered the maker of a work from the estate of Mariette Rousseau-Vermette that we also wanted to include. It was Margareta Ahlstedt-Willandt of Finland and again, the work featured a good amount of red.  

Textiles by Margareta Ahlstedt-Willandt and Federica Luzzi
1awm Nåky Vision II, Margareta Ahlstedt-Willandt, fabric, 20″ x 19″ x 2″, 1950’s; 17fl Red Shell n.4, Federica Luzzi, dyed linen, waxed cotton, acrylic wool thread, 24” x 15” x 6.5”, 2024. Photo by Tom Grotta

There are more than 100 works in Discourse and most of them are not red. But red has a way of making itself known — as the works in the exhibition do. As we were planning, a theory, “Unexpected Red,” hit Tik-Tok, and, as Tik-Tok sensations are wont to do, then hit The New York Times, the Washington Post and Elle Decor. “Splashes of red really do just make anything mysterious, sexy even,” the Washington Post, quotes an email from Colette van den Thillart, a designer in Toronto. “Red is so dynamic, dangerous, and commanding. It can set an environment alight, which is why this trend makes total sense to me.” (“Designers say ‘unexpected red’ really works. Here’s how to use it.The theory making the rounds on social media can add a little intrigue to any room,” Washington Post, Kathryn O’Shea-Evans, March 16, 2024.)

71jss Soul of a Bowl I-III, Jin Sook So, steel mesh, electroplaited silver, pure gold leaf, acrylic, steel thread
6” x 12.75” x 9.75”, each, 2024; 212mm Another Autumn, Mary Merkel Hess, paper cord, paper, 28″ x 18″ x 12″, 2023. Photo by Tom Grotta

There’s a scientific basis for red’s preeminence, notes Ingrid Fetell Lee, who hosts The Aesthetics of Joy blog. In studies, red has been shown to capture and hold attention in emotional situations better than other colors and that exposure to red light increases blood pressure, respiratory rate, skin conductance, and eye blinking, all measures of an increase in what psychologists call arousal, a physiological measure of excitement. Many evolutionary biologists believe that our color vision evolved in large part to help our primate ancestors find ripe fruits and young leaves (which naturally appear red) among the green leaves of the treetop canopy. “So perhaps ‘unexpected red’ in a home functions more like seeing a bowl of ripe cherries than a cut to the finger,” Lee hypothesizes, like “a bright and exciting burst of joy.”

Bursts of joy is what we hope you’ll find at Discourse (May 4 – 12). Not just red; we’ve got works in shades of green, others in blue, beige, yellow and orange — lots of works in paper and natural materials, works by 50 artists from 18 countries. Schedule your visit to Discourse now.

Green artwork by Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Norma Minkowitz, Mary Merkel-Hess, Neda Al-hilali
572mr Printemps “Spring”, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, 40″ x 86″, 1988; 17fl Red Shell n.4, 106nm Whispers, Norma Minkowitz, mixed media, 15.75″ x 15.75″ x 15.75″, 2003; 211mm Sky and Water, Mary Merkel-Hess, paper cord, paper, 21″ x 19″ x 13″, 2023; 1na Crystal Planet, Neda Al-hilali, plaited color paper, acrylic, ink drawing, paper, 43″ x 49″ x 2.5″, 1982. Photo by Tom Grotta

Exhibition Details:
Discourse: art across generations and continents
May 4 – May 12, 2024
browngrotta arts
276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, CT 06897

Gallery Dates/Hours:
Saturday, May 4th: 11am to 6pm [Opening & Artist Reception]
Sunday, May 5th: 11am to 6pm (40 visitors/ hour)
Monday, May 6th 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 

Catalog:
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.


Mark Rothko as a Textile Influence

Recent exhibitions of Mark Rothko’s work, a massive Rothko retrospective at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, comprising more than 100 paintings (through October 18th) and Mark Rothko Works on Paper at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., have brought another wave of attention to the deservedly acclaimed artist. Rothko is best known for his color field paintings that feature irregular and painterly rectangular regions of color, produced from 1949 to 1970. “[R]ectangles of dazzling, unearthly color floating one above the other,” that “lend themselves to … an intense, even religious devotion …” wrote Anthony Majanlahti, in Hyperallergic in March 2024.

Hommage a Rothko Tapestry, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette
476mr Hommage a Rothko, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, wool, 87″ x 84.5″, 1979. Photo by Tom Grotta

Rothko’s work has been a potent influence for several of the international artists who have worked with browngrotta arts. Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s appreciation is perhaps the most literal. The Canadian artist saw an exhibition of the Rothko’s works in Italy in 1958. It was pivotal in inspiring her “to produce strictly artistic works in weaving,” Anne Newlands wrote in Weaving Modernist Art: The Life and Times of Mariette Rousseau-Vermette (Firefly Books, Richmond Hill, Ontario, 2023, p. 32). Throughout Rousseau-Vermette’s life, Newlands says, Rothko was a powerful influence, “triggering compositions with floating blocks of color, soft edges and her signature brushed wool technique to create a blending of colors and a sense of inner light.” Her interest in Rothko “marked her as a colorfield artist-weaver, fueling her ambition to create large-scale tapestries that would engulf the viewer and employ powerful chromatic contrasts of light and dark to evoke an emotional response.” 

