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A Focus on Fiber

A venerable museum support group celebrates 75 years of textile arts
July 25, 2017
Pelerine (Collar or Cape), about 1830–60? Artist unknown, Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River Area. Embroidery; feathers, cotton. Gift of the Textile Art Alliance in honor of their 60th Anniversary 1996.14

Martha Young President, Textile Art Alliance with TAA member Ruta Marino

The first meeting of the Textile Art Alliance (until 1986 the Textile Arts Club) was convened in November 1934, with the enthusiastic support of CMA director William M. Milliken and Gertrude Underhill, associate curator in charge of textiles. The goals of the club were formulated as follows: To revive, encourage, and maintain interest in embroideries and textile arts, and to enlarge the museum’s collection of textiles; to announce matters of special interest pertaining to these subjects; and to further educational courses, classes, and lectures. Interest of the members was to be stimulated by two lectures a year, one or more visits to private collections, and study courses in the history of textiles and in design. 

The second oldest CMA affiliate group, the Textile Art Alliance (TAA) remains an active organization of artists, designers, craftspeople, educators, and collectors who promote the fiber arts through exhibitions, educational programs, and purchases for the textile collection of the museum. The first acquisition, an 18th-century French silk brocade, was bought in 1936 for $25. Extraordinary historical acquisitions followed, with attention recently focused on contemporary fiber art.

In 1977 TAA presented Fiberworks, one of the first contemporary fiber art exhibitions at a major American art museum. This landmark invitational show garnered international praise and attention, breaking all CMA attendance records. Evelyn Svec Ward, a distinguished fiber artist with close ties to the museum, remarked: “[Director] Sherman Lee, who intensely disliked blockbuster exhibitions, found one within his very walls, and he loved it.” 

When the Textile Arts Club Annual Exhibition and Sale began in 1936 it encompassed all crafts media, but in 1970 it was limited to fiber art and in 1981 renamed Focus: Fiber. Lee himself served as juror in 1983. Expanding beyond the TAA roster to become a regional show, Focus: Fiber is now a significant juried biennial event in contemporary fiber art. Artists, collectors, and curators have served as jurors; Canadian artist Dorothy Caldwell will jury the next exhibition at the Canton Museum of Art in 2011.

Besides the museum, other venues for Focus: Fiber have included the Beck Center for the Arts, Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, and Cleveland State University Art Gallery. In 2004 a second out-of-state venue was added and a catalogue published; in 2006 entries were received from an eight-state region and the catalogue won an award. A TAA members-only show was revived in 2006 and 2008 at the Heights Arts Gallery in Cleveland Heights.

Chaparral, 1980. Richard Landis (American, b. 1931). Double cloth; mercerized cotton. Gift of the Textile Art Alliance of Cleveland 2009.339

In the meantime, the TAA’s educational mission was not neglected: experts lectured on historical textiles, internationally renowned fiber artists spoke about their work, and members demonstrated a rich variety of textile techniques. An ambitious weekend of family activities was organized in conjunction with the museum’s exhibition When Silk Was Gold in 1998. When members at the TAA reception overheard director Bob Bergman lament the lack of appropriate wearable art, they quickly created a unique silk tie for him. 

Members were asked to lead myriad quilting events in support of the exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend in 2004. In 2009 TAA presented a day of demonstrations and family activities at the Canton Museum of Art to complement Canton’s exhibition Kimono as Art: The Landscapes of Itchiko Kubota.

To support the acquisition of fiber arts, in 2004 TAA initiated the Wearable Art Fashion Show. Held annually in mid October, this major fundraising event grows each year, raising $27,600 in 2009. A full day of activities includes shopping at 75 artists’ boutiques, a raffle, lunch, and fashion show, with the opportunity to buy right from the runway. Completely run by volunteers, the Wearable Art Fashion Show perfectly addresses the total TAA mission.

A proud affiliate of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Textile Art Alliance is active, creative, and colorful. To learn more about the organization’s activities and opportunities, pick up the TAA 2009–2010 program at the museum or visit taaclevelandart.org.  


Cleveland Art, December 2009