Lenore Tawney

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Lenore Tawney
Lenore Tawney, 1959
Leonora Agnes Gallagher

(1907-05-10)May 10, 1907
Lorain, Ohio
DiedSeptember 24, 2007(2007-09-24) (aged 100)
New York, New York
Known forFiber art, collage, assemblage, drawing
George Tawney
(m. 1941; died in 1943)

Lenore Tawney (born Leonora Agnes Gallagher; May 10, 1907 – September 24, 2007) was an American artist working in fiber art, collage, assemblage, and drawing.[1][2][3] She is considered to be a groundbreaking artist for the elevation of craft processes to fine art status, two communities which were previously mutually exclusive.[4][5] Tawney was born and raised in an Irish-American family in Lorain, Ohio near Cleveland and later moved to Chicago to start her career.[2] In the 1940's and 50's, she studied art at several different institutions[1][3] and perfected her craft as a weaver.[2] In 1957, she moved to New York[1][3][2] where she maintained a highly successful career into the 1960's.[3][6] In the 1970's Tawney focused increasingly on her spirituality,[3] but continued to make work until her death.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Tawney was one of five children born in Lorain, Ohio to Irish mother Sarah Jennings and Irish-American father William Gallagher.[2][7] In 1927, she left home at age 20 to move to Chicago, where she worked as a proofreader for a publisher of court opinions.[2] She worked hard and eventually became head of the department.[3] Tawney worked in Chicago for 15 years while taking night courses at the Art Institute of Chicago (now School of the Art Institute of Chicago).[8][2][6]

While living in Chicago, she met George Tawney, a young psychologist,[7] through friends.[2] In 1941 the two married, but 18 months later George passed away suddenly.[2][7] His untimely death provided her with the means to pursue her creative work without financial constraints.[3] After he passed, she moved to Urbana, Illinois to be near his family and enrolled at the University of Illinois to study art therapy from 1943-1945.[9][10] Tawney's introduction to the tenets of the German Bauhaus school and the artistic avant-garde began in 1946 when she attended László Moholy-Nagy's Chicago Institute of Design.[9][11][7] There she studied with cubist sculptor Alexander Archipenko and abstract expressionist painter Emerson Woelffer, among others, and in 1949, she studied weaving with Bauhaus alumna Marli Ehrman.[12][13][11][7] While studying with Alexander Archipenko, she was invited to work and study at his studio in Woodstock, New York in the summer of 1947.[3][2][9] There she worked in clay creating abstract, figurative forms. However, Tawney found the work all-consuming and exhausting and wasn't ready to commit fully to the work of being an artist. She returned to Chicago and destroyed most of her work from this period,[2] which she felt was derivative and not true to her own artistic vision.[3]



At the Chicago Institute of Design and in her previous studies, Tawney focused in the areas of sculpture and drawing.[9] In 1948, Tawney bought her first loom, at age 41 and began learning how to weave.[6][2] From 1949 to 1951, Tawney lived in Paris and traveled extensively throughout North Africa and Europe.[11][2] She returned to the United States and in 1954 she studied with the Finnish weaver Martta Taipale at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.[1][10][14][9][7][15] Soon after, she began experimenting with new fiber techniques and color palettes in her weaving and creating her own designs.[10][2][11][3] In 1955, she started creating her signature open-warp weavings that featured plain weave, laid-in designs, and large areas of unwoven warp, which utilized negative space as a visual element.[2] A year later, her work was part of the exhibition Craftsmanship in a Changing World at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the Museum of Arts and Design) in New York. This was the first time she was involved in a show at an important national institution alongside other visionaries in contemporary fiber art.[3]

Because of her unorthodox weaving methods, Tawney was spurned by both the craft and art worlds, but her distinct style attracted many devoted admirers.[7] Beginning in 1955, Tawney's work became more widely known and consequently, more widely criticized and discussed.[15] In 1957, her friend Margo Hoff wrote the first critical assessment of her work in an article titled, Lenore Tawney: the warp is her canvas for the magazine Craft Horizons.[2][3][15] In this article, Tawney reflected that painters liked her work, whereas weavers tended to reject it.[15] Tawney's open-warp weavings were controversial and disrupted longstanding historical traditions and techniques in weaving.[15][2] Her disruptions signified the beginning of an era of change in the fiber world.[2]