Hommage a Rothko Tapestry Mariette Rousseau-Vermette
613mr Si Rothko Métait Conté, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, wool, 94” x 80”, 1997. Photo by Tom Grotta

Rousseau-Vermette’s work Hommage á Rothko was included in Three Canadian Fiber Artists at the Art Gallery of Windsor, Canada in 1981. In 1997, browngrotta arts exhibited Si Rothko m’ était conté une histoire, 1997 at the SOFA art fair in Chicago, Illinois. “With its large scale, densely brushed woolen surface and stacked blocks of color in velvety jewel tones of deep blues and shadowy reds,” Newlands notes, “it underlined the artist’s enduring admiration of Rothko and her lasting desire to create contemplative, atmospheric tapestries.” The tapestry was purchased at the exhibition and later donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. 

American artist, Sheila Hicks, who studied with famed color theorist, Josef Albers, also found Rothko’s use of color an inspiration. She was one of the artists included in the 2021 exhibition, Artists and the Rothko Chapel: 50 Years of Inspiration, at the Moody Center of the Arts at Rice University, in Houston, Texas. “Like music, color is the almighty mood determinant: It sets the stage for emotional depth and inspires an expansive range of responses from joy to despair, from a sense of wonder to an affirmation of life,” Hicks has said. “Rothko’s painting did this for me.”  (“5 Artists on the Influence of Mark Rothko,” Artsy EditorialApril 13, 2021).

Home-Ii by Lija Rage wall hanging
7lr Home-II, Lija Rage, mixed media, wooden sticks, linen and copper, 53″ x 38″, 2020. Photo by Tom Grotta

Color is an important element of Lija Rage’s work, too. Rage is from Latvia, as was Rothko. In her one-person exhibition at the Mark Rothko Art Centre, Daugavpils, Latvia, entitled Colours, she described how she determines the colors she uses. “For digital printing,” Rage said in conjunction with Colours, “I use my own photographs. Real to begin with and taken in different seasons, they are processed until I’m left with blurred color fields. Color as a flash, an abstract field, a vision.” The color in her fiber works are drawn from nature. “Green – the woods outside my window; blue – the endless variety of the sea; orange – the sun in a summer sky; brown, grey and black – fresh furrows and the road beneath the melting snow; red – the roses in our gardens.”

Neha Puri Dhir working at the Rothko Center
Neha Puri Dhir, crumpling and stitch-resist dyeing on handwoven silk 2016, Photo courtesy of Neha Puri Dhir.

The Mark Rothko Art Centre also hosted Indian artist Neha Puri Dhir. In 2016, she was chosen with eight other participants to participate in an International Textile Art Symposium. ” I was fortunate to attend an art residency at Mark Rothko Art Centre as part of Textile Art Symposium at Daugavpils, Latvia and got an opportunity to study the great artist in the environs of his birthplace,” Dhir writes. 

Neha Puri Dhir in front of her weaving Autumn
(Rust colour) based on the colors and textures of maple leaves during Fall. Autumn, Neha Puri Dhir, 2016. Photo courtesy of Neha Puri Dhir.

“What Rothko brought to the world was very unique and personal. He looked at his works as an environment in themselves, works which transcended emotions and he did not like any academic dissection of his art. At Daugavpils, understanding his world and spending hours trying to seek a glimpse of his mind, re-affirmed the beauty of a unique creative self-expression for me. I realized what Rothko was expressing was nothing but very basic human emotions which invariably will always be layered and multifaceted. The layering of colors and mixing of oil and egg-based paints for expression has all left an indelible mark on my art,” Dhir says. 

Gizella Warburton of the UK and Gudrun Pagter of Denmark also reference Mark Rothko as a influence. “He manages to create a great image-based experience with his clean and focused divisions and distinguished color schemes,” Pagter says. UK artist, Rachel Max, read From the Inside Out by Rothko’s son, Christopher. Max says the artist’s meditative sensitivity and use of color inspires her. She was particularly interested in the chapter on the emotional power of Rothko’s paintings and its parallels to music. Christopher Rothko draws similarities between Mozart’s melodies and his father’s transparent textures, clarity, and purity of from in order to give what he calls greater expression  – for both artist and composer alike nothing was added unnecessarily. “I grew up surrounded with music,” Max writes. “The relationship between music and weaving is something I have been exploring and this particular essay resonated with me.” 

Rachel Max, Orange Nest Basket
4rm Rachel Max, Orange Nest, dyed cane, plaited and twined, 8” x 12” x 11”, 2006. Photo by Tom Grotta

While Rothko is best known for his paintings, he also created nearly 3,000 works on paper (the subject of the National Gallery exhibition). He mounted them similarly to how his canvases would be hung. “They’re attached to either a hardboard panel or linen, and wrapped around a stretch or a strainer to give them this three-dimensional presence,” says curator Adam Greenhalgh said. Another parallel to contemporary fiber art work, in which dimension is often an element.

Rothko’s son, Christopher, has said something about viewing his father’s works that applies to anyone for whom Rothko is an influence. “I often think about going to Rothko exhibitions,” he told CBS News. “It’s a great place to be alone together. Ultimately, it’s a journey we all make ourselves, but so much richer when we do it in the company of others.”


