Friday, November 26, 2010

Designer of the Month: Trude Guermonprez

Week 4: three-dimensional weaving and portraits

Trude Guermonprez, Arachne, 1963. Oakland Museum of Art, The Tapestries of Trude Guermonperez, Introduction by Hazel V. Bray (Oakland, CA: Oakland Museum, 1982), Published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Tapestries of Trude Guermonprez” shown at the Oakland Museum, 12.

In the early 1960s, around the same time as her "textile graphic" work, Trude Guermonprez, allied with the fiber artist Lenore Tawney (1907-2007) to pioneer the creation of some of the first three-dimensional weavings.[1] These pieces were entirely non-functional and utilized weaving techniques never before attempted. They brought the woven piece off the wall and floor and into the three-dimensional realm. In 1961, Guermonprez and Tawney exhibited a group of these experimental “space hangings”, bringing great acclaim to Tawney, who incorporated this technique into her overall aesthetic, while Guermonprez decided to abandon it.[2] Guermonprez later incorporated a similar idea of the double-woven structure, the basis for these hangings, as a design element in some of her work, but never again took up the idea of the woven object as transcending the realm of the two-dimensional.[3] As Jan Janeiro explains:
Both artists dealt initially with tapestry, creating interlacings of fibers of different materials–wools, linens, silks, etc.– and varying weights, both of which were active and visible in warp as well as weft. Warps were left unwoven; eccentric wefts built up curvilinear areas of sculptural relief; and pattern weaves were used to create additional texture and visual movement.[4]
This building up of and unconventional use of materials, combined with an original use of weaving techniques to create these unconventional works, was an additional way that Guermonprez helped to change and impact the world of textiles. As Guermonprez discusses this technique in relation to her Banner series, “Lately I have designed three-dimensional space hangings, which are completely planned and woven on the loom. Their functional use so far is one of the old tradition. That of banners, flags and kites.”[5] Referencing the functionality of these pieces is a testament to the Bauhaus tradition of the theoretical need for well-designed and practical objects, and shows how Guermonprez’s educational background continued to be an influential part of her work. This background may have contributed to Guermonprez’s choice to rapidly move her work in different directions, mastering a technique and then returning to incorporate elements from it.[6]

 Trude Guermonprez, Notes to John and Notes to John I, 1966. Trude Guermonprez Archives, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Library, New York.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, at the end of her career, that Trude Guermonprez moved away from the Bauhausian ideas of functionality and concentrate on creating new esoteric and less directly representational work, referring back to and fully realizing the potential of the self-portrait textile graphics briefly alluded to in the 1950s. As Guermonprez explains:
My recent period of Textile Graphics started around 1970. It is too close to the present to know the reason for these pieces. Except that more and more an awareness of our ties with the universe seems to occupy my feelings and I sense a quietening of passions in our personal lives which gives strength and freedom from anxieties.[7]
Using photographs, drawings and lettering, with the textile graphic assuming a dominant role, Guermonprez’s later work combined the imagery of her poetry and portraiture to express her ideas about life.[8] The few different pieces that stand out as illustrative examples of this are Guermonprez’s Notes to John and Notes to John II (1966), Our Mountains (1971), and her final work, Mandy’s Motto: The Wind Don’t Blow One Way All The Time (1975).  In Notes to John, Guermonprez combines the traditions of letter writing and weaving in a very non-traditional way. As Jan Janeiro writes:
Woven during an absence from her husband, these “letters” illustrate the strengths of her work– technical control of woven structures at the service of a quiet, personal vision, and a biographical intimacy that can be shared by the viewer because its specificity has been transformed into a metaphorical statement.[9]
Trude Guermonprez, Our Mountains, 1971. Oakland Museum of Art, The Tapestries of Trude Guermonperez, Introduction by Hazel V. Bray (Oakland, CA: Oakland Museum, 1982), Published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Tapestries of Trude Guermonprez” shown at the Oakland Museum, 14.

During the 1970s, Guermonprez’s work shifted towards a more intimate and highly personal aesthetic.  This change includes a much greater use of unconventional materials and techniques.  In these works in particular, this movement away from Guermonprez’s earlier style is also seen in Our Mountains, where she uses portraiture to create the image of mountains. The piece shows a mountainous landscape incorporating the reclining profile face of her husband, John Elsesser, facing right to create the mountain peaks, with Guermonprez’s own profile facing left to form the hills beneath.[10] This tapestry speaks to Guermonprez’s use of portraiture while similarly transcending the traditional self-portrait genre and venturing into the metaphoric realm, with self-portraiture used “not as self-declaration but as a gentle and hopeful recognition of personal redemption.”[11] Similarly, Guermonprez’s final work, Mandy’s Motto: The Wind Don’t Blow One Way All The Time, veers into the metaphoric realm, bringing together many techniques from her varied career, including the three-dimensional double-weave, now incorporated as an aesthetic detail rather than entirely structural form, and the use of printed text as lettering, to create what has been called “her most personal work with the sureness of the mature artist who has fond what is necessary and compelling to say.”[12]

Trude Guermonprez, Mandy's Motto: The Wind Don't Blow One Way All The Time, 1975. Oakland Museum of Art, The Tapestries of Trude Guermonperez, Introduction by Hazel V. Bray (Oakland, CA: Oakland Museum, 1982), Published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Tapestries of Trude Guermonprez” shown at the Oakland Museum, 18.

The 1970s saw a revived interest in traditional handcraft techniques, paralleling the continued emergence and increased interest in the fiber arts movement in America.[13] While the techniques of utilizing printed graphics, weaving with nontraditional materials, and incorporating superfluous sewn, woven and knotted elements into the formally rigid design of the woven structure had all been methods utilized by Guermonprez for some time, such ideas about what the fiber arts were and could become were just beginning to slip into the American public’s conscience.



[1] Jan Janeiro, "Trude Guermonprez: A Quiet Journey," Surface Design Journal, (Fall 1991), 8.

[2] American Craft Museum, Lenore Tawney: A Retrospective, ed. Kathleen Nugent Mangan (New York: Rizzoli, 1990), published in conjunction with the exhibition “Lenore Tawney: A Retrospective” shown at the American Craft Museum.

[3] Jan Janeiro, "Trude Guermonprez: A Quiet Journey," Surface Design Journal, (Fall 1991), 8.

[4] Ibid., 8.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius (eds.), “Weimar Bauhaus: 1919-1925,” Bauhaus: 1919-1928 (Boston: Charles T. Branford Company, 1959), 16.

[7] Hazel V. Bray, “Introduction,” The Tapestries of Trude Guermonprez (Oakland, CA: Oakland Museum, 1982), published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Tapestries of Trude Guermonprez” shown at the Oakland Museum, 19.

[8] Ibid., 19.

[9] Jan Janeiro, "Trude Guermonprez: A Quiet Journey," Surface Design Journal, (Fall 1991), 8.

[10] The Museum System, Drawing, Trude and John as Landscape, Study for the Tapestry “Our Mountains”, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

[11] Jan Janeiro, "Trude Guermonprez: A Quiet Journey," Surface Design Journal, (Fall 1991), 8.

[12] Ibid., 8.

[13] Mary Schoeser and Whitney Blausen, “‘Wellpaying Self Support’: Women Textile Designers,” Women Designers In the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference, Pat Kirkham (ed.) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 160.

1 comment:

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