“Every Moment Is a Moment of Learning“

Lenore Tawney. New Bauhaus and Amerindian Impulses

Tawney and her cat, Beekman Street studio, ca. 1965,
Photo: Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

“I felt as if I had made a step and maybe a new form. These evolved from a study of Peruvian techniques, out of twining and twisting. Out of that came my new way of working, of dividing and separating the piece.” Lenore Tawney’s “Woven Forms” are not purpose-built in a (Western) crafts sense; they move beyond traditional European rules of weaving and attempt to approach an indigenous attitude towards craft and technique. This essay shows how Tawney charted her own unique path in fiber art by linking Amerindian impulses with Taoist concepts of space and Bauhaus ideas.

Lenore Tawney, Lekythos, 1962, linen, brass and acrylic, 127 x 68 x 4,4 cm, Collection Tate Gallery, London. Photo: George Erml, Courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

In the final chapter of her book On Weaving Anni Albers wrote: “The efforts of weavers in the direction of pictorial work have only in isolated instances reached the point necessary to hold our interest in the persuasive manner of art. Experimental—that is, searching for new ways of conveying meaning—these attempts to conquer new territory (my italics) even trespass at times into that of sculpture.”1 Elaborating on this, she refers to a photograph of Dark River, a free-hanging work woven from open-ended cross-pieces and differently grouped warp threads by Lenore Tawney (1907–2007), an American practitioner of fiber art. In her book, Albers makes mention of a select group of contemporary weavers, Tawney among them. From the perspective of Albers’ Bauhaus philosophy, it appears Tawney’s weaving techniques, inspired by Amerindian cultures (such as the use of open warp), struck a special note. Interested herself in Pre-Columbian weaving, she seems to have realized just how innovative Tawney’s work was.

In my essay I will explore this “new territory” Albers mentions which Tawney supposedly was conquering, addressing the closely connected question of whether this term might, in fact, be ill-suited. While it is legitimate to describe weaving in the form of fiber art2 and its expansion into the male-dominated domain of sculpture as an act of “conquering”—and it is likely that this is primarily what Albers meant—the search for new ways of conveying meaning that Albers addresses in On Weaving is tied closely to colonial semantics. And while in her book the power imbalance between practitioners is, to my mind, adequately addressed (though Albers invokes these semantics in a rather naïve way), I believe that in Tawney’s case it falls wide of the mark. Or am I wrong? My aim is to examine the ways in which Tawney appropriated non-European vernacular objects and craft techniques as well as Amerindian and East Asian ontologies, and to focus on at the role which the Bauhaus played in these appropriation strategies.

Lenore Tawney, Dark River, 1962 in South Street studio, New York, Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Greta Daniel Design Fund. Photo: Ferdinand Boesch, Courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation. 
Detail (right).


Lenore Tawney’s woven works are not purpose-built in the (Western) crafts sense and move beyond the traditional European rules of weaving, orientated as they are towards two-dimensional textiles. From 1959 onwards, her so-called “hangings”– which Tawney rather named “Woven Forms” – occupied increasing amounts of space, depth and height. In this way, Tawney might be said to have “conquered” the domain of sculpture with her weavings. She hung these objects, which she referred to as “abstract,” in mid-air or at some distance from the wall, in order to highlight their plasticity and emphasize contrasts between opacity and transparency in the materials she employed. The size of her works is especially striking. Measuring up to eight meters high, Tawney’s works hang from the ceilings of museums and galleries and clearly reject any handcrafted utility value.3 Tawney finished off the gathered ends of threads with large knots inspired by Peruvian weaving, traditional Egyptian hairstyles or hair costumes and sailor knots from the Coenties Slip area of Lower Manhattan where she kept her studio. She lived there in the same house as Robert Indiana and Agnes Martin, and around the corner from Robert Rauschenberg, who had in the late 1940s attended Anni Albers’s weaving class at Black Mountain College.4 Ellsworth Kelly, who lived in another studio nearby, described Tawney’s textile works as groundbreaking with respect to the evolution of installation art and influential to the approaches to space and material developed in the art of the 1960s.5 Tawney’s way of thinking about space was inspired by, among other things, the texts of the Indian scholar Swami Vivekananda, who she studied before going to college and which I will return to later in this article.