In November 1957, Tawney demonstrated her commitment to her work and career by moving to New York City, the center of the modern art world.[1][2][3] She settled in the Coenties Slip, where there was an established colony of well-known modern artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin and Jack Youngerman.[1][2][3][7][14] The artist would develop a close friendship and artistic relationship with Agnes Martin,[2] who would write the essay for Tawney's first solo exhibition at the Staten Island Museum.[7] After eight months, Tawney began leasing three floors of a former sailmaker's loft which had a top floor with a high cathedral ceiling to accommodate her growing textile pieces.[2][3]

In 1961, Tawney's first solo exhibition, which included forty weavings she had produced since 1955, opened at the Staten Island Museum[1][2]. This exhibition was the first public display of the artist's new open-warp hangings.[1] In 1961, Tawney studied the Peruvian gauze weave technique with fiber artist Lili Blumenau[3][2] and pioneered an "open reed" for her loom in order to produce more mutable woven forms.[3] The open reed allowed for warps to be looser and easily manipulated by hand to accommodate Tawney's new visions.[1][9] Her early tapestries combined traditional with experimental, using the Peruvian gauze weave technique and inlayed colorful yarns to create a painterly effect that appeared to float in space. During this same time, Tawney began working on her well-known Woven Forms series. The Woven Forms were monumental hanging weavings, displayed away from the wall and incorporating negative space.[1] These totem-like sculptural weavings abandoned the rectangular format of traditional tapestries and sometimes included found objects such as feathers and shells.[16] While working on this series, Tawney's color palette transitioned to blacks, whites, and neutrals.[2][3] The pieces in the Woven Forms series were increasingly large, with the tallest measuring 27 feet tall.[6][3][9] Two years later, in 1963, the exhibition Woven Forms at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the Museum of Arts and Design) was organized around her series of the same name.[1][9][11][2] This was the first major exhibition to display the range of new experimentation happening in the fiber discipline and 22 of the 43 pieces were Tawney's.[2][3]

From 1964-1965 the artist began creating work in drawing, collage, and assemblage. In the Summer of 1964, Tawney saw a Jacquard loom when she visited a label factory in New Jersey.[2] She was interested in how the threads above the loom moved and this experience inspired a series of ink drawings on graph paper.[3][9] This eight-piece series would later inspire the 1990's series, Drawings in Air, a three dimensional study of lines as threads in space. Tawney suspends threads in space with the help of plexiglass and wood framing. The Drawings in Air series used plexiglass boxes with holes drilled in them to support geometric "drawing" with thread.[11] The threads were again based on the jacquard loom warp tie up that had first caught her eye in 1964.[11]

In 1965, Tawney began to create work in collage and assemblage.[9][11] Tawney's collages ranged from postcards, books, three-dimensional drawer cases, and completely fabricated chairs. She also experimented with applying collage to woven works.[2] There is overlap between her collage and assemblage pieces since her assemblage often includes collage. The physical elements Tawney collaged with included rare book pages in different languages, photographs, cutouts from newspapers and magazines, cosmological charts, tantric symbols, illustrations from art history books and nature guides, musical scores, and her own drawing and handwriting.[7] Her collages contained a variety of messages from secret to humorous.[citation needed]

An example of the artist's prolific collage work are the postcard collages she sent to family and friends.[7][6] She began creating postcard collages in the 1960's when she was moving studios frequently and traveling internationally.[9] Some of her collages were created and sent during her travels, as evidenced by international stamps.[7] These small collages on standard sized postcards are an early example of mail art.[3] The artist enjoyed how the application of the postmark dated the work and offered a random addition to the piece.[3][7] Many examples of these postcard collages are included in the archival collections of artists like Toshiko Takaezu, Maryette Charlton, and Lillian Kiesler in the Archives of American Art.[17][18][19]

Tawney made assemblages in a variety of forms from sculptures to box constructions, and chests.[2] The artist's mixed media assemblages incorporate small found objects including feathers, twigs, pebbles, string, bones, wood, and eggshells.[2] These delicate, poetic pieces were often spiritual in nature, containing elusive messages about finding inner peace and the fragility of life. She continued to collect and assemble these pieces until her death in 2007. Although Tawney is known primarily for her contributions to fiber art, her collage and assemblage portfolios are extensive and impressive. Tawney's postcard collages and assemblage constructions filled up two entire exhibitions without textile pieces at the Willard Gallery in 1967 and 1970.[9]


