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About the cover

Cover image: Detail, Conrad Marca-Relli, “after Multiple Image,” 1975-90, woven by Atelier Pinton. (c) Archivio Marca-Relli, Parma/Estate of Gloria F. Ross. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Cover of GFR & Modern TapestrySelecting the perfect cover image from over one hundred possible textiles (and more, if you consider combinations, details and so forth) presented some interesting challenges. These trials echo the issues faced by Gloria Ross herself in creating her tapestries in the first place. Issues of properly presenting works of art, translating the imagery into other media, excerpting or otherwise modifying those designs, honoring copyrights and, ultimately, asserting and reinforcing artistic identity in a collaborative context–all represent powerful subjects raised by this body of work.

There were certain parameters for a cover image from the beginning. It had to be hand woven tapestry and not a hooked rug, as tapestries dominate the assemblage and the stories in the book.  We also had to have an excellent quality photograph that could be appropriately enlarged.

Early on, we had a preliminary cover that showed a portion of the tapestry “Reflection Pond,” woven at Atelier Pinton in France from a maquette by Romare Bearden. The trustees of the GFR Center for Tapestry Studies were unanimous in vetoing this plan, because they felt a figurative work presented an exception to Gloria Ross’s repertoire, the majority of which were abstract works. They also felt that showing an African-American painter’s work on the cover would mislead readers into thinking the artists were more diverse than they are. I personally objected to the choice of imagery because the nude figure, when shown magnified and out of context didn’t represent the book’s overall flavor.

Designer Jeff Wincapaw  then proposed an abstraction from the splendid “splash” made after “Black Disc on Tan,” a painting by Adolph Gottlieb, woven by the Dovecot Studios under Archie Brennan’s direction. We were swiftly informed that the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation does not permit excerpting of any Gottlieb image nor do they allow printing of text over an image. Next, a detail from a Robert Motherwell-designed tapestry also woven at Dovecot was selected and we learned that Motherwell’s Dedalus Foundation applies the same restrictions. For both these artists, now dead and not available to defend their own works, these strictures make sense to me, although I hadn’t seem them coming. After all, both men represented seminal thinking about abstract expressionism in which the visual impact of individual art works in their entirety was paramount. Using such imagery in a decorative fashion or as background is essentially anathema to their long-term professional goals.

After careful consideration and numerous mockups using other works, a closeup of a tapestry woven by Janet Kennedy  after an extant painting, “This Day,” by Helen Frankenthaler was selected. Because of the artist’s close relationship to the editeur–they were sisters after all, the artist and her staff gave provisional approval, pending a final color printout. I loved the image because of its nubby woven texture, abstract nature and deep hues. The marketing team at Yale University Press, however, considered the choice “weak,” because the cover design would appear in small format on printed and online catalogues, in black-and-white as well as color. No matter how luscious the actual printed book jacket would appear (and how wonderful the actual tapestry is!), it wouldn’t stand out in sales brochures or on bookstore shelves–another understandable rejection.

Jeff the designer and I once again sought a suitable image from our photo files. He suggested a detail from Atelier Pinton’s superb rendering of a Conrad Marca-Relli collage, “Multiple Image.” At what seemed like the final hour for transatlantic negotiations, Marco Niccoli of the Marca-Relli Foundation in Parma, Italy, generously approved use of the late artist’s work. Also at the last moment, Minneapolis Institute of Arts expeditiously provided a superb photograph. The tapestry’s  wool and silk-like synthetic yarns glow; the varied textures and interlacings of the weave express much. All parties agreed that the results were striking. Let us know what you think!

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