New Bauhaus – Zones of Contact

After returning from a trip to Mexico in 1945, at the age of 39, Lenore Tawney enrolled at the New Bauhaus in Chicago (Institute of Design from 1944).6 There, in 1946 and 1947 she studied sculpture under Alexander Archipenko, while also attending drawing courses with László Moholy-Nagy and Emerson Woelffer, and a weaving course with the Bauhaus weaver Marli Ehrman. At the time the New Bauhaus was steeped in influences from non-European cultures, with the interest in Pre-Columbian weaving and Asian culture having traveled with Bauhaus students and masters to the USA. Although Tawney had already expressed an interest in non-European, Asian and Amerindian cultures prior to enrolling at the New Bauhaus,7 the classes she attended and the people she met in Chicago, with their diverse interests, and the Bauhaus teaching methods they employed, must have intensified Tawney’s creative energies like light through a biconvex lens. Around ten years later these influences led Tawney to her own particular way of working, especially evident in her Woven Forms.

This ten-year interval was due to the fact that after completing a summer school course with Archipenko in 19478 (where she made figurines, becoming fully immersed in her work), she ceased making art.9 The Bauhaus philosophy propagated the unity of art and life, but Tawney stated at the time that she wanted to live a life independent from art: in her view, life had to be subservient to the rhythms of inspired art production. She stopped studying under Archipenko and set out on her own instead of working, in the normal and accustomed progression, in the same manner and mold as her tutors.10 At some point during this self-imposed hiatus, Tawney acquired a small hobby loom.11 Then in 1954 she enrolled in a six-week course with Finnish weaver Martta Taipale at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. She began open-warp weaving12 the following year, and subsequently began working again on larger pieces. This technique led the following year to the tapestry Egyptian Girl, possibly inspired by a journey to the Maghreb.13 In this piece she was already incorporating areas with an entirely open warp, into which the female figure was loosely woven using colorful weft yarn materials. In this woven image, with the open warp fulfilling an additional function as “air” in the background.

Lenore Tawney, Egyptian Girl, 1955. Courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

Tawney soon began to further her experiments in open-warp weaving. In her next works she dispensed entirely with figurative motifs, producing instead abstract, installation-like hangings that frequently moved into three-dimensions. The piece Lekythos, for instance, exposes the linear quality of the woven fabric. It has a grid structure within which pyramid-like shapes are formed by warp threads pulled together in various ways. These gauze cross-pieces then “pour” into loose thread ends that, running over two brass rods, come together to span a narrow space below them.14 Here Tawney employs the techniques of Peruvian open-warp weaving and, insofar as she separates the warp threads into groups, slit tapestry—a technique which the weavers of the early Bauhaus in Weimar (Gunta Stölzl, Ida Kerkovius, Margarete Willers) also experimented. She also began to utilize the gauze weaving technique she had learned from Lili Blumenau in 1961. When using these methods she apparently also consulted and took inspiration from two books from her library, namely Junius Bird and Luisa Bellinger’s Paracas Fabrics and Nazca Needlework and Raoul d’Harcourt’s Textiles of Ancient Peru and Their Techniques15. In addition to a seemingly traditional oblong wall hanging titled The Peruvian (ca. 1962)—fabricated using a Peruvian double cloth technique16—in 1962 she made Aztec, a contrast-rich piece made of black and white yarn with folkloric elements such as tassels, fringes and borders.17 Hung from both ends, it resembles a hammock, a mobile piece of furniture widely used by pre-Colombian cultures in Central and South American, which—an object widely used for sleep and relaxation— Tawney had become familiar with while travelling these countries. With this weaving technique, the artist found a new means of artistic expression: “I felt as if I had made a step and maybe a new form. These evolved from a study of Peruvian techniques, out of twining and twisting. Out of that came my new way of working, of dividing and separating the piece.”18

Lenore Tawney, Aztec, 1962, Linen. Photo: Ferdinand Boesch, Courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

But Tawney’s influences are not limited to those from the Amerindian pre-modern period. Rather, these are combined in her work with the Taoist concepts of fullness and emptiness that also interested Archipenko, and can be linked as well to Moholy-Nagy’s Bauhaus pedagogy, which will later be examined with the example of Tawney’s Lekythos. These ideas are also interwoven, in my view, with her experience of bodywork, which she had practiced intensively from 1959 onwards with the German-Jewish pedagogue Charlotte Selver, whose Sensory Awareness work was influenced by the Bauhaus milieus in Weimar and Dessau, and by the musician and self-development pioneer Heinrich Jacoby.19

Lekythos, Greek vase, Terracotta lekythos (oil flask), ca. 440 B.C. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Norbert Schimmel Trust, 1989.

