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Thought on the Loom

The Journal of
Modern Craft
Volume 4Issue 3
November 2011
pp. 269294

Reprints available directly

from the publishers
Photocopying permitted by
licence only
Berg 2011

Tai Smith
Tai Smith teaches modern and contemporary art and design
history at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She
has published in Art Journal, Grey Room, and Texte zur Kunst,
and is completing a book manuscript on the writing and
woven work of the Bauhaus weavers in interwar Germany
and postwar America. Recently, she has begun to examine the
overlap of textile design, architecture, and graphic design in
the 1950s and 1960s.

In the late 1960s, fiber artists moved off the loom,
began using hand-knotting techniques, and created work
that was often rope-like and textured with soft and
yielding contours. By contrast, fiber artists of the late
1970s, as documented in Mildred Constantine and Jack
Lenor Larsens third exhibition catalog, The Art Fabric:
Mainstream, from 1981, moved back on the loom and
began generating highly structured objects. These works,
which Constantine and Larsen describe as following an
architectonic logic, demonstrate an interest in the
geometric and three-dimensional possibilities of this
woven craft. Thus, the work of artists seen in the 1981
catalog, such as that by Kay Sekimachi, Gerhardt Knodel,
and Warren Seelig, reconsidered the textile structures
that had preoccupied an earlier generation influenced
by the Bauhaus in order to think on, through, and then
beyond the limits of the looms architecture. Coming out
of Cranbrooks new Department of Fiber in the 1970s,
the director Knodel and student Seelig navigated the
discursive-technical boundary of the designer-craftsman
and fiber artist through different approaches to the
architectural dimensions of textiles. While Knodel sought
to share or perform the dimensionality of weaving in the
built environment, Seelig considered woven structure as
an organic source for new, tectonic dimensions in the
fabric plane.

The Journal of Modern Craft Volume 4Issue 3November 2011, pp. 269294

270 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

Keywords: loom, weaving, fiber art, craft,

tectonic, Gerhardt Knodel, Warren Seelig,
Kay Sekimachi

Off the Loom and Back On

In the introduction and first chapter of
Elissa Authers landmark study of fiber
art in the late 1960s and early 1970s,
the objects discussed tend to exhibit a
particular aesthetic and practical method.
Most of the artists who moved off the
loom began using various hand-knotting
techniques, and marshaled a certain range
of materials: coarse animal fibers, heavygauge rope, and plant-based fibers such
as sisal, hemp, or jute.1 Thus, the works
documented in her book are often stringy,
rope-like, and highly textured, with soft and
yielding contours.
According to Auther, this aesthetic was
not simply an arbitrary taste; indeed, it
carried something of a political weight as
fiber artists like Claire Zeisler, Francoise
Grossen, Sheila Hicks, Magdalena
Abakanowicz, or Jagoda Buic sought to
disrupt the hierarchy that otherwise
determined their work as mere craft. In
the 1960s, these trained weavers stopped
weaving, liberated the medium from the
loom, and created three-dimensional,
sculptural work in order to insert themselves
boldly within the discourse of fine art.2
This liberating action stood for a rejection
of what the loom represented: either the
utilitarian imperatives of the textile industry,
or the craft of traditional tapestry weaving.
Once freed, the fiber work of these artists
could be compared to another set of
activities developing within the New York art
worldnamely postminimalism.3
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Tai Smith

