Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe

In Poetry and Silence: The Work and Studio of Lenore Tawney

October 6, 2019 — March 7, 2020

Lenore Tawney (1907–2007) ranks among the most influential, though under-recognized, artists of the postwar fiber movement.

Given her groundbreaking approach to open-warp weaving, her adaptation of ancient textile-making processes, and her multidisciplinary study of space, structure, and line, deep consideration of her work is essential to a complete understanding of twentieth-century art.

One of the largest retrospective exhibitions of Tawney’s oeuvre to date, In Poetry and Silence includes more than 120 works. They span from her earliest sculptures to her later assemblage, with a focus on the fiber-based sculptures for which Tawney is most well-known.

Augmenting these works is an unprecedented look at Tawney’s studio environment. Although she moved her studio several times, Tawney carefully thought out her surroundings and created a spiritual retreat from the bustle of New York City in each location. In the gallery, an evocation of Tawney’s studio space includes works by esteemed friends and objects acquired from her travels as well as hundreds of treasures such as eggs, feathers, shells, gold leaf, and artifacts that provided inspiration, some of which would find themselves incorporated into her weavings and assemblages.

The Arts Center recently acquired several key components from Tawney’s studio from the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation with assistance from Kohler Foundation, Inc. The inclusion of many of these objects in this installation demonstrates the Art Center’s ongoing commitment to the preservation and presentation of artist-built environments.

Take a 360° Tour of the Gallery


About Lenore Tawney

Lenore Tawney (1907–2007) stands as an influential figure in the fiber movement, and the impact of her groundbreaking practice continues to reverberate.

Raised Ohio and trained in Chicago, Tawney moved to New York in the 1950s to dedicate herself to her art practice, ultimately becoming a major force in redefining postwar weaving. One of the first artists to apply sculptural techniques to weaving practices, Tawney pioneered a new direction in fiber–based practices, and by extension, in contemporary art. Improvisational, experimental, and deeply personal, Tawney’s interdisciplinary oeuvre also spanned drawing, collage, and assemblage.

Throughout her career, Tawney lived in a series of lofts, each serving as both home and studio. She surrounded herself with things that propelled an art practice forward. Organic items such as feathers, eggs, and bones were arranged in her space alongside studio tools, skeins of thread, collectibles, and mementos she acquired in her extensive travels. Her search for the spiritual transcended all aspects of her life and is reflected throughout the body of her work.

Lenore Tawney ranks among the most influential, though underrecognized, artists of the postwar fiber movement. Her innovative approach to weaving, her adaptation of ancient textile-making processes, and her multidisciplinary study of space, structure, and line warrants deep consideration for a more complete understanding of twentieth-century art.

Interview with Kathleen Mangan and Karen Patterson


About this Exhibition Series

Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe

Lenore Tawney (1907–2007) was an American artist who is known for her groundbreaking work in fiber as well as for her drawings, collages, and assemblages.

Tawney’s innovative interpretations of traditional practices were central to shifting the perception of weaving from simply a utilitarian craft to fiber art as we know it today. Her experimentation with open-warp techniques resulted in gauzy, loose works of a nonfunctional, free-flowing nature. In what she referred to as “woven forms,” Tawney’s unorthodox sculptural works took weaving beyond the expected flat rectangular format, moving fiber art off the wall and into three-dimensional space.

Both collaborative and in-depth, this series of four exhibitions brings together thought leaders who provide a dynamic and unprecedented look at this pioneering artist’s legacy. It is the first time Tawney’s oeuvre has been approached from multiple perspectives.

At once retrospective and forward-looking, Mirror of the Universe and the accompanying publication of the same name shed light on the enduring and multifaceted impact that Lenore Tawney had on contemporary art.

Glenn Adamson provides a detailed biography of the artist for the publication. Mary Savig, the curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, delves into Tawney’s rich archive and ephemera in Ephemeral and Eternal: The Archive of Lenore Tawney. Karen Patterson, curator at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, links Tawney’s practice to her studio environment with In Poetry and Silence. Arts Center Interim Senior Curator Shannon R. Stratton examines Tawney’s impact on eight contemporary artists in Every Thread Has a Speech, and Associate Curator Laura Bickford hones in on Tawney’s “Cloud” series in Cloud Labyrinth. Additional support, advice, insight, and research for the entire series was provided by Kathleen Nugent Mangan, executive director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

View Mirror of the Universe Panels


Artist Talks






Panel Discussion



This exhibition is supported in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust, Sargento Foods, Inc. and the Herzfeld Foundation.