The History of a Movement

The term “Fiber Art” is a broad category that describes a variety of works made, at least in part, from fabric, thread, or yarn. This includes objects produced in techniques ranging from sewn quilts and traditional tapestries to three-dimensional sculptural works and can be machine-stitched or hand-sewn, quilted, embroidered, knitted, crocheted, tufted, felted, or beaded. Further, fiber art objects may feature construction methods such as braiding, coiling, knotting, netting, linking, looping, twining, lashing, and wrapping. Unconventional techniques are frequently paired with unorthodox materials that accentuate the textural quality of the object or provide an inventive bridge to the use of materials associated with other disciplines, such as plastic, paper, and metal.

Bringing their talent and skills, a pool of European and Scandinavian textile artists immigrated to the U.S. from the late 1920s through the 1940s. They began to teach in schools such as Black Mountain College (North Carolina), Cranbrook Art Academy (Michigan), and Pond Farm (Northern California). Through high-profile exhibitions and inclusion in college curricula, fiber-based work became widely recognized as a unique discipline of art by the late 1960s and early 1970s. Woven Forms at the Museum of Contemporary Craft (1963) and Wall Hangings (1969) at the Museum of Modern Art (both in New York City) were two groundbreaking exhibitions that introduced to the public a group of vanguardists – a mix of national and international artists influential in the field. Their works radically challenged the confines of weaving by encouraging a reconsideration of the potential of fiber through assertions of scale, bold structural explorations, while positioning fiber within the broader context of contemporary art. Exhibitions focused on fiber art subsequently crossed the U.S. from east to west, culminating in the 1971 exhibition Deliberate Entanglements at the UCLA Art Galleries, accompanied by a citywide, week-long series of events and lectures at area colleges and cultural venues.

Fiber art now began to make its way into the work of multi-disciplinary artists, conversing with the disciplines of textiles and sculpture. Bernard Kester, the curator of Deliberate Entanglements and fiber program head at UCLA (1956 – 1993), viewed college art programs in textiles as the framework for students to develop an “interpretive experimentation” in an environment where “investigation is part of their education.”

Many contemporary fiber artists choose to work on the loom experimenting with unconventional materials and weaves that distort the grid structure of the warp and weft threads. Their weavings may utilize computers to digitize imagery or employ digital methods to print on fabrics that are inserted in their woven works. Artists working off the loom integrate twining, knotting, plaiting, and twisting techniques. For those who create these non-woven forms, their fiber structures move from the flat plane into three-dimensional sculptural space, often intersecting with architecture. Add to these categories the “cross-over” artist who does not identify as a fiber artist but has a strong relationship with textiles and chooses to exploit fiber materials and its processes to realize their creative vision.

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