In the 1970s, interest in contemporary fiber artwork waned and Tawney's career lost some of its momentum.[3] During this period, the artist became increasingly dedicated to her spirituality and the rate that she was previously producing work declined.[3][6] However, she continued to create collages and assemblages and her weaving evolved and progressed. Her weavings from the mid seventies were large scale, monochromatic, and frequently had slits. In stark contrast to her earlier open-warp works, these pieces were tightly woven and dense.[3] In her work in the 1970's, the circle within a square was a device that was repeated as a symbol of unity.[2][3][9] The cross was also a repeated symbol in her work that represented the meeting of opposites.[2]

In 1977, Tawney created the first piece in her monumental Clouds series.[1][3][20] The artist was commissioned to create a piece for the Federal Building in Santa Rosa, California. There was currently a drought in California and Tawney was inspired to make a cloud. The cloud was made of a canvas support that had thousands of linen threads tied and cascading down into space. The canvas was then attached to a grid structure above.[2][3][9] This first piece, "Cloud Series IV" was completed and dedicated in 1978.[2] Tawney continued to create works in this series until 1983.[1][3] The cloud series were often grand public commissions, but were also sometimes displayed in smaller gallery spaces.[3]

From the late 1950s up until her death in 2007, Tawney lived and worked mainly in New York City, traveling abroad frequently. In her 90's, her vision began to gradually fail, but she continued to make art with the aid of an assistant.[6] In 1989, the artist established the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, which she endowed her artistic and financial resources to.[21] She created the foundation with the goals of making the visual arts more accessible and to create opportunities for emerging artists.[21] The Lenore G. Tawney Foundation is represented by the gallery, Alison Jacques.[22] "The first hundred years", she said with a smile on her hundredth birthday, "were the hardest."[23]

Crow Woman by Lenore Tawney (1993), Honolulu Museum of Art


Solo exhibitions[edit]

  • Lenore Tawney, 1961, Staten Island Museum, New York, text by James Coggin and Agnes Martin.
  • Lenore Tawney, 1975, California State University, Fullerton, text by Dextra Frankel, Bernard Kester, and Katharine Kuh.
  • Lenore Tawney: A Personal World, 1978, Brookfield Craft Center, Connecticut, preface and interview with Lenore Tawney by Jean d'Autilia.
  • Lenore Tawney, 1979, New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, text by Katharine Kuh and Leah P. Sloshberg.
  • Lenore Tawney: A Retrospective, 1990, American Craft Museum and Rizzoli International Publications, New York, edited by Kathleen Nugent Mangan, foreword by Katharine Kuh, text by Erika Billeter, Kathleen Nugent Mangan, and Paul J. Smith.
  • Lenore Tawney, 1996, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, foreword by Rudi Fuchs, text by Liesbeth Crommelin and Kathleen Nugent Mangan.
  • Lenore Tawney–Meditations: Assemblages, Collages, and Weavings, 1997, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, text by Judith E. Stein.
  • Vestures of Water: The Work of Lenore Tawney, 1997, Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania, text by Kathleen Nugent Mangan.
  • Lenore Tawney: Celebrating Five Decades of Work, 2000, browngrotta arts, Wilton, Connecticut, foreword by Kathleen Nugent Mangan, text by Sigrid Wortmann Weltge, notes by Lenore Tawney.
  • Lenore Tawney: Drawings in Air, 2007, browngrotta arts, Wilton, Connecticut, text by Kathleen Nugent Mangan.
  • Lenore Tawney: Wholly Unlooked For, 2013, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland and University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, foreword by Kathleen Nugent Mangan, text by Sid Sachs, Warren Seelig, and T'ai Smith.
  • Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe, 2019, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, text by Karen Patterson, Kathleen Nugent Mangan, Glenn Adamson, Mary Savig, Shannon R. Stratton, and Florica Zaharia.
  • Lenore Tawney: Part One, 2021, Alison Jacques, London.
  • Lenore Tawney: Part Two, 2021, Alison Jacques, London.

