Born as Leonora Agnes Gallagher in Lorain, Ohio, 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. She studied with Moholy-Nagy, cubist sculptor Alexander Archipenko and abstract expressionist painter Emerson Woelffer, among others, and in 1949, she studied weaving with Marli Ehrman.
In 1957, she moved to New York City, where she became associated with a generation of artists including Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin and Jack Youngerman. Since then, Tawney lived and worked mainly in New York City, where she died, aged 100. “The first hundred years,” she said with a smile on her hundredth birthday, “were the hardest.”
Widely known in the New York art world and beyond, she was the veteran of more than two dozen solo exhibitions in leading galleries and museums and she participated in dozens of important group exhibitions. The American Craft Museum (New York City), the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase, New York), the Renwick Gallery (Washington, D.C.), and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam are among the public collections holding work by Lenore Tawney. Lenore Tawney: A Retrospective: American Craft Museum was published in 1990 by Rizzoli, and Lenore Tawney: Signs on the Wind, Postcard Collages was published by Pomegranate in 2002.
Lenore Tawney began weaving in 1954. Her early tapestries combined traditional with experimental, using an ancient Peruvian gauze weave technique and inlayed colorful yarns to create a painterly effect that appeared to float in space. Because of her unorthodox weaving methods, Tawney was spurned by both the craft and art worlds, but her distinct style attracted many devoted admirers. 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.
Furthering her experimentation, Tawney began creating what she called “woven forms”. These totem-like sculptural weavings abandoned the rectangular format of traditional tapestries, and were suspended from the ceiling off the wall. She sometimes incorporated found objects such as feathers and shells into these pieces.
Beginning in 1964 Lenore Tawney began a series of linear drawings using ink on graphing paper. This eight piece collection would go on to inspire the 1990s 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.
In conjunction with her drawing series Tawney began a number of collage works. The artist utilized antique book pages, envelopes, and postcards as a working surface to which she liberally applied imagery, text, and drawing. These works contained a variety of messages, some secret to humorous messages. The artist sent collages to friends and eventually created a series of collage books along with other items.
In 1964 Lenore Tawney began creating mixed media assemblages of small found objects including feathers, twigs, pebbles, string, bones, wood, and pages from rare books. 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. Her assemblage Crow Woman from 1993, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, demonstrates the artist's delicate spiritual approach.
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- "Collage - Lenore G. Tawney Foundation". \lenoretawney.org. Lenore G. Tawney Foundation. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
- "Assemblage". Lenore G. Tawney Foundation. Retrieved 5 March 2016.