|Wall Hanging: Entrance II, Dolores Bittleman, detail.|
Textiles have been something of a stepchild at the Museum of Modern Art, (MoMA) so the exhibit "Taking a Thread for a Walk", installed in the newly renovated museum, is a welcome display of work in fiber.
|In the gallery at MoMA.|
MoMA's approach to collecting textiles has been haphazard, at best, and I found it difficult, despite engaging wall text, to find a thematic thread (pardon the pun) in the exhibit. So, I'll look at the items as a sort of bildungsroman - an imaginary biography of encounters with textiles from childhood to maturity.
Let's begin with toys developed by German education innovator Frederick Froebel (1782-1852), such as crocheted soft balls - the forerunners of today's soft foam Nerf ball. The image below features modern versions of these tactile toys next to another Froebel item, flexible wood strips for weaving. By the early 20th century, Froebel toys were mass-produced and distributed worldwide. Frank Lloyd Wright's mother gave him a set of Froebel wooden blocks.
|Left: Balls, soft crochet. Right: Slatwork, stained wood.|
Playing with the Froebel weaving strips might lead to study at the Bauhaus, a German school of modern architecture and design with a textile department headed by Gunta Stozl. Below is her pencil study for a wall hanging, and an image of the wall hanging.
|Working drawing for wall hanging, Gunta Stolzl, c. 1924.|
|Wall hanging, Gunta Stolzl, c. 1924.|
Anni Albers, who also studied at the Bauhaus, came to America in 1933 with her husband, Josef Albers; the Bauhaus student now became an instructor in weaving. Learn more about Anni and Gunta here: https://www.designtex.com/bauhaus-project
Artist Sheila Hicks studied painting with Josef Albers at Yale but her meeting with Anni Albers led Hicks to adopt fiber as her medium.
|Loom used by Anni Albers, designed by Louis Strohacker, c. 1952.|
|Tapestry, Anni Albers, 1948.|
After receiving her MFA from Yale, Hicks' career included commercial commissions, such as the embroidered panel below, for the interior of an Air France Boeing 747. She also designed textiles for Knoll, but helped establish fiber as a sculptural medium in its own right, independent of any functional role. Another student, Dolores Dembus Bittleman, said of her lessons with Albers:
...We'd talk about threads and textiles and how they behaved. The important lesson I absorbed was that when you'd 'listen' quietly, threads would suggest what could be done with them. We ranged the world from there...This instruction slowly allowed possibilities of the materials to reveal themselves to me over time.
|Airplane interior panel, Sheila Hicks, 1969-1977.|
|Wall Hanging: Entrance II, Dolores Dembus Bittleman, 1964.|
|Fabrics for window treatments, various designers. Chair by Harry Bertoia.|
A fiber MFA graduate might build a career in industrial design, creating textiles to meet the need for window treatments for post-war glass curtain-wall skyscrapers. These tall buildings featured perimeter walls of windows. Interior designers utilized miles of sheer, scrim-like fabrics, known as casements, which helped to prevent glare and control light. The look was re-created for the AMC cable show about a 1950's Manhattan advertising agency, "Mad Men." Note the curtains on the far wall.
|A set for "Mad Men". Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-09/want-don-draper-s-office-from-mad-men-here-s-how-to-get-it|
As we left the exhibit, we stopped by the participatory studio space and admired the work in progress on communal looms, and a wall hanging created from some of the small finished woven pieces.
|Weaving in progress.|
|Made from communal weavings.|