Tawney, who had studied the writings of Teresa of Ávila, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Arthur Schopenhauer, Paul Klee and others, was also familiar with the work of Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu scholar and one of the major disseminators of the philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga in the United States.20 (This is why I describe what the West usually calls “Asian” as “Asianistic.”21 Between 1943 and 1945 Tawney read two volumes by Vivekananda comprised of lectures delivered at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, which her father-in-law, a professor of philosophy, had in his library.22 Vivekananda writes of space in one essay about Jnana Yoga: “Try to think of a form without space: it is impossible. Space is one of the materials, as it were, which make up the form, and this is continually changing. Space and time are in Maya, and this idea is expressed in the line ‘What is here, that is there too.’”23 The term “Maya” is used here to describe the illusion of separation between subject and object, ego and universe. Space is generated by the illusion of subdivision into opposites, but in reality it is characterized by the interweaving of opposites which connect everything.

In Lekythos (1962) Tawney brought this concept to life, although it is interesting that the title refers to an ancient Greek vessel for holding oil, used especially in its white-ground variant in ritual funeral practices. The clay’s white color of the clay finds its equivalent in the pale whitish natural linen threads of Lekythos. In reality, this work is not a container. With its light and airy structure, made using the Peruvian gauze technique, it is no longer possible to distinguish between inside and outside—. The two intertwine and permeate one another. A woven fabric takes shape in which loose threads consolidate to form a loose structure, that transitioning into open hanging threads, which then spanning the space beneath them.

While studying under Archipenko at the New Bauhaus in 1946/1947, Tawney became acquainted with her instructor’s vitalistic theory24 of negative space and the materiality of the sculptural void. For the next two summers Tawney continued working with Archipenko, attending his summer schools in the upstate New York town of Woodstock, where, as mentioned previously, she produced small figurines.25 The figurines illustrate her preoccupation with Archipenko’s spatial concept; his clay and bronze figures enclose space within their contours, with the sculptor often utilizing concave and convex forms. Formal properties already articulated in Tawney’s sculptures from this period is transposed into the depths of space in Lekythos, connecting with the concurrent exploration of Asianistic philosophies. Archipenko likewise engaged with these. He refers in particular to the oft-cited chapter eleven of Lao Tzu, the so-called parable of vessels about the function of vessels, which rely on their clay walls to create the space within.26

"Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub

By vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use;

The use of clay in moulding pitchers

Comes from the hollow of its absence;

Doors, windows, in a house,

Are used for their emptiness:

Thus we are helped by what is not

To use what is."27

Alexander Archipenko, Egyptian Motif, 1917/1955–1960, Saarlandmuseum – Moderne Galerie Saarbrücken, Stiftung Saarländischer Kulturbesitz, Photo: Tom Gundelwein/Stiftung Saarländischer Kulturbesitz, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018.

Lenore Tawney, Untitled clay sculptures, ca. 1947–48, Jack & Ruth Weinberg Collection / Courtesy Daniel & Audrey Weinberg. Photo: Nancy Finn, Courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

The chapter draws our attention to how fullness and emptiness each require the other. Furthermore, we become aware of the use and usefulness of intercalated spaces, framed and thus brought into being by the manipulation of materials. Lekythos addresses this in two ways: firstly, the shape of the piece is reminiscent of a container like the Greek vessel, albeit one that cannot hold anything, and secondly, the suspended form with its loose structure of threads reaching up towards the brass rods, Lekythos envelops the space underneath and inside the Woven Form.

Dialectical Primitivisms?

