Member Trip Report: Kent State University’s Textile Arts/Weaving Studio

By Christina Gaston
Membership Assistant

Part I “Structure is my love."
-Janice Lessman-Moss

On April 9, Cleveland Museum of Art members were invited to Kent State University’s Textile Arts/Weaving Studio and to view Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen at the Kent State University Museum.

The morning of the tour, museum members boarded the mini-bus, greeting friends and catching up. I was there to assist my colleague in the membership department who had plotted our course for the day. We were going to visit renowned textile artist Janice Lessman-Moss and then onward to the Kent State University Museum to view the performance clothes of another kind of teacher, the inimitable Katharine Hepburn.

As we coursed along southward, members Charlotte Cowan and Ken Robinson, seated nearby, eagerly reviewed the itineraries for upcoming member trips to Cincinnati and Boston. They tell their own tales of artistic outings and offer thoughtful suggestions for travel consideration. After all, member Kevaly Bozes proposed today’s visit to the Katharine Hepburn exhibition.

Arriving in no time at all, we were greeted at Kent’s textile arts/weaving studio by Janice Lessman-Moss. Sprightly and boundlessly energetic, she bustled us in to the workspace. Students were poring over stockpots, cooking their dyes. We gathered in close as Janice began her presentation, and immediately discovered that she is an artist of pure intensity. A brief explanation of the two components of weaving -- warps runs lengthwise, held taut to the loom while weft is shuttled across -- and Janice dove into explaining her weaving process.

First there is a graphic design. She renders her artistic vision through intricate drawings in Photoshop, creating up to 50 iterations before choosing the final design. Janice is smitten with the mechanical aspects of weave structure and paint. She hangs the warp and laboriously paints the thread with layers of dye. The warp is threaded on the digital Jacquard loom, her digital drawing now a template for the weft structure. The weaving begins.

As she spoke, I became fascinated by Janice’s easy acceptance and total zeal for the computer technology that is advancing her art, making the physical work easier now and much less time consuming. Janice is “embracing the binary system.” “You have to love math and logic to be a good weaver” she replied to member Emily Adams’ query on the subject.

Janice Lessman-Moss showing samples of her work

The original Jacquard loom of 1801, it turns out, is a direct ancestor in the lineage to modern computing hardware. The e-file designs now transmitted to the digital Jacquard machines are the modern equivalent of the original looms’ punch card technology. The first machine to use punched cards, the loom was programmed with one card per pick (a single thread of weft). While the loom did not actually compute, the concept of punched cards inspired this possibility. Because of Jacquard’s punch cards, the medium was modified by Herman Hollerith for his 1896 Tabulating Machine Company, or IBM as we know it today.

Punch card loom in use today

Yes, weaving loves math. Weavers have been speaking through binary code for millennia. Our group was stunned to hear Janice tell of pre-pottery weaving evidence from the Neolithic age. For her, the tension of the warp is eternal and unchanging. The weft, she says, is “earthbound,” and speaks for the “vagaries of man.” So naturally, prehistoric weavers of primordial knowledge knew even then that weaving is duality.

Janice left us with metaphors of the metaphysical and corporeal, the imagery of yin and yang, double helix stuck like darts in our minds. And so, with our senses primed, we reentered the worldly realm and continued to the Kent State University Museum, knowing we will see the textiles inside as never before.

Check back next week for Part II of members trip to Kent State University. Want to join the fun?


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