Group exhibitions[edit]

  • Woven Forms, 1963, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, introduction by Paul J. Smith, text by Ann Wilson.
  • Wall Hangings, 1969, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, introduction by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen.
  • Nine Artists/Coenties Slip, 1974, Whitney Museum of American Art Downtown Branch, New York.
  • Fiberworks, 1977, Cleveland Museum of Art, foreword by Sherman E. Lee, preface by Edward B. Henning, text by Evelyn Svec Ward.
  • Weich und Plastich: Soft-Art, 1979, Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland, foreword by Erika Billeter, text by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Erika Billeter, Mildred Constantine, Richard Paul Lohse, Willy Rotzler, and André Thomkins.
  • Tracking the Marvelous, 1981, Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University, text by John Bernard Myers.
  • Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical, 1986, American Craft Council, New York, New York, text by Paul J. Smith and Edward Lucie-Smith.
  • Fiber R/Evolution, 1986, Milwaukee Art Museum and University Art Museum, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, foreword by Jane Fassett Brite and Jean Stamsta, and John Perreault.
  • The Eloquent Object, 1987, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, edited by Marcia Manhart and Tom Manhart, text by George L. Aguirre, Jonathan L. Fairbanks, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, Mary Jane Jacob, –Horace Freeland Judson, Ronda Kasl, Lucy L. Lippard, Marcia Manhart and Tom Manhart, John Perreault, Rose Slivka, and Edwin L. Wade.
  • Fiber Concepts, 1989, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, Arizona, text by Lucinda H. Gedeon.
  • Revered Earth, 1990, Center for Contemporary Arts of Santa Fe, preface by Robert B. Gaylor, text by Diane Armitage, Suzi Gablik, Robert B. Gaylor, Dominique GW Mazeaud, and Melinda Wortz.
  • Abstraction: The Amerindian Paradigm, 2001, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels in association with IVAM (Institut Valencià d'Art Modern), Valencia, text by Mary Frame, Lucy Lippard, Cecilia de Torres, César Paternosto, and Ferdinán Valentín.
  • Generations/Transformations: American Fiber Art, 2003, American Textile History Museum, Lowell, Massachusetts.
  • Circa 1958: Breaking Ground in American Art, 2008, Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, foreword by Emily Kass, text by Roni Feinstein.
  • Messages & Magic, 100 Years of Collage and Assemblage in American Art, 2008, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, text by Leslie Umberger.
  • Retro/Prospective: 25+ Years of Art Textiles and Sculpture, 2012, browngrotta arts, Wilton, Connecticut, text by Lesley Millar, and Jo Ann C. Stabb.
  • Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists, 2013, online catalogue: © Fifth Floor Foundation
  • Art & Textiles: Fabric as Material and Concept in Modern Art from Klimt to the Present, 2013, Kunstmuseum Wolfsurg, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern and authors, edited by Markus Brüderlin.
  • Thread Lines, 2014, The Drawing Center, New York, New York, text by Joanna Kleinberg Romanow.
  • Fiber: Sculpture 1960–Present, 2014, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston and Prestel Verlag, Munich, London, New York, edited by Jenelle Porter, text by Glenn Adamson, Sarah Parrish, Jenelle Porter, and T'ai Smith.
  • Influence and Evolution: Fiber Sculpture…then and now, 2015, browngrotta arts, Wilton, Connecticut, edited by Rhonda Brown, text by Ezra Shales.[24]

Public collections[edit]

  • Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL[25][22]
  • Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY[25][22]
  • Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH[25][22]
  • Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, New York, NY[25][22]
  • Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, HI[25][22]
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY[25][22]
  • Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN[25][22]
  • Musée des Arts Decoratifs de Montréal, Montréal, Canada[25][22]
  • Museum Bellerive, Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich, Switzerland[25][22]
  • Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY[25][22]
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY[25][22]
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA[25][22]
  • Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.[25][22]
  • Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands[25][22]
  • Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY[25][22]
  • Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT[25][22]
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY[25][22]

Public commissions[edit]