The view of indigenous cultures shared by the Bauhaus and Tawney is subject to the filters of Western perception, containing latent projections on to so-called “other” cultures. It was influenced by the desire for a pre-modern “archaic” form of knowledge. In this, both the Bauhaus and Tawney aligned themselves with what was for the time (ca. 1923–1965) a substantial examination of non-European artefacts and concepts newly arrived in the West, or reinterpreted by a host of intermediaries in the framework of a diversity of knowledge transfers—usually occasioned by colonialism. Stereotypical projections were at work in this process, which at the same time functioned as a critical stimulus for art production, making accessible non-Western concepts of reality and space for the first time.28 In this context, Tawney’s method of appropriation might be viewed as an example of dialectical primitivism,29 one that places trust in vernacular, empirical knowledge and epistemic authority, and does not rely on reason and rationality as the only forms of knowledge. In this respect, the Westerner’s exploration of non-European ontologies might also be said to function as a tool for criticizing existing Western epistemologies and practices, with their rational bias and obliviousness to nature. What is crucial to note is that Tawney not only learned about indigenous weaving methods from literature and teachers, but also explored the ritual statuses and original functions of indigenous artefacts in their cultural context.

The diverse influences Tawney absorbed cannot be considered separately. As assembled set pieces they speak to a desire for connectedness—a topos of fabric in general. The singularity of weaving is that the difference between figure and background, between structure and content, between nature (natural material) and culture (cultural technique) is indistinguishable, which to my mind perfectly embodies the interconnectedness of logos and cosmos.

Egyptian Goddess Nut.

Interweaving of Logos and Cosmos

Chancay Effigy Vessel, undated, Earthenware, Collection of Lenore Tawney. Courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

In pre-modern non-European contexts, artefacts were often not intended to be construed merely as representations in a Western sense, but as cult figures capable of making connection between the world and the netherworld, opening up pathways to ancestors. During her two-year sojourn in Paris, Tawney, an inveterate museum visitor, could not have failed to see the African, Australasian and Amerindian figures in the Musée de l’Homme, particularly as they originated in parts of the world where Tawney had traveled. Ripped from their cultural and ritual contexts, usually by colonial explorers, and presented in Western collections, such artefacts inspired Tawney in Dark River for which she borrowed both from Egyptian hairstyles and Peruvian ritual hairpieces.30 With their great height, her Woven Forms frequently evoke the scale of totem-like African and Australasian-Amerindian figures. Tawney’s two related series, Shields and Masks (from 1963 and 1967 respectively) both include pre-Columbian beads and found objects and are even more obvious in their taking inspiration from non-European artefacts.31

A photo taken at her studio on Beekman Street shows the artist among her Woven Forms, which resemble an animistic forest of creatures.32 “They came into being while I did them,”33 she recalled. In addition to works whose titles refer to figures—The Queen, The King and Virgin, for instance—there are others referencing nature, such as Mountain, Waterfall, Fountain and Orinoco, as well as allegorical titles like Untaught Equation and But Dwindled to a Star. However, the Woven Forms bearing different sorts of titles do not possess correspondingly different forms. This can be connected to allusions to the cultural role of African and Amerindian artefacts Tawney’s work contains. Even if figuratively anthropomorphic, they frequently also functioned as social sculptures embodying cosmological contexts in their structure and manner of construction.

Another interpretation is that Tawney—much like the original Amerindian ontologies—did not differentiate between subjects and objects. In fact, she understood all kinds of existences—all the Western categories, such as man, animal, things and processes—as mutable, with any existence capable of changing into another, or observed from a different perspective and grasped as another sort of being. Tellingly, the artist collected the same kind of anthropomorphic artefact, for example this pre-Columbian vessel from her estate.

I prefer to interpret Tawney’s weavings in a similar way, as visualizations of a cosmological34 concept and “indigenous wisdom”35 an interpretation informed by the specifics of her working method in textile. This brings us once again to the Woven Forms’ structural moment, the aforementioned inseparableness of structure and content, warp and weft, nature (natural material) and culture (cultural technique).

Tawney herself pointed out the iconography, present in both Oriental and Occidental cultures, portraying the weaver as a prophetess or deity connected with fate: “The Great Mother is all of nature, she is Prakriti. In her character as spinstress, she is not only human life but also the fate of the world, is darkness and light.”36 If, as an analogy for the representations of the Egyptian sky goddess Nut37, we imagine the warp of the Woven Forms as the cosmos, an outspread space, then the weft threads are what holds it up. Each element in the weaving requires the other in order to lend the (woven) structure a degree of stability. Another feature distinguishing Tawney’s weaving is that she also separated the warp threads to create alternative arrangements. Figuratively speaking, by changing the spacing of the warp threads she could alter the work and embody other constructions of the cosmos, allowing the viewer to interpret the cosmos as if spread out from one material, with local structures capable of variation.

