Alma Lesch

September fiber festival in New Albany IN will recognize Alma Lesch’s legacy.

magnusonart

An American Portrait:  March 12, 2017 marks the centennial birth date of Alma Lesch

Stitchery, once called women’s work in America up until the late 1950s, was a family tradition based on the economy. Mending became standard practice in the Post-American Depression home. Every farm child practiced needle working rescuing hard used clothing. The textile work of Alma Lesch is an exemplary case in the evolution of needlework.
In Shepherdsville, Kentucky this no-nonsense woman named Alma Wallace Lesch changed “stitchery” into breakthrough fiber art and crafted tapestries with narrative and social content. She helped launch the craft movement emerging as the Space Race brought science and art together on a global scale.
Growing up on a farm after World War I in western Kentucky, as Alma Lee Wallace experienced, was a frugal childhood yet rich in home schooling. Grandmothers made simple dresses for children before school age. Alma Lee Wallace…

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Alma Lesch

An American Portrait:  March 12, 2017 marks the centennial birth date of Alma Lesch

Stitchery, once called women’s work in America up until the late 1950s, was a family tradition based on the economy. Mending became standard practice in the Post-American Depression home. Every farm child practiced needle working rescuing hard used clothing. The textile work of Alma Lesch is an exemplary case in the evolution of needlework.
In Shepherdsville, Kentucky this no-nonsense woman named Alma Wallace Lesch changed “stitchery” into breakthrough fiber art and crafted tapestries with narrative and social content. She helped launch the craft movement emerging as the Space Race brought science and art together on a global scale.
Growing up on a farm after World War I in western Kentucky, as Alma Lee Wallace experienced, was a frugal childhood yet rich in home schooling. Grandmothers made simple dresses for children before school age. Alma Lee Wallace, the girl, pieced her first quilt (in KMAC* permanent collection) working beside her grandmother’s chair at the age of five and finished quilting it at age twelve.
After marrying and living in Louisville as an elementary teacher in Kentucky Alma Lesch had an epiphany. After years of stitching surface embellishment onto natural fiber using her vegetable-dyed yarns colored from plant material and manipulating appliquéd fabric textures into fabric collage experiments Mrs. Lesch saw old clothing both as her subject matter and art media. Quilts were about to be viewed as art. During the rise of American studio craft the abstracted embroidered wall hangings of Mariska Karasz influenced her evolution from traditional imagery to experimental mixtures of fibers such as silk, cotton, wool and hemp with horsehair. A graduate degree from University of Louisville resulted in a thesis which would become her manuscript for Vegetable Dyeing: 151 recipes in 1970.
From Kentucky pattern weaver Lou Tate, Alma’s friend in the textile network of Louisville, who brought traditional pattern weaving to the public at The Little Loom House on Kenwood Hill, the culture of the Bluegrass State merged with the Hungarian traditions which Karasz had found in her own use of fiber. Threads married clothing onto a background (as paint does to canvas) and fabric collage would evolve into Alma Lesch’s signature style of the fabric portrait. Gone were the animals and figurative motifs of early work on burlap.
Art in America featured an example of Lesch’s early fiber work in its 1963 Fiftieth Anniversary edition. Represented in “Craftsmen of the Eastern States” at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City curator Paul Smith wrote, ” instead of American craftsmanship having regional distinction within the national style- craft becomes a style that is rapidly becoming an international one.”

Robert Rauschenberg had literally placed an American quilt into his provocative self-portrait entitled “Bed” in 1955 as art critics claimed that figurative painting had hit a bad decade in California. Yet, in Kentucky, Alma Lesch embraced figurative work by using clothing in a two-dimensional collage format. Figure existed beneath the cloth from our memory. Fabric collage as “portraiture” could be made directly from clothing.
It took decades for many colleges to introduce textile programs on the university level. Berea College was the exception. A wide range of textile students followed Alma Lesch to Anchorage while teaching at the widely respected Louisville School of Art (now closed) and later, as adjunct professor, fiber students followed her at the University of Louisville. Her papers, and fabric collages are archived in the Hite Art Library.