A Pop-Up is a Good Op

Two Vermettes, Two offices
Claude Vermette’s water color Maligne Lake, 1979 and Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s tapestry Electricity/Energy, 1994. Photo by Tom Grotta

If Wikipedia is to be believed, Pop-Up art exhibitions began in 2007 in New York City. They now occur all over they world. Pop-ups are generally temporary events, less formal than a gallery or a museum, often using unusual spaces. Their popularity has boomed since the oughts, including Banksy’s Dismaland which collected work by 58 artists in a rundown seaside town in the UK in 2015, Yasoi Kusama’s room that exploded with flowers in Melbourne, Australia in 2018, the Museum of Ice Cream (not technically a museum) currently in several locations including Miami, Boston and Singapore, and The Color Factory in New York City, Houston, and Chicago. Pop-Ups are often immersive, interactive, and collaborative like Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, which began in 2008 as a small collective of artists sharing an interest in publicly displaying their works and developing their skills. Meow Wolf now aims to “redefine the paradigm of art and storytelling to make a positive difference in the world.”

Out of Focus Series by Grethe Sørensen
White Shell Tongue I & II, 2006 prints by Federica Luzzi and Out of Focus tapestries by Grethe Sørensen, 2007. Photo by Tom Grotta

Fast forward to 2024: browngrotta arts has its own Pop-Up of sorts at JUICE Creative Group in Norwalk, CT. JUICE handles our social media, website development, event planning and other miscellany. It has loads of clients coming into its business and rental studio space each week. Now, select Juice visitors are able to view (and acquire) JUICE Art, a specially assembled group of works from artists who work with browngrotta arts.

Warren Seelig installation
Warren Seelig’s White Wheel, 1996 and Small Double Ended, 1996. Photo by Tom Grotta

In curating the collection, we were mindful of the JUICE ethos. It’s a brand and digital agency based in the US, with team members all over the world. JUICE takes pride in the team of brand experts, designers, marketers and tech geeks it’s built, and the vibrant creative culture it has fostered. To reflect that creativity and energy, we suggested works like Grethe Sorensen’s Out of Focus that references pixels from printing, Warren Seelig’s mechanical sculptures, Small Double-Ended and White Wheel, Gyöngy Laky’s playful Beach Sketchmade of electrical tape wrapped branches and Electricity/Energy by Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, a tapestry that incorporates wire.

Sekiji, Laky and Seelig in the corner office
From left to right works by Toshio Sekiji, NYT Collage, 1997, Gyöngy Laky, Beach Sketch, 1987, Warren Seelig, Shadowfield/ Colored Light Single, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Printed pages are another theme; the agency produces a lot of textual content. There are collages made of books and newspapers by Toshio Sekiji; works by Wendy Wahl of encyclopedia pages, and an interesting work by Mercedes Vicente that mixes string and spiral notebook pages and “hints” at writing. Photography, too, was a theme. In a room clients use, we placed a textile triptych made of photo images of Japanese tile roofs that are fragmented, silk screened, and metal-leafed made by Glen Kaufman along with works of paper by Gizella Warburton. On a floor of offices, there are photographs of fiber sculptures by Federica Luzzi, White Shell Tongue 1 and 2 beside a graphic tapestry by Gudrun Pagter.

John McQueen in the conference room
In the conference room, Intimate Domain, 2019 by John McQueen

In deciding what to display, we also collaborated with the JUICE team, including some works by artists they chose. John McQueen is a favorite of several team members. We included Intimate Domain, which includes a tree made of repurposed plastic surrounded by a frame made of small branches and cable ties and also Treed, a depiction of a tree where the drawing creeps off the page an onto the frame. Another popular artist was Canadian painter and ceramist Claude Vermette. There are two of his large canvases, one triptych and one small water color hung throughout the space. Also on the team’s list, works by Keiji Nio, Jo Barker, Dorothy Gill Barnes, Jiro Yonezawa, Chiyoko Tanaka and Jennifer Falck Linssen.

Claude Vermette and Gudren Pageter
Claude Vermette. Clairière, 1992 painting, Gudren Pagter, Thin Green Line , 2017 tapestry, Toshio Sekiji, Black Collage, 1998. Photo by Tom Grotta

For us, a Pop-Up is a Good Op. The JUICE space looks better, clients and staff appreciate the work, and we get more eyeballs for some great works of art!


Art Assembled – New This Week in January

At browngrotta arts, we’re kicking off the year with the same enthusiasm that propels us forward year after year. Throughout January, we’ve had the privilege of shining a spotlight on some extraordinary artists and their creations. The talents of Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Warren Seeling, Nancy Moore Bess, Federica Luzzi, and Ethel Stein have graced our ‘New This Week’ series.

But, that’s just the beginning of the excitement. We’ve also been hard at work prepping for our next upcoming exhibition.. We will be sharing the details soon, so be sure to keep following along so you don’t miss out!

Until then, we invite you to recap on our past month of ‘New This Week’ features below.

 Ethel Stein
54es Rust Abstract, Ethel Stein, mercerized cotton lampas, 36” x 35.25” x 1”, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta.

To start off our series for the month, we began by highlighting the late, Ethel Stein. With a career spanning decades, Stein left an indelible mark on the world of weaving and textile art. Her intricate and masterful creations were not only celebrated across the country but also earned her a solo exhibition at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago in 2014.

What makes Stein’s artistic journey truly exceptional is her mastery of the drawloom—a skill that few contemporary weavers possess. This expertise allowed her to craft intricate textiles that were both technically advanced and visually captivating.