Most of the Woven Forms feature irregular outer edges, slits, openings and dense, tightly woven sections that open out again—elements frequently found in woven objects from Peru. The hangings are usually narrow and longer than they are wide. The title of the Woven Form from 1962, Path, prompts associations to an (internal) map by way of its long, narrow form:

“It’s an inner, interior landscape that I’m doing, metaphors for interior states. These were done in the loft of South Street, a noble space. The interior width, length, height, the river had an atmosphere which disseminated over the work.”38

Furthermore, Tawney integrated objets trouvés (such as feathers, porcupine quills, horsehair and shells) in her seemingly animistic work. In Mourning Dove she attached grey dove feathers to the woven fabric to achieve an effect similar to that described by Raoul d’Harcourt in his book on traditional Peruvian weaving. Birds and feathers became an increasingly important subject for the artist, especially in her later object boxes and material collages. Tawney was well aware that different cultures viewed birds as beings mediating between heaven and earth. The jutting feathers of Mourning Dove look like antennae tuned in to find the “path.” Against the backdrop of a Western system of references, the title of the piece combined with the black linen yarn from which it is made is likewise redolent of the theme of grief.

Lenore Tawney, Mask with Horsehair, ca. 1967, Credit: bpk / The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY, With permission by Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

How do the Inspirations of the New Bauhaus and Indigenous Cultures Fit Together?

Lenore Tawney, Mourning Dove, 1962, Cooper-Hewitt, With permission by Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

Tawney’s perception of the status and role of sculpture is similar to László Moholy-Nagy’s and also indicates links with the pre-modern social roles of artefacts.39 Her artworks are not illustrations of the rational world but serve instead, in keeping with Moholy-Nagy’s notion of the role of art, to sharpen all the human senses, raising awareness of another construction of reality and thus initializing a shift in awareness—especially in light of changes in media—in modern industrial societies.40 In his teaching and writing, Moholy-Nagy propagated the theory that a new form of awareness and with this, improved social structures, could be generated by specific perceptual (not only visual) experiences.41 It was crucially important to Moholy-Nagy that when relating to the world body and mind not only depend on the sense of site but on all senses. Based on concepts of progressive education, this idea attached great importance to the training of body and sensory awareness. The former Bauhaus pedagogue made this the basis of his teaching program, especially in Chicago, where Tawney joined his classes. Tawney was however also able to experience these stimuli on her own body through bodywork training she undertook with Charlotte Selver. Inspired in part by the body and sensory awareness training concept of the music educator Heinrich Jacoby, Selver had developed a technique she named Sensory Awareness, which Tawney practiced with her in individual sessions and courses. A key phrase in Selver’s writings describes the process of perceiving with the senses, in which “every moment is a moment of learning.”42

Tawney used primitivistic ideas in a dialectic way and her art, much like Moholy-Nagy’s seemingly technological oriented Light-Space Modulator, as both a signal beacon for and path towards a ritual of transition into a different construction of reality. While Tawney tended to work with “dated”, ancestral organic materials, Moholy-Nagy preferred modern materials like aluminum and acrylic glass—although Tawney also experimented with these in her object boxes dating from late in her career. She apparently harbored the wish that her work be taken as allegories, maps, embodiments or materializations of a figure of thought rendered visible through the creative process. In her notes Tawney refers to a citation by the Bauhaus artist Paul Klee: “What artist would not wish to dwell there—in the bosom of nature, in the primordial source of creation, where the secret key of everything is kept? But not all are meant to reach it. Our instinct drives us downward, deep down to the primordial source … then we have visionary experiences made visible.”43 Tawney recognized this visionary aspect of art creation only after reading Klee’s writings; he became for Tawney, as for many Bauhaus weavers, a source of inspiration.

