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The Landscape Tapestries of Louise Nevelson, 1972-1997

An illustrated presentation at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” the 12th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, in Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. The abstract is reprinted below.

This presentation examines the varied negotiations involved in creating a series of modern tapestries designed by American sculptor/collagist Louise Nevelson, woven at Dovecot Studios of Edinburgh Tapestry Company in Scotland, and orchestrated by Gloria Ross, a New York tapestry éditeur (in a role paralleling that of film producer).  Information comes from unpublished letters, sketches, photographs, and other materials in the Archives of American Art.  Voices include those of artist, weavers, producer, galleries, museums, critics, and collectors. In keeping with conference themes, this paper explores old techniques and materials used in innovative ways, in the service of both technology and nature.

Nevelson’s tapestry, “Sky Cathedral,” was produced after an original lead-intaglio collage in 1972. “Sky Cathedral II” followed, woven in a traditional edition of seven in 1974-1977. Thereafter Nevelson wished to produce only tapestries that were “uniques” as she called them. Woven from torn paper collages under Archie Brennan’s direction at Dovecot, each tapestry became a textural and layered tour de force. Between 1979 and 1997 seven singular textiles resulted—most named evocatively for landscapes—“Desert” (MFA-Boston) “Dusk in the Desert,” “Landscape,” “Mirror Desert,” “Night Mountain,” “Reflection,” and “The Late, Late Moon.” Their imagery and complex structure reflect both artist’s and weavers’ respective histories, moderated by informed intermediaries. After placing modern art tapestry in perspective, this paper will describe each work and its production in wool, cotton, linen, mylar, and metallic threads.  Ultimately, issues of authorship and artistic identity will be discussed in the context of collaborative art-textile projects.

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