Her influence resonated across the globe, as her works found a place in exhibitions not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and beyond.

Federica Luzzi
13fl White Shell, Federica Luzzi, knotting technique, cotton cord, 15″ x 15″x 7.25″, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Up next in January, we turned our focus to the talented Federica Luzzi. Luzzi’s vertical loom technique allows her to transform fibers from their traditional two-dimensional frame into captivating three-dimensional creations.

What truly sets Luzzi apart is her presentation. She curates her works in dimensional installations, where they appear as fragments of a galaxy, blending the macrocosm and microcosm seamlessly. Her artistry is akin to a magnetic aggregation of fragile bodies, meticulously arranged like constellations or an enigmatic form of writing.

At the core of Luzzi’s exploration lies a deep connection with nature. Her work delves into the intricate beauty of leaves, barks, seeds, and plant pods. Through her art, she unveils the hidden wonders of these organic elements, inviting viewers to ponder the intricate patterns of the natural world.

Nancy Moore Bess
71nmb Jakago I, Nancy Moore Bess, dyed, kiln-dried Japanese bamboo, waxed linen and cotton, 7.5″ x 4″ x 4″, 2007. Photo Tom Grotta.

Up next in our series, we highlighted the work of artist, Nancy Moore Bess. Based in California, Bess is an artist who views tradition as a reference point rather than a boundary. Her journey has revolved around the idea of mystery and containment within the realm of basketry, and she brings a unique twist to her creations using lids and closures inspired by her time living in Japan.

When creating, Bess seamlessly weaves together the practicality of traditional basketry with an enigmatic, and almost secretive allure. Her works beckon viewers to imagine the hidden treasures they might hold.

We are continuously impressed by the work Bess creates, and that’s exactly why we wanted to shine a light on her, so our audiences can see it too!

 Warren Seeling
7was.1 Shadowfield/ Colored Light/ Single by Warren Seeling, silver brazed stainless steel/ mixed colored plexiglass, 36” x 21” x 8”, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Nearing the end of the month, we brought you all art from the one and only, Warren Seeling. Seelig’s impact on the art world is significant, with his work featured in over 30 major museum exhibitions worldwide. His relentless exploration of possibilities within textile and fiber art continues to inspire and challenge conventional ideas of texture, weight, and form.

Warren Seelig’s journey as an artist has been marked by a relentless pursuit of innovation. Back in the late ’70s, he ventured into creating structural, fan-like works, using mylar frames and introducing a unique double-weave technique that pushed the boundaries of traditional textile art. Over time, Seelig’s focus evolved, leading him to craft suspended spoke-and-axle pieces and wall-mounted shadow fields.

Mariette Rousseau-Vermette
561mv.1 Repos + Paix, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, brushed wool, aluminum, 48″ x 54″, 1988.
Photo by Tom Grotta.

To close out our series for the month, we brought you art from the late artist, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette. With a career spanning four decades, she left an indelible mark on the world of tapestries and sculptures, captivating collectors and commissions across the globe.

Rousseau-Vermette’s artistic journey took her from the Quebec School of Fine Arts to working alongside Dorothy Liebes in California. She later participated in five International Tapestry Biennials in Lausanne, using these opportunities to connect with artists worldwide. In the 1980s, she made significant contributions as part of the Art and Architecture program, ultimately heading the Fibers Department at the Banff Center for the Fine Arts.

It’s no wonder why her achievements are so widely recognized! She is truly one of the best.

We hope you enjoyed our January series! Stay tuned for more ‘New This Week’ features in the months ahead.


browngrotta arts Year in Review/Preview

Hi all!
We like to take a look back most Januarys. We make plans, and, more optimistically, resolutions for the New Year.

This year has been a busy one for us and next year is shaping up to be busier still! 

Below, a look back and  a look ahead for browngrotta arts. Hope you’ll add some of our upcoming activities to your schedule.

Exhibitions

Opening reception for crowdsourcing the Collective
Crowdsourcing the Collective exhibition. Photo by Ezco Productions

2022 
• More than 500 people attended our 2022 Exhibitions, Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textiles and mixed media and Allies for Art: Art from NATO-related countries.

• After the in-person exhibitions ended, we posted the work on Artsy as exclusive on-line collections.

• We curated a Viewing Room in March. Featuring works in frames, it was entitled Art With an Edge: The Case for Frames.

Tom installing The Station/Kuala Lampur for our Upcoming Glen Kaufman Viewing Room exhibition. Photo by Rhonda Brown

2023
• We’ll host two in-person exhibitions next year, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. Add the Spring exhibition dates to your calendar now: April 29 – May 7, 2023

• We’ll be involved with three exhibitions at public spaces. We’ve loaned work to Norma Minkowitz: Body to Soul at the Fairfield University Art Museum in Connecticut, which opens January 27th and will loan several indigo works to the Denver Botanic Garden in Colorado for an exhibition that opens July 1st and we’ve partnered with the Flinn Gallery, Greenwich Public Library, Connecticut for Wordplay: Messages in Branches and Bark, which opens on March 30th. 

• We’ll present an online exhibition of the late Glen Kaufman’s work, Glen Kaufman: 1960-2010  in our Viewing Room on our new website.