The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft* in Louisville also has Lesch’s work in its permanent collection. The Colonel’s Lady and Judy O’Grady pay raw tribute to a Kipling dity. Her signature ‘icon’ hangs at Louisville’s Hite Art Library.  Inspired by Grant Wood’s classic iconic “American Gothic”, which hangs in The Art Institute of Chicago, Alma Lesch’s early 1960s series of ‘fabric portraits’ began in 1964 with her first portrait of a Shepherdsville friend who gave her some personal items. Specifically named after several geographical regions Lesch’s signature piece entitled “Southern Gothic” is on permanent display at the University of Louisville.

Other fabric collage interpretations as “Southeastern Gothic” depict an Appalachian farm couple dressed for mid-century work.  America’s “back to the Garden” tidal wave of fiber art innovation swept the USA from California to Manhattan challenging our very definition of fabric and function. Quilts now hung on walls as art. Alma moved to Shepherdsville, Kentucky after marrying her pharmacist husband Ted and they lived a simple life similar to the practical beauty seen in Shaker life or practiced by her contemporary, painter and shanty boat dweller, Harlan Hubbard who lived a “green” existence with his wife in Payne Hollow on the Ohio River long before it became a trend.
Alma Lesch published, from her graduate thesis on natural dyestuffs at University of Louisville, what she described as a practical recipe book for dyeing fiber from natural plant sources. The Whole Earth Catalog included Alma Lesch’s 1970 recipe book for dyeing fiber from natural plant sources published by Watson-Guptill Publisher. Arrowmont School of Crafts, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts invited Alma Lesch to teach and lecture as well as Memphis Academy and the Philadelphia College of Art and Science. Her husband Ted participated in weaving workshops at Arrowmont while Alma taught her own workshop in vegetable dyeing techniques. Ted was an accomplished weaver of rugs, often using her natural-dyed yarns, when he worked along with Alma in the basement studio space.
Alma looked at everything most of us would typically discard. She deconstructed clothing rather than cut into the cloth. She wove wall hangings using her collection of empty plastic bread wrappers and reused twist tapes, made collages with cut cardboard from empty laundry detergent boxes. Once she wrapped ham bones with linen producing a linked chain necklace decades before “large” necklaces were popular fashion accessories. Another time she literally bought the bibbed overalls off the back of the handyman she hired to clean her fence line. The inspiration for another Kentucky portrait knocked at her door.
In 1974 Lesch was recognized as a Master Craftsman by the World Craft Council. Galleries in Atlanta and New York City showed her fabric collages which were entirely stitched by hand, often upon her lap starting from layout planning in the basement studio then on to finishing details at her living room chair.
Precious pearl buttons became the ‘frames’ for her fabric collages which started as pinned and basted arrangements of clothing elements placed upon the preferred Belgian linen background. Look closely at an item of clothing you avoid discarding. Google search images (or Pinterest search) for her textile examples if you care to multitask. “Sallie” a classic Victorian portrait from 1996 appears as if ready for dinner onboard the Titanic is shown in my blog after your internet search. The piece is proof that handmade lace will never go out of style.
Kentucky writer Wendell Berry received the Governor’s Award for the Arts in literature the same evening as Alma Lesch was honored for her lifetime achievement in the visual arts at the newly restored governor’s mansion. In Frankfort then Governor Martha Layne Collins presented Wendell Berry with a stitchery of a team of mules by Alma Lesch. Berry’s biography of the artist Harlan Hubbard is a must read to grasp the past century. Three comrades connected to the earth. Alma Lesch passed in the spring of 1999 leaving a fifty-year legacy in textile arts to the people of America. Many other visionaries share this stage.
As another footnote in Kentucky history the transcendental monk at nearby Gethsemane, Thomas Merton, had his epiphany (marked by a Kentucky Historical Marker) on the very Louisville Fourth Street corner where Alma Lesch’s “Kentucky Landscape” was installed in the lobby of Meidinger Tower in 1984. When its corporate headquarters sold decades later Meidinger Tower generously donated the tapestry collage to the Owensboro Museum of Art.

 

 

Textiles Club prove that knitting is not just for grannies.

America should follow your lead.