At the center of Authers study are two

exhibitions and their accompanying catalogs:
Wall Hangings (1969) and Beyond Craft: The
Art Fabric (1972), organized by design curator
Mildred Constantine and textile designer Jack
Lenor Larsen. Both held at The Museum of
Modern Art in New York, these exhibitions,
according to Auther, constituted a struggle
for legitimacyan attempt to break the
barrier between craft and art.4 Although
Zeisler and Hicks, for example, never quite
accrued the status afforded postminimalist
artists who similarly used fiber-based
materials (like Eva Hesse or Robert Morris),
these exhibitions did propel them to the
forefront of discussion around a new
category called fiber art.
In the interest of legitimating this new
field as a practice that went beyond craft,
much was made of the artist in Constantine
and Larsens second volume, which is
organized monographically. Here, a portrait
of the artist Abakanowicz and several pages
displaying her mammoth-like sculptures
are accompanied by a spread of black-andwhite photographs showing the artists
hands manipulating gnarled pieces of twine.5
Similarly, a photograph of Jagoda Buic shows
her wrapping chenille-like, tufted strands
around a tapestrys warp.6 In both cases, the
direct handling of materials demonstrates
the artists off-loom technique. And so these
photographs perform a double function: on
the one hand, they draw attention to the
craft, or the process in which these artists
engaged; on the other, the photographs
relay the story of art fabric as one of
innovationa rejection of one craft tradition
(loom weaving) in favor of another, less
technical one (hand knotting)in order to
move beyond craft. Liberated from the loom

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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 271

Tai Smith

and re-grounded in the artists own hands

(and hence a more immediate relationship
between materials and the body), the
evocative idea of the piece comes to the
fore. These works, in other words, exceed
the technical know-how required of weaving
(or craft) in order to become vehicles for
personal expression, for art.
Authers aesthetic criteria are productive
in examining the work of a specific range
of artists working in the 1970slike
Abakanowicz, Buic, Zeisler, and Hicks. But
her narrative, it seems, fails to account for
a different body of activities that became
more prominent at the end of that decade.
Consider, by contrast, Constantine and
Larsens third catalog on the topic, The
Art Fabric: Mainstream, from 1981, which
displays only one photographic portrait (of
Abakanowicz) and is radically different in its
presentation of the art fabric. Each artists
individual identity mostly disappears, and
instead the reader is introduced to a set
of geometrically disposed objects, which,
although they carry labels and names, are
predominantly organized by approaches.
(It seems that once the art fabric had gone
mainstream, the authors thought there was
less need to legitimate its objects with the
brand name of the artist.) Page after page
is devoted to what appear to be a number
of (anonymous) constructivist or Bauhaus
Vorkurs experiments: cubes of grosgrain
ribbons; plaited boxes made out of twine; an
algebraic topography of square-to-triangular
folded fabric; a small study that uses looped
selvage to form one corner of an optical
The concern with structure found in
Mainstream is indeed a stark contrast to
the stringy, textured, and softly expressive

forms more often found in the 1972 catalog.

A full-page, blown-up image in the 1981
volume, of a relief-planar weave by Warren
Seelig, is noteworthy for its mathematically
engineered, relief surface. Especially when
compared to a close-up of Abakanowiczs
rope-like, twisted Gobelin from Beyond
Craft, the close-up of Seeligs textile grid
clearly displays the work not of a hand, but
of a looman apparatus that distributes
threads into rectilinear patterns.8 The slight
irregularity of the intersecting rhomboid
forms only accentuates the fabrics otherwise
crisply formed grid.
Mainstreams chapter titled The New
Classicism, whose subheadings include
Grids and Systemic Structures, best
describes this new trend:
The sensibilities at work today are often
concerned with woven and plaited
structures in patterns inherent to foursquare, architectonic logic. In Art Fabrics
of the 70s, we often witness symmetry
of form or composition; a will to order
and control; a trend toward meticulous
craftsmanship and refinement, in
moderate and even intimate size.9

The curators, no doubt, felt assured in their

assessment of this tendency. In addition to
Constantines small exhibition at MoMA
titled The New Classicism, from 1977,
they refer to a 1978 exhibition at the Louise
Allrich Gallery that showed the minimalistinspired work of Lia Cook, Daniel Graffin,
Masakazu Kobayashi, and Kris Dey; and to
an exhibition called Struktuur in Textiel
(1977) held at the Stedelijk Museum
in Amsterdam, which displayed Peter
Collingwoods geometric thread experiments
called macrogauzes.10 So, despite the fact

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272 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

that several works displayed in The Art Fabric:

Mainstream were amorphous, in the manner
of off-loom works of preceding years, the
predominance of geometric patterns and
architectonic schemaoften requiring
the deployment of a complex weaving
apparatusmarked a palpable shift in studio
textile production. The word architectonic,
repeatedly invoked by the curators in this
catalog, refers both to architecture and
to the four square woven structures as
generated on a loom.
If a particular formal sensibility
developed at the end of the 70san
architectonic, rather than textural (or
ropey) tendencyit seems to have
reflected a renewed interest in getting back
on the loom. A new generation of artists,
perhaps emboldened by the nomination
of their field as fiber art, dismissed the
previous generations anxieties concerning
loom technology and the association
with amateur craft that had marked the
popular spread of weaving in the 1950s.11
Constantine and Larsen put it best: the
1960s saw a movement away from the
loom toward fabric techniques permitting
freedom and dimension. But almost as soon
as the revolution was overthat is, by the
mid-1970sthe shift toward weaving and
especially loom-controlled techniques began,
not as a rout, but as a viable alternative.12
Once the defamiliarize[d] techniques of
hand knotting, for example, had become
(all too) familiar, artists felt justified in
reconsidering the textile structures that had
occupied an earlier generation influenced by
the Bauhausin particular Anni Albers, Trude
Guermonprez, and Marianne Strengell.13
To be sure, this generation of
architectonic weavers consistently recalls the
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Tai Smith

design experiments in textile structures that

had occurred in the 1950s. One might say,
then, that these later works complicate the
opposition, identified by Glenn Adamson,
between the designer craftsmen of
industrial textiles and the domain of off-loom,
sculptural practices that came to define fiber
art in the late 1960s.14 Indeed, in their search
for new ways to understand their medium,
artists in the late 1970s re-harnessed the
logic of the loom without regret.15
In this context, the work of Kay
Sekimachiwho would later be referred to
by Larsen as the weavers weavermakes
a new, if quiet, appearance among the pages
of The Art Fabric: Mainstream.16 Instead of
her ghost-like, multidimensional weaves
out of monofilament threads shown in the
Wall Hangings catalog from 1969, we find
in the 1981 catalog an origami-like box.17
Constructed from a single, uninterrupted
plane (with a continuous weft), the
telescoping feature of Basket with Brown Lines
(1977) exploits the structural characteristics
of a multilayered weave by narrowing,
through a series of steps, the band of warp
(Figure 1). The process of discovery on the
loom, which Sekimachi first grasped through
the teachings of her mentor Guermonprez,
was intrinsic to the development of these
humble, geometric entities.18 Achieved on
a conventional loom (they were simply
cut off [her 12-harness] loom and opened
up and tacked in a few places), her boxes
demonstrate Sekimachis ability to think
through, and then beyond, the limits of the
looms architecture. Thus, a similar, fivelayered weave, along with a method of
split-ply twining, was used to create a series
of six Nesting Boxes (19745; Figure 2).
These objects visually permute the looms

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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 273

Tai Smith

Fig 1 Kay Sekimachi, Basket with Brown Lines,

1977. 6 x 6 x 4 in. Natural brown linen, quadruple
weave. Photographer unknown. Published in The
Art Fabric: Mainstream (Van Nostrand Reinhold,
1981). Image courtesy of the artist.

grid; black and white threads alternate on the

boxes interior and exterior surfaces.19 To put
it another way, Sekimachis boxes, by making
use of the split-ply technique, re-imagine the
work of the loom as a process performed in
three dimensions.
Still, an attempt to rethink the architecture
of weaving in the late 1970s did not
necessarily mean becoming tethered to the
loom again. Looking through the pages of
The Art Fabric: Mainstream, one might say
that the loom had become not so much
an apparatus as an abstract principlean
algorithm that could be deployed using a
number of other, different channels. (Even
Sekimachi, as the weavers weaver, found
inspiration using card weaving techniques,
split-ply twining, and later paper.) One
section, which discusses an expansion of
materials and techniques, shows tapestries
that are braided and plaited out of bamboo
and enamel (Nance OBanions Air: Structure,
1979); shellacked fabric and paper cord
(Patricia Campbells Constructed Light Wall I

and II, 1978); or various industrial materials,

like copper cable, microfilm, and Mylar tape
(Arturo Sandovals Pond, 1977; Cityscape #3,
1977; and Wall Weaving in Process, 1976).
Then there are several works by Peter
Collingwood and Lenore Tawney, referred to
in a section on Systematic Structures, that
make conceptual reference to the geometric
complexity of the loom apparatus.20
Tawneys drawing in graphite details an
abstract rendering of a Jacquard heads tie
uphundreds of taut strings overlapping in
a two-dimensional space. And Collingwoods