• We will curate at least one other 2023 on-line exclusive exhibition in the View Room on the new website. Topic TBD.

Outreach

James Bassler Two Flags video

2022 Social Media:
• We have continued to post regularly on our social channels, FacebookTwitterYouTubeInstagram and our blog, arttextstyle. We’ve upped the amount of information we provide on Instagram and you’ve responded by engaging with us more.

• Our Instagram impressions are up 13.5%, engagements 12.6% and Instagram video views up 16.9%

• Our Facebook Engagements are up 32.1%  

• Page views on arttextstyle increased by 15%

• Our Instagram Net Follower Growth has grown 90.5%

• Our Total Net Audience has Grown 46%

2023 Social Media and Live Programs:
• We’ll continue our social media postings on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and arttextstyle, which will move to our new website when it launches.

• Gyöngy Laky and John McQueen will each speak on different dates at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich in April in conjunction with the Wordplay: Messages in Bark and Branches exhibition that features their work. Tom will also speak at the Flinn during the Wordplay exhibition. More on dates and times to come.

• Tom will speak at the Ridgefield Library on Contemporary Art Textiles and Fiber Art on Sunday, April 16, at 2 pm and also at the Appraisers Association of America meeting in NYC in June.

Publications

Gyöngy Laky: Screwing with Order, assembled art, actions and creative practice; Allies for Art: Work from NATO-related countries; Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textiles and mixed media art
Gyöngy Laky: Screwing with Order, assembled art, actions and creative practice; Allies for Art: Work from NATO-related countries; Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textiles and mixed media art catalogs

2022
• We were pleased at the publication of Gyöngy Laky: Screwing with Order, assembled art, actions and creative practicethis Spring. It was designed by Tom features text by Jim Melchert, Mija Reidel and David M. Roth. You can buy it on our website and in the MoMA book store, among other outlets.

• We published a 148-page, color catalog for our Crowdsourcing the Collective exhibition.

• We published a 148-page, color catalog for our Allies for Art exhibition.

2023
• In early 2023, we will make available our fifth monograph, Glen Kaufman: 1960 – 2010.

• On March 15th Anne Newlands authoritative book on noted Canadian artist Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Weaving Modernist Art: The Life and Work of Mariette Rousseau-Vermette will be published. It features many of Tom’s photos of Mariette’s work. We hope to make it available in the browngrotta arts’ site.

• We will publish a color catalog for our Spring “Art in the Barn” exhibition in April 2024.

• We will publish a color catalog for our Fall “Art in the Barn” exhibition in September-October 2023.

External Platforms

Artsy viewing room and 1stdibs browngrotta arts page
Artsy and 1stdibs

2022
• Art from browngrotta arts could be found on 1stDibs and Artsy in 2022. We created our first Artsy Viewing Room to showcase the work of Wendy Wahl and Norma Minkowitz, then-included in the Westport Museum of Contemporary Art Exhibition, Women Pulling at the Threads of Social Discourse, in Connecticut. Artsy included Yasuhisa Kohyama in its article: 5 Artists on Our Radar in June.

2023
• Art from browngrotta arts will again be found on 1stDibs and Artsy in 2023. We’ll be adding videos on Artsy to give viewers even more information about available works.

Please join us. We’d love to see our views grow in 2023.


Lives well lived: Sandra Grotta

Sandra Grotta at her 80th birthday party. Jewelry by David Watkins, Gerd Rothmann and Eva Eisler. Photo by Tom Grotta

browngrotta arts is devasted by the loss of Sandra Grotta, our extraordinary collector and patron and mother and grandmother. Sandy and her husband Lou have been pivotal in the growth of browngrotta arts through their advice and unerring support. Sandy graduated from the University of Michigan and the New York School of Interior Design. For four decades, she provided interior design assistance to dozens of clients — many through more than one home and office. She encouraged them to live with craft art, as she and Lou had done, placing works by Toshiko Takezu, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Helena Hernmarck, Gyöngy Laky, Markku Kosonen, Mary Merkel-Hess and many other artists in her clients’ homes. Among her greatest design talents was persuading people to de-accession pieces they had inherited, but never loved, to make way for art and furnishings that provided them joy. Sandy was a uniquely confident collector and she shared that conviction with her clients.  

Her own collecting journey began in the late 1950s, when she and Lou first stepped into the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City after a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. “The Museum’s exhibitions, many of whose objects were for sale in its store, caused a case of love at first sight. It quickly became a founding source of many craft purchases to follow,” Sandy told Patricia Malarcher in 1982 (“Crafts,” The New York Times, Patricia Malarcher, October 24, 1982). It was a walnut table ”with heart” on view at MoCC that would irrevocably alter the collectors’ approach. The table was by Joyce and Edgar Anderson, also from New Jersey. The Grottas sought the artists out and commissioned the first of many works commissioned and acquired throughout the artists’ lifetimes, including a roll-top desk, maple server and a sofa-and-table unit that now live in browngrotta arts’ gallery space. She followed the advice she would give to others:  “When we saw the Andersons’ woodwork,” Sandy remembered, “we knew everything else had to go,” Sandy told Glenn Adamson. From the success of that first commission, the Grottas’ art exploration path was set. The Andersons introduced the Grottas to their friends, ceramists Toshiko Takaezu and William Wyman. “The Andersons were our bridge to other major makers in what we believe to have been the golden age of contemporary craft,” Sandy said, “and the impetus to my becoming our decorator.”  