NHTS Design Technology Blog

Miss Jepson and Ms Bowers (one of NHTS’s Teaching Assistants) are in charge of a Textiles Club in Design and Technology, held every Friday after school 3pm to 4pm.
In the Autumn term of 2014/15, Students from years 7 and 8 (plus one staff member!) have started learning some traditional Textiles skills, beginning with good old fashioned knitting. The growth of social media has meant that the popularity of knitting has soared in recent years, and the club members have been proving it’s not just for grannies anymore. Open a new tab and look on Pinterest and Ravelry if you don’t believe them! (Then come back here and look at their fabulous work.)

Ms Bowers shows students how to do the knit stitch. Ms Bowers shows students how to do the knit stitch.

The newly qualified knitters in action. The newly qualified knitters in action.

All Textiles Club attendees were taught the basics of casting on and creating a simple knit stitch (mainly by Ms Bowers who is a wizard…

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An American Life

An American Portrait

     Stitchery, once called women’s work in America up until the late 1950s, was a family tradition based on the economy. Mending became standard practice in the Post-American Depression home. Every farm child practiced needle working rescuing hard used clothing. The textile work of Alma Lesch is an exemplary case in the evolution of needlework.
In Shepherdsville, Kentucky this no-nonsense woman named Alma Wallace Lesch changed “stitchery” into breakthrough fiber art and crafted tapestries with narrative and social content. She helped launch the craft movement emerging as the Space Race brought science and art together on a global scale.

     Growing up on a farm after World War I in western Kentucky, as Alma Lee Wallace experienced, was a frugal childhood yet rich in home schooling. Grandmothers made simple dresses for children before school age. Alma Lee Wallace, the girl, pieced her first quilt (in KMAC* permanent collection) working beside her grandmother’s chair at the age of five and finished quilting it at age twelve.

     As a newlywed and a Louisville, Kentucky school teacher Alma Lesch had an epiphany. After years of stitching surface embellishment onto natural fiber using her vegetable-dyed yarns colored from plant material and manipulating appliquéd fabric textures into fabric collage experiments Mrs. Lesch saw old clothing both as her subject matter and art media. Quilts were about to be viewed as art. During the rise of American studio craft the abstracted embroidered wall hangings of Mariska Karasz influenced her evolution from traditional imagery to experimental mixtures of fibers such as silk, cotton, wool and hemp with horsehair.

     From Kentucky pattern weaver Lou Tate, Alma’s friend in the textile network of Louisville, who brought traditional pattern weaving to the public at The Little Loom House on Kenwood Hill the culture of the Bluegrass State merged with the Hungarian traditions which Karasz had found in her own use of fiber. Threads married clothing onto a background (as paint does to canvas) and fabric collage would evolve into Alma Lesch’s signature style of the fabric portrait.

     Art in America featured an example of Lesch’s early fiber work in its 1963 Fiftieth Anniversary edition. Represented in “Craftsmen of the Eastern States” at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City curator Paul Smith wrote, ” instead of American craftsmanship having regional distinction within the national style- craft becomes a style that is rapidly becoming an international one.”

     Robert Rauschenberg had literally placed an American quilt into his provocative self-portrait entitled “Bed” in 1955 as art critics claimed that figurative painting had hit a bad decade in California. Yet, in Kentucky, Alma Lesch embraced figurative work by using clothing in a two-dimensional collage format. Figure existed beneath the cloth from our memory. Fabric collage as “portraiture” could be made directly from clothing.

It took decades for many colleges to introduce textile programs on the university level. Berea College was the exception. A wide range of textile students followed Alma Lesch to Anchorage while teaching at the widely respected Louisville School of Art (now closed) and later, as adjunct professor, at the University of Louisville. Her papers, and fabric collages are archived in the Hite Art Library. The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft* in Louisville also has Lesch’s work in its permanent collection.

Grant Wood’s classic iconic “American Gothic”, which hangs in The Art Institute of Chicago, inspired Alma Lesch’s early 1960s series of ‘fabric portraits’. Specifically named after several geographical regions Lesch’s signature piece entitled “Southern Gothic” is on permanent display at the University of Louisville Hite Art Library. Other fabric collage interpretations as “Southeastern Gothic” depict an Appalachian farm couple dressed for mid-century work.