Tawney lacked Moholy-Nagy’s sense of mission; her material embodiments of woven allegories have a far greater affinity with Klee, serving to assure viewers that “worlds” are interconnected. They should not be interpreted as universal truths, but as localized knowledge.44

In this respect, Tawney’s practice may be interpreted as an arena in which the boundaries between logos and cosmos dissolve. In her work interconnection leads not to universalization but to perspectivism Tawney’s work is not about conquering but about interweaving, connecting and, as Lekythos demonstrates, sending forth loose ends that connect with each other, irrespective of culture. This is not essentialism but a material allegory of the interconnectedness of all things, showing that the separation of Logos and cosmos45 created by the rational conquerors is just one possible way of looking at the world, and open to criticism and change. Tawney’s interest in diverse thinking about reality and space appears to embrace Édouard Glissant’s demand for a “right to opacity”: “To feel in solidarity with him or to build with him or to like what he does, it is not necessary for me to grasp him.”46 Her borrowings from non-European sources gave her work an ethno-kitsch look that became increasingly fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s. They were also motivated—beyond the use of forms and Western concepts—by the desire to render other constructions of reality in aesthetic structures and thus make them visible.

„Tawney and her cat“, Beekman Street studio, ca. 1965, Photo: Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

  • 1 Anni Albers: On Weaving (1965), revised and extended edition, Princeton University Press, Princeton/Oxford 2017, p. 52, Plate 103. In her book, Albers includes two images of Tawney’s work although she did not know her personally, unlike her contemporary, the fiber artist Sheila Hicks, with whom Albers corresponded at length on the topic of pre-Columbian textiles.
  • 2 Cf. Elissa Auther: String, Felt, Thread. The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis/London 2010.
  • 3 The hanging titled Untaught Equation is for instance 27 feet high, as high as the three-story studio in which the piece was made. “I made one 27 feet tall (Untaught Equation with knots huge as ships’ bumpers).” Tawney, cit. in: Eleanor Munro: Originals. American Women Artists (1979), Da Capo Press, New York 2000, p. 330.
  • 4 This had probably been a subject of discussion. Cf. also Ann Coxon, Briony Fer & Maria Müller-Schareck: Anni Albers, exhibition catalogue, TATE, London 2018, pp. 167–168, here p. 167.
  • 5 According to Ann Wilson, Tawney’s housemate in Coenties Slip, Ellsworth Kelly is supposed to have said that Tawney’s thinking on spatial and installation art was far ahead of the contemporary art discourse on the departure from traditional panel painting and the understanding of (installation) art in space (from an interview with Ann Wilson in Taos, 24 March 2012). At her solo exhibition at the Staten Island Museum in 1961, Tawney exhibited woven fabric objects for the first time in an explicitly fine art context. In 1969 Tawney’s hangings were likewise shown in Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen’s show Wall hangings in the Museum of Modern Art, the show which aim was it to establish fiber art as a new art form.
  • 6 From 1927 to 1942, while working as a proofreader for a publishing house, Tawney attended evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied after high school and prior to her first job sewing in a factory.
  • 7 An interest in indigenous weaving techniques was not limited to the Bauhaus. In the United States there were nationalistic reasons to reference Indian weaving in order to legitimize a specific US-American weaving art (cf. Elissa Auther: “Andean Weaving and the Appropriation of the Ancient Past in Modern Fiber Art” in this online journal
  • 8 Archipenko arrived in New York in 1921. From 1929 he built a school next to his home and studio near Woodstock, New York, where he began teaching summer school courses in 1938. He was appointed to teach at the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937 and accepted a lectureship at the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1946, just as Tawney began to study there.
  • 9 Cf. Munro 2000, p. 327. Munro notes Tawney’s recollections: “According to Bauhaus theory, there was no distinction drawn between craft and fine art, none between craftsperson and ‘artist’ and relatively little between male and female.” (Munro 2000, p. 326).