  • 1957, North Shore Shopping Center, Marshall Fields and Company, Chicago, IL.[2][9][15]
  • Nativity in Nature, 1960, Chapel of the Inter-Church Center, New York, NY.[2][9][3][22]
  • Ark Veil, 1963, Congregation Solel, Highlands Park, IL.[2][9][22]
  • Cloud Series IV, 1978, Santa Rosa Federal Building, Santa Rosa, CA.[2][22]
  • Cloud Series VI, 1981, Frank J. Lausche State Office Building, Cleveland, OH.[2][22]
  • Cloud Series VII, 1983, Western Connecticut State University, Danbury, CT.[2][22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Fiber : sculpture 1960-present. Glenn Adamson, Jenelle Porter, Institute of Contemporary Art, Wexner Center for the Arts, Des Moines Art Center. Munich. 2014. ISBN 978-3-7913-5382-1. OCLC 878667652.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao Tawney, Lenore (1990). Lenore Tawney : a retrospective : American Craft Museum, New York. Kathleen Nugent Mangan, George Erml, American Craft Museum. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 0-8478-1168-9. OCLC 20827741.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af Lenore Tawney : mirror of the universe. Karen Patterson, Lenore Tawney, John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Sheboygan, Wisconsin. 2019. ISBN 978-0-226-66483-5. OCLC 1085594326.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ "Lenore Tawney (1907-2007)". Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  5. ^ Gipson, Ferren (2022). Women's work: from feminine arts to feminist art. London: Frances Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-7112-6465-6.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Lenore Tawney". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Tawney, Lenore (2002). Lenore Tawney : signs on the wind--postcard collages. Holland Cotter. San Francisco, Calif.: Pomegranate. ISBN 0-7649-2130-4. OCLC 49525899.
  8. ^ Reif, Rita (November 26, 1995). "Artistry and Invention Seamlessly Joined". The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q California State University, Fullerton. Main Art Gallery (1975). Lenore Tawney : an exhibition of weaving, collage, assemblage : Art Gallery, California State University, Fullerton, November 14th to December 11th, 1975. Fullerton: Art Gallery, California State University, Fullerton. pp. 5–50.
  10. ^ a b c Lenore Tawney: A Retrospective. New York: Rizzoli. 1990. p. 17. ISBN 0-8478-1168-9.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Tawney, Lenore (2000). Lenore Tawney : celebrating five decades of work. Sigrid Weltge-Wortmann, Browngrotta Arts. [Wilton, CT]: Browngrotta arts. ISBN 1-930230-28-1. OCLC 47077258.
  12. ^ Cotter, Holland (September 28, 2007). "Lenore Tawney, an Innovator in Weaving, Dies at 100". The New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  13. ^ California State University, Fullerton. Main Art Gallery (1975). Lenore Tawney : an exhibition of weaving, collage, assemblage : Art Gallery, California State University, Fullerton, November 14th to December 11th, 1975. Fullerton: Art Gallery, California State University, Fullerton. pp. 5–50.
  14. ^ a b Great women artists. Rebecca Morrill, Karen, November 15- Wright, Louisa Elderton. London. 2019. ISBN 978-0-7148-7877-5. OCLC 1099690505.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  15. ^ a b c d e f Hoff, Margo (November 1957). "Lenore Tawney: the warp is her canvas". Craft Horizons. 17 (6): 14–19.
  16. ^ Adamson, Jeremy. "Lenore Tawney". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  17. ^ "Toshiko Takaezu papers, circa 1925-circa 2010". Archives of American Art. 4 May 2023. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  18. ^ "Maryette Charlton papers, circa 1890-2013". Archives of American Art. 4 May 2023. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  19. ^ "Lillian and Frederick Kiesler papers, circa 1910s-2003, bulk 1958-2000". Archives of American Art. 4 May 2023. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  20. ^ "American Craft Council 1987 Gold Medal to Lenore Tawney [pamphlet]". 1987.
  21. ^ a b "The Foundation". Lenore G. Tawney Foundation. Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "Lenore Tawney". Alison Jacques. Retrieved 2023-04-18.
  23. ^ Nugent Mangan, Kathleen. "Remembering Lenore Tawney profile". NY Arts Magazine. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  24. ^ "Resources". Lenore G. Tawney Foundation. Retrieved March 4, 2017.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Lenore Tawney Curriculum Vitae". The Landing. 30 April 2023. Retrieved 30 April 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]