Sandra Grotta in her Maplewood, NJ living room
Sandra Grotta in her Maplewood, NJ living room surrounded by works by Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Peter Vouklos, William Wyman, Toshiko Takaezu, Rudy Autio, Joyce and Edgar Anderson and Charle Loloma. Photo by Tom Grotta

When Objects USA: the Johnson Wax Collection, opened in New York in 1972 at MoCC, by then renamed the American Craft Museum, the Grottas began discovering work further afield. ”Objects USA was my Bible,” Sandy told Malarcher describing how she would search out artists, ceramists, woodworkers and jewelers. A trip to Ariel, Washington, led the Grottas to commission an eight-foot-tall Kwakiutl totem pole for the front hall by Chief Don Lelooska. Sandy ordered a bracelet by Charles Loloma from a picture in a magazine. ”I always got a little nervous when the packages came, but I’ve never been disappointed,” Sandy told Malarcher. ”Craftsmen are a special breed.” Toshiko Takaezu, as an example, would require interested collectors like the Grottas to come by her studio in Princeton, NJ, a few times first to “interview” before she’d permit them to acquire special works. It took 15 years and several studio visits each year for the Grottas to convince the artist to part with the “moon pot” that anchors their formidable Takaezu collection. Jewelers Wendy Ramshaw and David Watkins in the UK also became dear friends as Sandy developed a world-class jewelry collection. At one point, in a relationship that included weekly transatlantic calls, Sandy told Wendy she needed “everyday earrings.” Wendy responded with earrings for every day – seven pairs in fact. “For me, the surprise was that they found me,” says John McQueen. “I lived in Western New York state far from the hubbub of the art world.” McQueen says that he discovered they the Grotta’s were completely open to any new aesthetic experience. “from that moment, we established a strong connection, that has led to a rapport that has continued through the years – a close personal and professional relationship.”

Sandy Grotta's bust by Norma Minkowitz
Norma Minkowitz’s portrait of Sandy Grotta sourounded by artwork’s by Alexander Lichtveld, Bodil Manz, Lenore Tawney, Ann Hollandale, Kay Sekimachi, Ed Rossbach, Toshiko Takaezu, Laurie Hall. Photo by Tom Grotta

Their accumulation of objects has grown to include more that 300 works of art and pieces of jewelry by dozens of artists, and with their Richard Meier home, has been the subject of two books. The most recent, The Grotta Home by Richard Meier: A Marriage of Architecture and Craft, was photographed and designed by Tom Grotta of bga. They don’t consider themselves collectors in the traditional sense, content to exhibit art on just walls and surfaces. Sandy and Lou’s efforts were aimed at creating a home. They filled every aspect of their lives with handcrafted objects from silver- and tableware to teapots to clothing to studio jewelry and commissioned pillows, throws and canes, a direction she also recommended for her interior design clients. The result, writes Glenn Adamson in The Grotta Home,”is a home that is at once totally livable and deeply aesthetic.” Among the additional artists whose work the Grottas acquired for their home were wood worker Thomas Hucker, textile and fiber artists Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney and Norma Minkowitz, ceramists Peter Voulkos, Ken Ferguson and William Wyman and jewelers Gijs Bakker, Giampaolo Babetto, Axel Russmeyer and Eva Eisler. They have traveled to Japan, the UK, Czechoslovakia, Germany and across the US to view art and architecture and meet with artists.

Perhaps their most ambitious commission was the Grotta House, by Richard Meier. Designed to house and highlight craft and completed in 1989, it is a source of constant delight for the couple, with its shifting light, showcased views of woodlands and wildlife and engaging spaces for object installation. The Grottas were far more collaborative clients than is typical for Meier. “From our very first discussions,” Meier has written,”it was clear that their vast collection of craft objects and Sandy’s extensive experience as an interior designer would be an important in the design of the house.“ The sensitivity with which the collection was integrated into Meier’s design produced “an enduring harmony between an ever-changing set of objects and they space they occupy.” The unique synergy between objects and architecture is evident decades later, even as the collection has evolved.  Despite his “distinct — and ornament-free — visual language, Meier created a building that lets decorative objects take a leading role on the architectural stage,” notes Osman Can Yerebakan in Introspective magazine (“Tour a Richard Meier–Designed House That Celebrates American Craft,” Osman Can Yerebakan, Introspective, February 23, 2020). The house project had an unexpected benefit — a professional partnership between Sandy and Grotta House project manager, David Ling, that would result in memorable art exhibition and living spaces designed for the homes and offices of many of Sandy’s design clients.

Sandy and Lou became patrons of the American Craft Museum in 1970s. As a member of the Associates committee she organized several annual fundraisers for the Museum, including Art for the Table, E.A.T. at McDonald’s and Art to Wear, sometimes with her close friend, Jack Lenor Larsen, another assured acquirer, as co-chair. At the openings, she would sport an artist-made piece of jewelry or clothing, sometimes both, and often it was an item that arrived or was finished literally hours before the event. “I wear all my jewelry,” she told Metalsmith Magazine in 1991 (Donald Freundlich and Judith Miller, “The State of Metalsmithing and Jewelry,” Metalsmith Magazine, Fall 1991) “I love to go to a party where everyone is wearing pearls and show up in a wild necklace …. I have a house brooch by Künzli – a big red house that you wear on your shoulder. I can go to a party in a wild paper necklace and feel as good about it as someone else does in diamonds.” Sandy served on the Board of the by-then-renamed Museum of Arts and Design, stepping down in 2019. 