  • 10 After receiving an inheritance, Tawney had a significant degree of financial independence and did not have to assert herself on the art market.
  • 11 She had previously studied weaving under Marli Ehrman at the Institute of Design in Chicago, but never spoken in detail about this period in interviews. Ehrman would certainly have advocated the ideas of the Bauhaus, and in 1945 she won a prize for organic design awarded by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. While Tawney undoubtedly learned much from her and the Bauhaus ideas she advocated, she decided not to focus on weaving but to pursue her main interest in sculpture. At this time, Ehrman’s artistic design practice was more industry-orientated.
  • 12 Open-warp weaving is characterized by the visibility of large areas of unwoven warp threads, frequently contrasted with densely woven areas.
  • 13 From 1949 to 1951 Tawney lived in Paris and traveled from there via Spain to Morocco together with the jewelry designer Merry Renk. An account of the journey is available here: (21 July 2018, with thanks to Kathleen Mangan of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation). Trips to Greece and the Middle East (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt) followed in 1956.
  • 14 There are at least two other versions of Lekythos. One of these, not discussed here, features three widely spaced horizontal lines of gauze weaving.
  • 15 Raoul d’Harcourt: Textiles of Ancient Peru and Their Techniques, University of Washington Press, Seattle/London 1962; Junius Birds & Luisa Bellinger: Paracas Fabrics and Nazca Needlework, National Publishing Company, Washington 1954.
  • 16 Cf. Harcourt 1962, p. 44–49, plates 29–31.
  • 17 Junius Bird and Louisa Bellinger: Paracas Fabrics and Nazca Needlework, 1954, plates XIII–XV, XXXIC, CI, CXXIV.
  • 18 Tawney cit. in Ann Wilson: “Lenore Tawney. Reflections on a State of Being,” 15 pages with appendix, n. y., p. 4.
  • 19 Jacoby studied in Dresden-Hellerau and between 1924 and 1933 was also in close contact with the Bauhaus.
  • 20 Cf. Judith Snodgrass: Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West. Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2003; Richard King: “Orientalism, South Asia, and the Discourse of World Religions”, in: Alexandra Munroe: The Third Mind. American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989, exhibition catalogue, New York: Guggenheim Museum 2009, p. 35–43.
  • 21 Based on Edward Said’s orientalism concept, Asianism is described by Spakowski and Frey as the handed-down and stereotypical distillation of apparently genuine Asiatic thinking. Cf. Mona Schieren: Transkulturelle Übersetzung im Werk von Agnes Martin. Zur Konstruktion asianistischer Ästhetiken in der amerikanischen Kunst nach 1945, Verlag Silke Schreiber, Munich 2016, pp. 15, 32–53.
  • 22 Paul Cummings: “Lenore Tawney: Oral history interview with Lenore Tawney,” 23 June 1971, in: Archives of American Art, transcript, 32 pages (21 July 2018), p. 2, 5. She read these texts in full while grieving the death of her second husband, who fell ill and died in 1943. She describes this reading material as crucial in shaping her subsequent vision of the world. Tawney brought these books with her when she moved to New York. Featuring many notes and extensively underlined, they are now included in her estate.
  • 23 Svami Vivekananda: “Inana-Yoga,” in: Svami Vivekananda: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 2, Inana-Yoga, Chapter 9: Unity in Diversity (15 October 2018).
  • 24 “In teaching I make my students realize the necessity of applying the psychological process for the discovery of creative reactions within themselves before they make the form which should contain creative power. This is a fundamental knowledge that vitalizes the work of art.” Cit. Archipenko in:
  • 25 Only a few of the early sculptural works that Tawney made in the 1940s during her training at the Bauhaus still exist. Dissatisfied with their quality, she smashed most of them on her basement steps (cf. Tawney, cit. in: Munro 2000, p. 327.)
  • 26 Archipenko refers specifically to these lines in: Alexander Archipenko: Archipenko Fifty Creative Years. 1908–1958, New York 1960, p. 56.
  • 27 Witter Bynner: The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu (1944), TarcherPerigee Books, New York 1986, p. 39. Tawney‘s friend Agnes Martin was likewise interested in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and frequently gifted this American translation to her friends.
  • 28 Cf. Schieren: Transkulturelle Übersetzung im Werk von Agnes Martin, p. 21.
