KENNETH NOLAND: THE NAVAJO TAPESTRIES
Exhibition Script and Object List
Curated by R. Darden Bradshaw
The University of Arizona Museum of Art
January 14-February 25, 2001

GENERAL INTRODUCTORY TEXT
The artwork in this gallery results from a collaboration between Kenneth Noland, an internationally known painter; Navajo weavers Sadie Curtis, Rose Owens, and Mary Lee Begay; and the late Gloria F. Ross, a New York tapestry producer. Three elements are featured: preliminary artwork, documents that describe the collaboration, and the woven tapestries.

Our goals for this exhibition are for you to experience the visual impact of the woven work, to gain a basic understanding of tapestry weaving, and to follow the dynamics of these artistic collaborations.

In 1979, Gloria Ross traveled from New York to Arizona to embark on a project that spanned almost three decades and resulted in more than two dozen collaborative tapestries, three of which are shown here. She chose to work with Kenneth Noland and brought his images to Navajo weavers who translated the paintings into woven wool. Noland/Navajo tapestries were sold to private and corporate collections and were donated to museums.

WHAT IS TAPESTRY?
Tapestry weaving is a specific textile construction: a weft-faced plain weave with discontinuous weft patterning. Designs are formed by different colored threads—the weft, interlaced with the foundation threads—the warp.

Tapestry is woven on a loom. Some looms are simple frames, while others are more complex with pulleys and tensioning devices. In the American Southwest, Navajo looms are upright frames with simple but efficient systems to make cloth. Nearly all Navajo blankets and rugs are made in tapestry weave.

Tapestry has a long history and reminds many people of the Middle Ages, unicorns, and castles. Many ancient examples survive from Europe, Asia and South America. Modern tapestry has undergone a revival over the last fifty years, after more than two centuries of general decline.

WHAT IS A TAPESTRY EDITEUR?
Since the late 1960s, Gloria F. Ross worked as an editeur (French for “editor”) to bring together prominent American artists and weavers to produce collaborative tapestries. These works were not copies, but unique depictions based on drawings or paintings that took on a new form in wool.

Gloria Ross first established a New York workshop to create unique hand hooked and woven works. Eventually, her role evolved into that of tapestry editeur, acting as a consultant and intermediary between weavers and painters in America and Europe.

Gloria Ross did not start a new trend, but revived a long dormant relationship between tapestry weavers and artists. Historically in Europe, tapestries were created by as many as six weavers working on one tapestry, designed by a master artist. The weavers’ talents were measured by the accuracy and skill they used to translate the painting into a woven work of art.

Gloria Ross’s passion was to explore new ways to translate paintings, drawings, and even low-relief sculptures into a woven format. On display here you will see her correspondence with the painter and weavers, and her notes about translating the designs. It was in her role as editeur that Gloria fostered collaboration between painter Kenneth Noland and the Navajo weavers.

KENNETH NOLAND
Painter Kenneth Noland was born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1924. Following a period of service in the military he studied at Black Mountain College, North Carolina from 1946-48 and in Paris from 1948-49. In the late 1950s, Noland emerged as one of the leading artists of the Washington, DC “Color Field” style of painting. He taught at the Institute of Contemporary Art (1949-51) and at the Catholic University (1951-60), both in Washington, DC.; throughout his internationally recognized career, his abstract work has retained a minimalist aesthetic.

Noland is the recipient of many national and international awards, including the Milton Avery Professor of the Arts, Bard College (1985) and first Artist in Residence in Computer Video Arts, Pratt Institute (1986-87). In addition, Noland collaborated with I.M. Pei and Partners on the Weisner Building at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Through his bold, geometric canvases, Noland explores the dynamics of color. Circles, chevrons, stripes and plaids form major elements in Noland’s work. These serve as vehicles for studying the relationship of colors and our changing perception of them.

THREE NAVAJO WEAVERS
Navajo weavers have woven blankets and rugs for more than three centuries. They have created a series of unique styles, while incorporating influences from the neighboring Pueblo Indians, Spanish artisans, and Anglo traders, to name just a few. Navajo weavers today are open to new ideas while maintaining their distinct weaving styles and patterns. This ability led to the making of over two dozen powerful tapestries designed by Kenneth Noland, edited by Gloria F. Ross, and woven by six Native American weavers, including three whose works are showcased here.

Mary Lee Begay was born in 1941 and lives in Ganado, Arizona. She worked as a weaving demonstrator for Hubbell Trading Post during the 1970s and ‘80s. When asked about her work, she has said, “Weaving takes a lot of hard thinking … careful measuring too….And you must measure over and over again as you put in the patterns so that they come out even. If it doesn’t come out right, you take it out and measure again. And the sides, you have to count the side cords carefully too. I don’t make my rugs cheaply—a lot of hard work is involved.”

Rose Owens was born in 1929 and lived in Cross Canyon, Arizona, near Ganado. She was one of a few weavers who made round rugs, in addition to a wide array of other styles. She preferred to keep her methods secret so that other weavers would not copy her work. Target is an example a perfect match between Rose Owens’ personal style and Kenneth Noland’s use of shaped canvases for his paintings.

Sadie Curtis was born in 1930 and lives in Kinlichee, Arizona. She worked for years as a craft demonstrator at Hubbell Trading Post. Now retired, Sadie weaves at home where she combines classic traditional style weaving with contemporary ideas from varied sources like magazines, books, and other textiles. Her work often revolves around complex positive and negative ground relationships with figures that seem to move forward and retreat.

OBJECT LABELS

Tapestries
Arizona Sky, 1996
·A Gloria F. Ross Tapestry designed by Kenneth Noland
·Woven in wool by Navajo weaver Mary Lee Begay

Time’s Arrow, 1992
·A Gloria F. Ross Tapestry designed by Kenneth Noland
·Woven by Navajo weaver Rose Owens

Reflection, 1983
·A Gloria F. Ross Tapestry designed by Kenneth Noland
·Woven by Navajo weaver Sadie Curtis

Artwork
Time’s Arrow, c. 1991
·Kenneth Noland, marker on paper

Shooting Star, c. 1982
·Kenneth Noland, acrylic paint on paper with yarn samples attached

Hawkeye, c. 1983
·Kenneth Noland, acrylic paint on paper

Twin Springs Canyon, c. 1982
·Kenneth Noland, pencil on parchment

Archival materials
Letters between Gloria F. Ross and weavers
Letters between Gloria F. Ross and Kenneth Noland
Fiber, yarn and dye samples

Photos
Kenneth Noland wearing Mood Indigo II
Photos of weavers weaving
Photos of Gloria F. Ross with weavers
Photos of completed weavings

CREDITS
The Textile Museum
The Denver Art Museum
The Gloria F. Ross Center for Tapestry Studies
Arizona State Museum
The UA College of Fine Arts, School of Art
The University of Arizona Museum of Art

Exhibit Curators:
R. Darden Bradshaw, Fiber Arts Program, School of Art, University of Arizona College of Fine Arts
Dr. Ann Lane Hedlund, Director, The Gloria F. Ross Center for Tapestry Studies

Exhibit Design:
The University of Arizona Art Museum Staff

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