Thursday, January 17, 2013

A call to action for tapestry artists.

Foreground piece is Tara by Michael Rohde
***Update added 1/18/13 at 5pm ET. This note is from the ATA's Chair of Exhibitions: 
As you may have learned, through a misunderstanding with the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, they had initially only installed part of the ATB9 exhibition. Michael Rohde has spoken with the Museum Executive Director, who has promised to begin next week the installation of the rest of the tapestries. ATA regrets the situation, but feels that the Museum is doing its best to rectify the omission.

Please, if you have any questions or concerns, do not contact the Musuem, but send your questions to

I am in Fort Wayne, Indiana today to see the American Tapestry Biennial 9 at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. I was excited about this trip. It is no small thing to get here from rural Colorado.

I flew into Detroit, drove the 3 hours to Fort Wayne, located the beautiful downtown museum, and was greeted warmly by the museum staff. I walked into the gallery indicated by the docent and immediately knew there was something wrong. There weren't enough tapestries. I counted 25 and then reviewed the images in my mind of the tapestries I expected to see from the catalog. There was no Barbara Heller or Nancy Jackson or Archie Brenan or Dorothy Clews to be found. I checked around all the corners. I went to the gift shop and looked at the catalog again just to make sure I wasn't making up tapestries that were supposed to be there. Nope, they weren't hanging.

I was able to talk to the curator of the show and executive director of the museum, Charles Shepard, about what happened to the other tapestries, the purpose and structure of the American Tapestry Alliance, and some about what tapestry is all about. There was certainly an error somewhere with communication about the running feet needed for this show. Whose fault it was is not important at this point. What is important is that almost half of the glorious tapestries are rolled up in a room somewhere and I couldn't see them.

In my mind, what matters most is what came next in our conversation. The museum is interested in showing work in many different mediums and it seems that all they really understood about tapestry was that it is a fiber medium. They didn't really understand what tapestry was and through research of past biennials on the ATA website, didn't fully comprehend how large tapestries can be. When they got the work and realized it was a show of "fiber paintings" some of which were huge, they realized they didn't have a big enough space reserved. So after a lot of shuffling, they chose the pieces that are currently hanging.

I was grateful to get to speak with Mr. Shepard and extremely happy that he accepted this show for his gallery. I appreciate his successful efforts at choosing a cohesive group of tapestries from the juried tapestries sent to him and for hanging them so beautifully. I hope that the Fort Wayne Museum of Art hosts another ATA biennial one day soon. Their facility is fantastic and they are open to showing fiber work. They certainly have enough space for an entire biennial, they just didn't have enough of it reserved for this show.

What I am disturbed by is that the museum didn't completely understand what tapestry was. Did you get that? An art museum didn't understand what our medium is. This is very bad news for tapestry artists. We have a long way to go if we want to be considered fine art. And how are we going to have our art seen if it isn't considered fine art? If I spend my life energy creating images that attempt to communicate something to the world outside my head, then I want my images seen. I hope that other tapestry artists also feel this way.

I am discouraged by how few fiber artists seem to want to engage in dialog on this matter. Yes, it is easier to hide in our studios and weave, but tapestry will remain an antiquated medium remembered as something for decorating medieval castles and not a contemporary fine art form if we don't talk about it.

Let's start now. Leave your thoughts in the comments. Go to the ATA forums and participate. Use the power of social media and the internet. Talk to people in your various art communities. Pay attention to international tapestry work. Submit your work to shows and tell people what tapestry is. Go to public places and demonstrate tapestry weaving. Show your work wherever you can. Do it.

