Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment | My Cure for End-of-Semester Kvetching

Sometimes, in order to avoid the inevitable, cranky end-of-semester kvetching, I find I need to hit the road, see some new things. Give the old brain a break. This past Friday a couple classmates and I took a bus trip to Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) with the fibers department. We were there to pay homage to Lenore Tawney, a real pioneer in the world of fiber art. To be completely honest, I hadn’t heard about Lenore Tawney until we got word our department had inherited a load of materials from her Manhattan studio and we were to take and them and make work in response for a show in her honor this Winter. I took a tiny old damaged book, some yarn, and a wooden box with the words “Cape Cod Sea Chest” etched into the lid. Prime finds.

Detail of “I Am Becoming” by Sandra Brownlee (2005).

And so, I began to do a little research on this grande dame of the fiber world and found she had attended the Institute of Design in Chicago, where she had studied sculpture with Alexander Archipenko, drawing with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and weaving with Marli Ehrman. According to her New York Times obituary, “[i]n the late 1950s and early 1960s, where art and crafts were viewed in America as mutually exclusive disciplines, Ms. Tawney united them decisively and controversially.” Lenore experimented with different weaving techniques and even took her weavings off the looms, creating large, free-hanging sculptures.

Lenore Tawney. “Vespers,” 1961.

Lenore Tawney. “In Fields of Light,” 1975.

I was fascinated not only by the intricacies of her weaving and incorporation of nontraditional materials (feathers, shells, and such), but also by how varied her work was at the MICA show, Lenore Tawney: Wholly Unlooked For. Alongside her weavings (varied already on their own), we saw some of her precise graphic drawings, some assemblages, items she loved to collect. The stillness and complexity of her work soothed my overly-stimulated (I won’t go so far as to say feverish) brain and, for the first time in a few weeks, I felt recharged.

Lenore Tawney. “Lekythos,” 1962.

Lenore Tawney. “Lekythos,” 1962. Detail.

As a surprise bonus to all of this soothing brain massage, Sandra Brownlee, a fiber artist from Nova Scotia, gave a super-lively artist talk from the point of view of one who had been influenced by Lenore Tawney. Brownlee’s accompanying show, Keeping On, features a variety of weavings and embroideries from the large to small, traditional to wildly untraditional.  I was that person in the audience crazily taking iPhone notes so I wouldn’t forget everything she was saying. She was dropping some fat gems. Here are some that I managed to decode (because I am a terrible note-taker):

  • Advice to any artist. Do these two things immediately: 1) Activate your space (as in make it work!) and 2) 5-10 drawings/day (everyday, can be anything).
  • It is important to make notes for yourself because that is where you find what is important and true.
  • Why make work? Well, shoot. It’s the process of making and what you learn from that.
  • Do not make work for the marketplace.
  • It takes courage to do your work.

Work, work, work. It was good to hear what sounds so simple. It was also good to see something unfamiliar and get a break, and that happy hour likely didn’t hurt either.

Lenore Tawney: Wholly Unlooked For is open from December 7-March 17, 2013; Keeping On is open from December 7-February 10, 2013. Please see the MICA website for more details.


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