Portrait of Sandy Grotta
Sandra Grotta Portrait in Florida Apartment in front of sculptures by Dawn MacNutt and a tapestry by Jun Tomita

From its inception, Sandy served as a trusted advisor, cheerleader and cherished client to browngrotta arts. She introduced us to artists, to her design clients and Museum colleagues. Questions of aesthetic judgment — are there too many works in this display? too much color? does this work feel unfinished? imitative? decorative? — were presented to her for review. (She was unerring on etiquette disputes, too.) The debt we owe her is enormous; the void she leaves is large indeed. We can only say thank you, we love you and your gifts will live on.

You can learn more about Sandy’s life and legacy on The Grotta House website: https://grottahouse.com and in the book, The Grotta Home by Richard Meier: A Marriage of Architecture and Craft available from browngrotta at: https://store.browngrotta.com/the-grotta-home-by-richard-meier-a-marriage-of-architecture-and-craft/.

The family appreciates memorial contributions to the Sandra and Louis Grotta Foundation, Inc., online at https://joingenerous.com/louis-and-sandra-grotta-foundation-inc-r5yelcd or by mail to The Louis and Sandra Grotta Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 766, New Vernon, NJ 07976-0000.


browngrotta arts Joins 1st Dibs

browngrotta arts installation
Eduardo Portillo & Mariá Eugenia Dávila, Ed Rossbach, Naoko Serino, Michael Radyk, Luba Krejci, Adela Akers. Photo by Tom Grotta

We are excited to be joining the group of exclusive dealers and galleries on the online marketplace 1st Dibs this month. In 2001, 1st Dibs was founded by Michael Bruno after a visit to Paris’s legendary antiques market, Marché Aux Puces. From its origins with a few hand-selected dealers, 1st Dibs has become a global destination for those who must have ‘first dibs’ on treasures — from around the world — that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Jolanta Owidska tapestry
4jo Jolanta Owidska, MARGARET VIII, flax, sisal and wool, 57″ x 39″, 1977. Photo by Tom Grotta


“Most people want authenticity in their lives, and most especially in their homes,” says CEO, David Rosenblatt. “Home is the expression of one’s personality and interests. The objects in our marketplace are different than what everyone else has. Our customers don’t want their homes to look like a page out of a catalog or be the same furnishings you can buy in a furniture store.”

Micheline Beauchemin small gold textile
5mb Gold Laugh, Micheline Beauchemin, metallic and acrylic thread, cotton, 25.25” x 21.25” x 2.25”, 1980-85. Photo by Tom Grotta


Accordingly, browngrotta arts’ presence on 1st Dibs will begin with a few dozen carefully curated works by respected artists from the US, Europe and Asia, including Adela Akers, Jolanta Owidzka, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette and Ethel Stein. A number of these works share a mid-century sensibility. All reflect the clean and contemporary aesthetic for which browngrotta is known.

Blair Tate Tapestry
2bt Jaiselmer, Blair Tate, linen, cotton rope and aluminum, 73″ x 39″, 1999


As we have discovered at browngrotta arts, the audience for art is global and they want to explore — and purchase– art on their own time. “It’s the way people want to buy.” Rosenblatt says. “It works across all time zones and allows us to create lots of advantages for our buyers and sellers that don’t exist in an advertising model.”


All 5 million of 1st Dibs’ customers can find something truly unique and different on the site — art or one-of-a-kind objects and design — and now, they’ll fine unique works from browngrotta, as well. Find us there at https://www.1stdibs.com/dealers/browngrotta-arts/?search=browngrotta%20arts and in 1st Dibs’ weekly online magazine, Introspective: https://www.1stdibs.com/introspective-magazine/richard-meier-grotta-house/.


On the Flip Side: What the Back of an Art Work May Reveal

More of a mystery — the back of Lenore Tawney’s Untitled Collage, 9.125” x 9”,10/23/64. Photo: Tom Grotta

More of a mystery — the back of Lenore Tawney’s Untitled Collage, 9.125” x 9”,10/23/64. Photo: Tom Grotta

Though artists generally create artwork with the intent for just the front to be viewed, the backs of canvases and tapestries can provide collectors, curators, historians and viewers with an interesting narrative. Since the late 18th century, conservators have been paying attention to the backs of artworks. “Why?” you may ask. The answer is this: the face of a painting communicates its art, but it’s back carries the history of the artwork itself.

The front of Lenore Tawney’s Untitled Collage (1964). Photo: Tom Grotta

The front of Lenore Tawney’s Untitled Collage (1964). Photo: Tom Grotta

“On the backs of canvases, stretcher bars (the wooden framework holding the canvas in place), and the undersides of frames, careful examiners can often find inscriptions left by artists, last-ditch attempts to advocate for works once they’ve left the studio,” explains  Karen Chernick of Artsy in a lengthy piece,“The Secrets Hidden on the Backs of Famous Artworks, (https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-secrets-hidden-backs-famous-artworks?utm_medium=email&utm_source=13995943-newsletter-editorial-daily-07-27-18&utm_campaign=editorial&utm_content=st-S Artists’ inscriptions serve as an important means of ensuring that the important details of a piece, such as its title, date and authorship, are preserved as the piece changes hands through time. In fact, “Versos are also frequently marked by dealers, collectors, and museums, with notations ranging from greased pencil notes to wax seals, exhibition labels, and inventory numbers,” writes Chernick. “Taken together, these markings are akin to a painting’s passport, representing its identity, travels, and even changes of address.”

