Kirsteen Buchanan "Borders That Unite: Melting Maps" (detail)

“Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe” at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Lenore Tawney (1907–2007) was an influential figure in the postwar fiber arts movement. With impactful and groundbreaking work that continues to reverberate today, Tawney is known for her monumental sculptural weavings. Her practice also included drawing, collage, and assemblage. Tawney’s life’s work, dating from circa 1946-1997, will be the subject of a concurrent four-exhibition series, Mirror of the Universe, October 6, 2019–March 7, 2020 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. This exhibition represents the most comprehensive presentation of her work since 1990.

Yousuf Karsh untitled (portrait of Lenore Tawney with Shadow River) 1959, digital image from the negative; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Estate of Yousuf Karsh.


Improvisational, experimental, and deeply personal, Tawney’s work redefined traditional notions of weaving as she manipulated fiber into abstract sculptural forms and complex woven structures. She held a deep belief in mystical philosophies which ran through all aspects of her life and work. Artists, scholars, and friends revered Tawney for the complete integration of her art and her life including a series of New York City lofts she occupied from the late 1950s until her death in 2007. Her exceptional oeuvre can be seen as one cohesive body of work.

Lenore Tawney Written in Water 1979, canvas, linen, acrylic, 120″ x 120″ x 120″. Collection of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, New York. Photo: Rich Maciejewski, courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Deep consideration of Lenore Tawney’s work is essential to any complete understanding of 20th-century art,” said Karen Patterson, JMKAC’s senior curator. “Together, the exhibition series and publication will generate a conversation about Tawney’s life and impact, offering an unprecedented personal and historical view into her oeuvre.

Lenore Tawney untitled (detail) 1961, rayon, wool, 63″ x 22 3/8″. Courtesy of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, New York. Photo: John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

In Poetry and Silence: The Work and Studio of Lenore Tawney (October 6, 2019–March 7, 2020)

Anchoring the series will be an evocation of Tawney’s studio underscoring the relationship of the artist’s space to her creative practice. Reuniting a selection of her key works—weavings, drawings, and collages—with objects that once populated her revelatory work spaces will reveal her processes and inspirations, exposing relationships and dissolving boundaries between the material surroundings she constructed for herself and the art she made there. Tawney’s studio—acquired from the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation with assistance from Kohler Foundation, Inc.—represents John Michael Kohler Art Center’s commitment to its ongoing preservation and presentation of artist-built environments.

Lenore Tawney untitled (Lekythos) 1962, linen, silk, gold, feathers, 46 1/2″ x 29 1/4″. Collection of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, New York. Photo: Rich Maciejewski, courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Ephemeral and Eternal: The Archives of Lenore Tawney (September 15, 2019–February 16, 2020)

Tawney developed a deeply personal visual vocabulary intertwining language with found images, feathers, flowers, and stones. Illuminating key moments in the artist’s career as well as her everyday life and close friendships, Ephemeral and Eternal: The Archives of Lenore Tawney will explore the correspondence, journals, artist books, photographs, audio interviews, and ephemera drawn from manuscript collections at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art and the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation. More than a repository of materials documenting her life, the archive is also a landscape she cultivated as a daily log of inspiration for her art.

Lenore Tawney Dove 1974, linen, 118″ x 108″. Collection of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, New York. Photo: Rich Maciejewski, courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Even Thread Has a Speech (September 1, 2019–February 2, 2020)

Even Thread Has a Speech is a group exhibition that will explore Tawney’s lasting impact on eight contemporary fiber artists with new, site-specific installations commissioned by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center as well as 2-D and 3-D works. From crocheted installations to macramé sculptures, video, assemblage, and performance, the works echo Tawney’s visual language of abstraction and the desire to communicate without sending specific messages. Artists in the exhibition include Indira Allegra, Julia Bland, Jesse Harrod, Judith Leemann, kg, Anne Lindberg, Michael Milano, and Sheila Pepe.

Lenore Tawney untitled (bird series) c. 1965, linen, feathers, wood, 65″ x 30″. Courtesy of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, New York. Photo: Rich Maciejewski, 2018, courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Cloud Labyrinth (August 18, 2019–January 19, 2020)

The presentation of Cloud Labyrinth, isolated and with ample room for contemplation, allows full appreciation of the work as an apotheosis of Tawney’s decades-long career. A study in contrasts, Cloud Labyrinth comprises thousands of individual, tiny threads suspended from a canvas panel or “ceiling.” Although composed in a strict square grid, the diaphanous work is yielding, responding to any atmospheric movement with a slight swaying. The piece was created in 1983 for the Lausanne International Tapestry Biennial in Switzerland, and has not been shown since 1999. Part of Tawney’s Cloud Series, which she began in the 1970s, the work will fill an entire gallery, occupying a space that is 16 feet high and 24 by 18 feet wide. The work exemplifies the evolution of Tawney’s practice into the complete dissolution of the loom while maintaining an unmistakable connection to weaving.

Lenore Tawney The Judge (left) 1961, linen; 124″ x 14″. The Bride (right) 1962, linen, feathers, 138″ x 13″. Courtesy of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, New York. Photo: Rich Maciejewski, 2018, courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Lenore Tawney Floating Shapes 1958, linen, silk, wool, 49″ x 42″. Collection of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, New York. Photo: Rich Maciejewski, courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

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