Here is the list of the tapestries that are not hanging in Fort Wayne. You can see the others at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art until February 21st.
Deann Rubin, Draw/#2 Pencil
Mary Kester, Broken Lintel
Myla Collier, Urban Forest
Janet Austin, On the Edge of Chaos
Erica Lynn Diazoni, Psyche
Bozena Pychova, Blue Prelludium
Nancy Jackson, Lakota Creation Myth II
Kathy Spoering, August
Joanne Sanburg, Bebe
Suzanne Pretty, Road Construction in Detail
Archie Brennan, Partial Portrait-AB-Once Upon a Summer
Barbara Heller, Sarah Rebecca
Dorothy Clews, Antipodean Landscape
Pat Williams, Red Winged Black Birds: Memorial to Their Falling From the Sky
Anne Brodersen, Departure
Marie-Thumette Brichard, Glaucophanes et Prasinites 2
Though the show is truncated, I still highly recommend seeing it if you can. Most of the pieces hanging are stunning. I mourn the ones that are in the back room. I really very much wanted to spend some time with them too.

(Yes, I did request permission to photograph the show. ATA allows photographing of tapestries in the biennials, but this particular museum does not allow photography. I was given permission to photograph just in this gallery today.)


  1. This shocked me when I read your initial post on the Tapestry FB page a little bit ago today. ATA-talk discussion list will start up tomorrow. This would be one place among the others you suggest where we need to pass ideas and thoughts around. Some strategy needs to take shape.

  2. I think they shouls PANIC and find a gallery to host the second set of the show. Shame on them

  3. There is a huge circle of mis-information, mis-communication and just plain .... inconsiderate? rude??? I am horrified, on so many levels. My piece is apparently hung, so I can just image the level of outrage felt by those with work shipped, not available for exhibition elsewhere, and stored in a back room. I would be so furious that I doubt I'd be able to speak coherently.

    A couple of points: When ATA communicates with a gallery, I am sure they discuss what a tapestry is, what ATA is, our track record (backed up by catalogs,so galleries would see the excellence and the size of the shows). I would "assume" the committee discusses with the gallery, the approx. size of an ATB exhibition - we've enough of them under our belt that we "know". When working with a juror - instruction is given about the acceptable number of running feet. If a contract is signed with a gallery, I would assume we are given the number of running feet that can be shown, I would assume the gallery would likely send us a floor plan. If that part's done prior to jurying - then that information can be given to the juror. Once the selection of work has been done (prior to notification), I would assume someone on the ATB committee checks the number of running feet, to make sure it will fit into the galleries where ATB has signed contracts with. It does NOT seem like rocket science. I'm sorry if I'm being rude. YES, I know it's a ton of work, but whether a show will fit into the space is pretty basic.

    But - why. Why did the gallery not notify ATA they were re-curating and reducing the number of pieces? Why did the gallery and/or ATA not notify the artists? And - the notification should be accompanied by a sincere and humble apology to the artists who suffered the humiliation of having their pieces not shown.

    Thank you to Rebecca, for travelling to the opening, for communicating with the gallery, for letting us all know what's happened - and for your grace.

  4. I am remembering how many times I calculated gallery running feet when planning exhibits. I am not a math whiz, so often got input from my husband, or other committee members. We calculated running feet of potential galleries before the exhibit was chosen, based on other exhibits, etc. Then we checked again after the jurying was done, having had the juror choose the number of pieces the galleries could hold. I even remember one conversation with a juror, telling her she could choose a few more pieces, as the ones she had chosen were small and there was more gallery space (she chose not to.) I can't imagine a gallery director who does not know off the top of his/head exactly how many running feet each gallery has. Perhaps this was a miscalculation, or miscommunication. But ATA should have known about it before now, before the show was halfway hung, and long before the opening! If they truly were not informed of this, the gallery is at fault. And the director's excuse about not knowing much about tapestry is ridiculous. If they were going to host an exhibit, he should have researched a bit on his own. And, even tough our medium is not a common one, who in the art world doesn't know that tapestries can be large? Small tapestries are less common, historically, than large ones. It is a shame we all are finding this out this way ( though I truly appreciate you letting us know, Rebecca. ) However, ATA has a huge job to do keeping this exhibit going, and nine biennials, most of them traveling, have presented tapestry through these exhibits to galleries and the public all across the country. We can be sure this is a problem that will not probably not happen to the exhibit again. Live and learn.....

  5. This is just a terrible shame. I also feel the gallery is at fault and the director was seriously inept at their job. What a terrible disappointment for the artists left in the "back room".