However, it’s important to note that this practice is individual. There are artists who choose to provide meticulous details—notes, sewn labels, stitched informatio—and artists who leave the back of canvases or tapestries blank. For some artists, discovering provenance requires determined detective work, others offer an open book.

Details from Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s notes on Joie 2. Photo: Kaitlyn Capps

Details from Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s notes on Joie 2. Photo: Kaitlyn Capps

Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, for example, used a numbering system on that back of tapestries, which matched the meticulous files that she kept for the 640 signed works she created in her lifetime. Her files offer very detailed information about the nature of her working methods and the means by which she created and executed such commissions. Her commission for the curtain for the main hall of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa include the negotiations leading up to the contract awarded to her for the commission; original sketches documenting her various conceptions for the curtain, blueprints and plans, fabric and textile samples, diagrams relating to the means by which the design would be implemented, correspondence with craftsmen, manufacturers, and other individuals with whom she collaborated to complete the commission, and installation instructions. 

The label for Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s Joie 2 — the number links to her meticulously maintained files. Photo: Tom Grotta.

The label for Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s Joie 2 — the number links to her meticulously maintained files.
Photo: Tom Grotta.

In some instances, the backs of art works can give you a peek into an artist’s artistic process. While creating their work, artists who have continually reworked canvases “may cross out bygone titles previously inscribed on stretchers, leaving hints about images cloaked beneath layers of superimposed brushstrokes.”  For 20th-century artists, such as as Josef Albers, writes Chernick, the backs of canvases were the perfect place to leave explanatory appendices. Albers used the back of canvases to record detailed notes on the themes of his series. Chernick quotes Jeanette Redensek, a scholar who has reviewed hundreds of pieces of Albers’ work, used his extensive appendices to differentiate between the varying pigments used in each piece. In his series Homage to the Square, Albers methodically experimented with pigments, creating more than 2,000 variations over the course of 26 years. “When I see the backs of those paintings, I can see that he’s changed out pigments to get a yellow ochre that’s a little darker, a yellow ochre that’s a little lighter, a cadmium yellow, a cadmium yellow light. He’s playing with very fine distinctions in the colors, and so those color notes are essential,” explains Redensek. The backs of Norma Minkowitz’s works provide another example. Replete with thoughts, images, references, they provide an eye into her process.

The label for Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s Joie 2 — the number links to her meticulously maintained files. Photo: Tom Grotta.

The back for Norma Minkowitz’s Goodbye My Friend
Photo: Tom Grotta.

The information on the back of a canvas can also impact the value of a piece of art. After a piece is consigned to auction, house specialist scan the piece for indicators of authenticity and condition. In some cases, conservators use ultra-light and raking light to unveil hidden details. The extra information uncovered through this research aids collectors and conservators in proving the authenticity of a piece, therefore increasing the value.

The elements — lining, framing, notations — that restorers consider and what auction houses review once a work is consigned is described in detail in, “What the Back of a Painting Reveals About Its History,” from In Good Taste, https://www.invaluable.com/blog/painting-back/?utm_source=brand&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklyblog&utm_content=blog082318. 

The backs of canvases, drawings and tapestries not only provide collectors and conservators with the information needed to prove the authenticity of a work, but presents them with an opportunity to explore an uncharted area of art history.

 

 

 

 

 


It’s a Mystery — Can You Help Us Solve It?

This arresting tapestry is from the personal collection of Mariette Rousseau-Vermette of Canada. Rousseau-Vermette participated in several of the Biennials of International Tapestry in Lausanne, Switzerland. At the Biennials, artists for all over the world had the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and inspiration and, in some cases, traded works of art with one another. Rousseau-Vermette also headed the Fibres Department at the Banff Centre for the Arts from 1980. In 1981, the Banff Centre hosted the third Fibre Interchange, a gathering of experts from the fiber arts world. Noted guests included: Parisian fibre artist Daniel Gaffin; MoMA’s Mildred Constantine; The Whitney Museum’s curator. Patterson Sims and acclaimed American artist Sheila Hicks. The Centre also hosted visiting artists from all over, including Jolanta Owidzka and Magdalena Abakanowicz so Rousseau-Vermette had another chance for art exchange. So, Rousseau-Vermette might have come by this work in either of those ways. The work is 13.25″ by 12″, made of wool and includes an interesting symbol –maybe a signature? — in the right-hand corner. We asked Jolanta Owidzka, but she did not recognize it. Maybe you do??
If you have an idea of who it might be, we’d welcome the information. The first three people to give us a clue will receive a copy of Advocates for Art: Polish and Czech Fiber Artists from the Anne and Jacques Baruch Collection. Please contact us at art@browngrotta.com.

Additional works from Mariette Rousseau-Vermette’s collection include:

Warszawa, Jolanta Owidzka, wool, linen and metallic thread, 90″ x 68″,1967

2ws Untitled, Wojciech Sadley , mixed media, 32” x 24”, 1968