March 16, 2010
Books written by or about Mary Meigs Atwater and Anni Albers were discussed in this column in January and February. Coincidentally, I recently ran across a book entitled String Felt Thread by Elissa Auther, which contained the following:
“In the history of American hand-weaving, no two practitioners were further apart in vision than Anni Albers and Mary Atwater. In 1940, Albers entered into a debate over the function and value of hand-weaving with Atwater in the pages of The Weaver. Their exchange provides an over-view of the competing visions and definitions of art and craft that formed the status of hand-weaving before the conclusion of WW II.
“Atwater undertook an extensive study of weaving of the American revolutionary period as well as folk weaving traditions of the 19th Century, the findings of which she published. Her research was instrumental in the survival of these historical and regional practices, but her practical how-to approach ran counter to Albers’ idea of weaving as an original art form.
“Albers regarded herself as an artist and was outspoken regarding the potential of hand-weaving to move beyond that of a leisure pursuit for utilitarian purposes. This approach is summed up by a statement she made in 1959: “Let threads be articulate, and find a form for themselves to no other end than their own orchestration, not to be sat on, walked on, only to be looked at……”
So, just what does this mean to us? I’d like to think it means the possibilities are endless; and we are free to choose our own path, whether traditional or contemporary, as we continue to learn about this time-honored craft.