  6. I think, if I remember correctly, that the jurying had already been done when the second venue was chosed, as when the accepted artists were notified, there was still just the one venue. In which case, ATA already knew how much space would be needed.

    This is just so unprofessional I can't even believe it. I was at the opening reception for an art exhibit tonight and described the situation to my artist friends there, and they were totally shocked, and disbelieving, and basically they all said "The absolutely have to find a way to hang all of the work, even if that means putting up temporary dividers or whatever they have to do."

    How would you feel if you were the juror? This is not the exhibit that the juror chose. Thank goodness we at least had all the work shown at the first venue, but as one of the excluded artists, I am offended and insulted. Although at least I'm in good company. Talk about ignorant, it's hard to believe they excluded Archie Brennan!!!! That's so ridiculous it almost makes me laugh hysterically....or maybe cry.

    I am REALLY REALLY glad I didn't spent $1,000 and 2 days of my precious time to travel to the opening. I sure hope none of the other excluded artists did so, I can only imagine how I would feel if I found this out at the opening reception. How humiliating.

    I don't think you can fault tapestry weavers for not getting the word out, as Linda pointed out ATA does an awesome job of providing background information about tapestry and about the biennial. I know, I have approached some venues myself. If the museum staff are ignorant it's their own fault.

  7. This is really disappointing,to put it mildly. I just sent the museum an email - - and will call them tomorrow. If they can't find a way to hang the rest of the work (some of their exhibits close at the end of the month - maybe they can find room?) at the very least they should update their web page to let folks know. I'll still visit since I'm only a few hours away and I still want to support the artists and the ATA, but this is crazy-making.

  8. Hi I am really shocked and agree with the most of what is said above, there seems to have been a serious lack of communication here.
    I am a British tapestry weaver and am not surprised about the lack of knowledge about tapestry weaving though wouldn't expect it from a gallery. Most people over here think you are talking about needlepoint as the needlepoint kits are all advertised as tapestry.
    Most galleries don't consider any textiles as art, I suspect you are way ahead of us in that, even getting supplies is hard here. I am a member of The British Tapestry Group one of whose aims is to promote tapestry. I also belong to a textile exhibiting group of which there is only one other tapestry member so I always try to take part in their exhibitions to get tapestry weaving out there. The problem with that is that it is usually only members of the public who are interested in textiles who come and visit.

  9. I agree Linda and Kathy, that figuring running feet is not rocket science and it seems to me that the museum probably goofed on this one. "Goofed" being an innocuous word for a mistake that is pretty horrible to those of us who care about tapestry and have traveled a very long way to see these works. It does seem pretty amazing that a museum that has a Picasso print from 1913 hanging on the next wall can screw up a tapestry exhibit so badly. We shall see what ATA accomplishes today in terms of making it right. Who knows. The ATA board did not know about this until yesterday. It was the museum's doing it seems.

  10. Have just sent an email to many of the staff listed on the FWMoA site and included the president of the board, Thomas Niezer,

    hope other will do the same.
    Liese Sadler

  11. Rebecca, OMG, how awful to walk into that situation. I agree with all that was said. As they say, thanks for making the trip and checking on the show. Kathy Spoering's work is marvelous and Archie has been around since I started weaving, way back in the back back. Keep weaving tapestry artists, I am trying hard under Rebecca's tutalige (sp?)

  12. Oh my. This post shocked me. I thought the public needed education about tapestry but not the Museums. So disappointing to see that long list of tapestries that were not hung. I would have been so disappointed if I had made the trip. Some of my all time favorite tapestry artist are on that long list. Looks like we have a great deal of work to do.

  13. From Margo Macdonald
    As you may have learned,through a misunderstanding with the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, they had initially only installed part of the ATB9 exhibition. Michael Rohde has spoken with the Museum Executive Director,who has promised to begin next week the installation of the rest of the tapestries. ATA regrets the situation, but feels that the Museum is doing its best to rectify the omission.
    Please, if you have any questions or concerns,do not contact the Museum, but send your questions to


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