Fig 2 Kay Sekimachi, Nesting Boxes, 1974. Back

box: 8 x 8 x 8 in. Middle box: 6 x 6 x 6 in. Front
box: 5 x 5 x 5. Linen, five-layered weave, double
weave pick-up. Photograph: John Hamamura.
Published in John and Susan Hamamura, Woven
Works (Chronicle Books, 1978). Image courtesy of
the artist.

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274 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

wall hanging deconstructs (quite literally)

a basic loom apparatus; he brings the
cross beams and looms shed to the wall,
folding and flattening these elements in the
process. Especially noteworthy among the
plethora of geometric, dimensional forms
is a horizontal grid of repeated, stepped
pyramids by Naomi Kobayashi (Pagoda
Kawa, 1977). This work was created using
a process called wicking, whereby the artist
wets the thick cotton threads and builds
up the structure as though laying bricks, or
indeed, shuttling weft. Thus, whether plaited,
wicked, drawn, or woven, the looms grid
the perpendicular geometry of weaving
emerges in Mainstream as a conceptual, yet
also dimensional, idea. And so even work
completed off the loom is, in some sense,
thought on it.

Cranbrooks Architecture
Examining two particular fiber artists, whose
work can be found among the pages of The
Art Fabric: Mainstream, is especially productive
in considering this turn toward the
conceptual armature of the woven grid. Like
Sekimachi, both Warren Seelig and Gerhardt
Knodel, both of whom came to notoriety
in the latter half of the 1970s, might be said
to complicate the opposition between fiber
artist and designer-craftsman that defined the
Beyond Craft generation. Seelig, who attended
Cranbrook as a student from 1972 to 1974,
would weave three-dimensional wall reliefs
and small-scale sculptures out of fine cotton
threads. Knodel, who began directing the
program in 1971, would become known for
his large-scale installations and architectural
commissions of draped fabricmade from
lengths of cloth he wove on a common floor
loom. Both artists works were inspired by
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Tai Smith

design and construction principles drawn

from architecture.
The fact that Knodel and Seelig launched
their careers at Cranbrook is significant to
this narrative. For the most part, the designcentered approach that had marked the
Textile Department of Cranbrook under
the guidance of Marianne Strengell changed
with Knodels appointment as director. The
studio space was reorganized from an
open plan, characteristic of design studios,
to one in which each student had his or
her own space. The forest of twenty-two
Cranbrook Looms was dismantled (only a
few remained, where needed) to provide
room for critiqueswhere ideas about
objects could be discussed. And soon the
department, at the initiation of the students,
was renamed: Fiber.21 The stress was now
on individual productivity and art. Yet, one
could say that this program always remained
conscious of its historical foundation, both
discursively and physically: the Arts and
Crafts ideology espoused by the schools
founder, newspaper magnate George G.
Booth, which initiated the teaching of
textiles in the first place; the foundational
curricular plan that defined workshop
areas by functionally distinct craft areas (i.e.,
ceramics, furniture, bookbinding); and the
carefully crafted campus itself, as conceived
by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.22 Especially
noteworthy, according to Knodel, was
the presence of [h]andmade textiles
throughout the buildings, most woven in the
Cranbrook studios, and patterned specifically
to extend the expressive dimension of each
specific architectural space.23
Knodels interest in architecture was
deeply embedded in the physical space of
Cranbrook. He encouraged the students

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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 275

Tai Smith

to explore the campus grounds during

orientation, to get acquainted with the loomwoven textiles seen throughout the buildings,
and to witness the more figurative weaving
that could be found in the patterned
brickwork or in the intersecting passages of
the campus walkways.24 But it was Knodel
himself who was especially inspired by the
temporal quality of Saarinens architecture.
When I asked him recently about the
importance of Saarinen for his work, he
Eliel Saarinen understood the educational
potential of architecture, and manifested
his understanding in a sequence of
buildings and gardens that reveal
themselves as one walks in relationship
with them. Layer by layer, one is led from
one place to the next; each visual and
physical experience seems to anticipate
the next . Pattern and decoration are
intrinsic to the architecture, an essential
part of the DNA of the place, never
additive or excessive.25