  • 29 Cf. Joyce Suechun Cheng: “Primitivismen,” in: exhibition catalogue Anselm Franke & Tom Holert: Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, ca. 1930, Haus der Kulturen der Welt/Diaphanes, Zurich/Berlin 2018, p. 186–187; for the critical use of the term “primitivism” cf. Kea Wienand: Nach dem Primitivismus?, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2015.
  • 30 Cf. Tawney, cit. according to Wilson, on Dark River (detail), n. p.
  • 31 This was discussed previously in this online journal by Elissa Auther in her essay “Andean Weaving and the Appropriation of the Ancient Past in Modern Fiber Art”. Further insight may be found in Tawney’s literary estate in: Joseph H. Wherry: Indian Masks and Myth the West, New York 1969. My gratitude to Briony Fer for pointing out that materials or artefacts described by the weavers as “pre-Columbian” do not necessarily date back ca. 500 years and the term tends instead to be used to denote the way in which they are made or the materials used.
  • 32 The fact that in (press) photographs Tawney is often placed in her live-in studio among her artworks creates a close connection between artist and artwork, and space for thought and work, in part comparable with portraits of Eva Hesse. With regard to my critical analysis of photographs of Tawney in her live-in studio and the treatment of the mythologized studio space, see in the forthcoming volume: Mona Schieren: “Raumkunst denken – Lenore Tawneys fiber art. Das In-Beziehung-Setzen von Kunst und Künstlerin auf Fotografien ihrer Wohnateliers”, in: Katharina Eck et al. (ed.): Wohn/Raum/Denken. Politiken des Häuslichen in Kunst, Architektur und visueller Kultur, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2019.
  • 33 “They came into being while I did them. I did all that work in six months, working all the time, January until June ... They just poured out like a fountain or a river. In fact, I did one piece called Dark River” (Tawney, cit. in Munro 2000, p. 330). T’ai Smith describes the Hangings as “ghostlike” (T’ai Smith: “Lenore Tawney: Asymmetries,” pp. 25 –32, 25, in: exhibition catalogue Lenore Tawney: Wholly unlooked for, 2013).
  • 34 Anne Röhl: “Weaving”, in: Anika Reinke et al.: Textile Terms: A Glossary, Edition Imorde, Emsdetten/Berlin 2017, pp. 299–302, here 300.
  • 35 “Teko Porã. On Art and Life” by the philosopher Cristine Takuá in this online journal.
  • 36 Tawney cit. after Wilson, p. 2.
  • 37 Erich Neumann followed the concept of Nut as sky and goddess of fate in his book The Great Mother. An Analysis of the Archetype (Princeton University Press, Princeton 1955)—one of the many books that Lenore Tawney consulted.
  • 38 Tawney cit. after Wilson, on Dark River, n. p. Cf. also her interpretation of the Hangings as connections between heaven and earth. Elsewhere she writes: “When I looked at my ‘River’ it looked to me like the river. The changing ways, the current, the surface.” (Tawney cit. after Wilson, on Dark River, p. 1.)
  • 39 Moholy-Nagy only taught Tawney in November 1946, shortly before his death, but his pedagogical ideas appear to have made a great impression on her. She frequently invoked examples from the drawing and typography course that she took with Moholy-Nagy, in which he advocated starting from the “inner self” in order to get into the flow of work. Cf. Munro 2000, p. 326; Cummings 1971, p. 2.
  • 40 This may be why Tawney suggested a Hanging for Charlotte Selver’s studio (cf. Selver and Tawney correspondence) and accepted commissions for public spaces from 1977 with the Cloud Series.
  • 41 Cf. texts such as László Moholy-Nagy: The New Vision, Wittenborn, Schultz, New York 1947 and ibid.: Vision in Motion, Paul Theobald, The Wisconsin Cuneo Press, Chicago 1947.
  • 42 Cf. note from a session directed by Selver: (5 November 2018). For a more detailed analysis of Tawney’s relationship to Selver’s bodywork, see: Mona Schieren, “Transcultural Entanglements. Lenore Tawney’s Fiber Art”, in: Burcu Dogramaci (ed.): Textile Moderne/Textile Modernism, Böhlau Verlag, Cologne/Vienna 2019.
  • 43 Tawney, cit. in exhibition catalogue Tawney, 1990, p. 134. Tawney also stated that her encounter with Max Bill during her 1969 exhibition in Zurich was formative.
  • 44 Her process relies on the logic of “if I want it and focus on it, then the social myth gains social reality”.
  • 45 Cf. “Teko Porã. On Art and Life” by the philosopher Cristine Takuá in this online journal.
  • 46 Édouard Glissant: Poetics of Relation, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1977, p. 193, (, retrieved 9 October 2018).
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