America’s “back to the Garden” tidal wave of fiber art innovation swept the USA from California to Manhattan challenging our very definition of fabric and function. Quilts now hung on walls as art. Alma, after moving to Louisville for a brief elementary school teaching career, and meeting her pharmacist husband Ted lived a simple life similar to the practical beauty seen in Shaker life or practiced by her contemporary, painter and shanty boat dweller, Harlan Hubbard who lived a “green” existence with his wife in Payne Hollow on the Ohio River long before it became a trend.

Alma Lesch published, from her graduate thesis on natural dyestuffs at University of Louisville, what she described as a practical recipe book for dyeing fiber from natural plant sources. The Whole Earth Catalog included Alma Lesch’s 1970 recipe book for dyeing fiber from natural plant sources published by Watson-Guptill Publisher. Arrowmont School of Crafts, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts invited Alma Lesch to teach and lecture as well as Memphis Academy and the Philadelphia College of Art and Science. Her husband Ted participated in weaving workshops at Arrowmont while Alma taught her own workshop in vegetable dyeing techniques. Ted was an accomplished weaver of rugs, often using her natural-dyed yarns, when he worked along with Alma in the basement studio space.

Alma looked at everything most of us would typically discard. She deconstructed clothing rather than cut into the cloth. She wove wall hangings using her collection of empty plastic bread wrappers and reused twist tapes, made collages with cut cardboard from empty laundry detergent boxes. Once she wrapped ham bones with linen producing a linked chain necklace decades before “large” necklaces were popular fashion accessories. Another time she literally bought the bibbed overalls off the back of the handyman she hired to clean her fence line. The inspiration for another Kentucky portrait knocked at her door.

In 1974 Lesch was recognized as a Master Craftsman by the World Craft Council. Galleries in Atlanta and New York City showed her fabric collages which were entirely stitched by hand, often upon her lap starting from layout planning in the basement studio then on to finishing details at her living room chair.
Precious pearl buttons became the ‘frames’ for her fabric collages which started as pinned and basted arrangements of clothing elements placed upon the preferred Belgian linen background. Look closely at an item of clothing you avoid discarding. Google search images for her textile examples if you care to multitask. “Sallie” a classic Victorian portrait from 1996 appears as if ready for dinner onboard the Titanic is shown in my blog after your internet search. The piece is proof that handmade lace will never go out of style.

Kentucky writer Wendell Berry received the Governor’s Award for the Arts in literature the same evening as Alma Lesch was honored for her lifetime achievement in the visual arts at the newly restored governor’s mansion. In Frankfort then Governor Martha Layne Collins presented Wendell Berry with a stitchery of a team of mules by Alma Lesch. Berry’s biography of the artist Harlan Hubbard is a must read to grasp the past century. Three comrades connected to the earth. Alma Lesch passed in the spring of 1999 leaving a fifty-year legacy in textile arts to the people of America. Many other visionaries share this stage.

As another footnote in Kentucky history the transcendental monk at nearby Gethsemane, Thomas Merton, had his epiphany (marked by a Kentucky Historical Marker) on the very Louisville Fourth Street corner where Alma Lesch’s “Kentucky Landscape” was installed in the lobby of Meidinger Tower in 1984. When its corporate headquarters sold decades later Meidinger Tower generously donated the tapestry collage to the Owensboro Museum of Art.

Artist Book or Livre d’Artiste?

words are our legacy

UofL Libraries Blog

The Art Library’s latest addition is The Book by photographer and graphic designer Julius Friedman.* It’s a simple title for a book that is anything but.

It started with library discards, books falling apart, covers battered, bindings torn. Friedman took those sad books and made them into something startlingly beautiful. He manipulated pages, he tore pages, he drilled holes in pages, he collaged pages, he swirled pages. And then he photographed what he had made. Transforming these books into art, into artists’ books, he was giving the old books new life. The response to the photographs of his artists’ books was even stronger than the response to the objects themselves. So an idea began to germinate – ask writers to share their thoughts about books, match their writings with photographs and produce a limited edition book. With the help of writer and editor Dianne Aprile he did just that. Eventually…

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