Knodel saw the relationship between his

own practice in fiber and the architecture of
Cranbrook much as the nineteenth-century
architect Gottfried Semper conceived of the
relationship between ornamental brickwork
and architectureas a migration between
media that bore the traces of that history
(the very DNA of the place).26 But for
Knodel, the migration of patterns found in
Cranbrooks environment had less formal
and more phenomenological implications.
It enabled him to think about the physical
nature of his practice, and how that could be
shared, in some sense, with the viewer.
In this context, Knodel became
increasingly interested in the role of

architecture as a kind of stage. He continued

to weave on the loom throughout the
1970s, but he would divert his hand-woven
lengths of cloth into architecturally scaled
installations and environments. Inspired by
new research in fabric architecture, Knodel
considered how textile environments
might provide a phenomenologically rich,
interactive space. So his commissions for
atriums in building interiors in some sense
express the mathematical logic of the loom
(its architectonics), but through a kind of
visual metaphor: in the grid-like arrangement
of modular sheets of woven textiles, the
dance of fabrics in architectural space
performs, or plays out, his weaving process
for the viewer.27
By contrast to Knodel the course leader,
Seelig the student was less interested in
the immediate environment of Saarinens
architecture and more concerned with
another kind of structure found in
Cranbrooks archives: the thesis work
of textile students from the 1940s, 50s,
and 60sincluding Robert D. Sailors, Ed
Rossbach, and Jack Lenor Larsen.28 These
projects, many of which were industrial
prototypes, incorporated new materials into
innovative structures and patterns and were
directly applicable to some function in an
architectural environment. Seeligs own work
in sculptural, non-functional forms, of course,
had very different ends. But what he found
in the abstract quality of these structures
(the fact that they had no discernible content
or message other than their experimental
use of materials and functional objective:
i.e., upholstery) no doubt supported his
interest in the means, the technical and
abstract dimensions of his craft. The formal
outcome of a craft, as he would later say,

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276 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

emerges inexorably out of the relationship

between the material and what one might
call the looms architecture.29
Thus, Seelig set out in his Cranbrook
studio to discover what could be thought in
his medium, on the loom. The weave, he had
found, was organic and alivean energy
field that grew somewhat magically as
he sat there watching the accumulation of
thousands of intersecting threads.30 And so
a natural joint, or fold, would emerge at a line
in the grid of perpendicularly bound threads.
Seelig worked through the double weave as
it was born on the loom, the intersections
of threads and the resultant skin of fabric
under tension, in order to project it in three
dimensions. By inserting flexible Mylar or
polyester segments into the pockets formed
from the double cloth, Seelig developed
a method for creating an architectonic
structure formed out of a hinge in the weave.
Out of Cranbrooks architectureits
history and its physical environmentthese
artists navigated the discursive-technical
boundary of the designer-craftsman and
fiber artist through different approaches
to the architectural dimensions of textiles.
While Knodel sought to share or perform the
dimensionality of woven structure in the built
environment, Seelig considered weavings
structure as an organic source for new
dimensions in the fabric plane.

Art Fabric in Architecture

In a photographic reproduction found in
The Art Fabric: Mainstream, massive sheets
of Knodels woven fabric appear to billow
above a large, interior spacea library
meeting area with chairs and trees (Figure 3).
Light floods the arena through a wall of glass,
making the cloth appear to glow orange
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from within. Meanwhile, the windows

mullions cast curved shadows against the
wool and Mylar textile. In dialog with their
surroundings, the curved forms twist the
buildings vertical linesthe window frame
and columns that act as a reference for the
architectural container.
Knodel was commissioned to make
this work, Gulf Stream, in 1977 for the
W.D. Anderson Library at the University of
Houston, Texas. Along with several other
works from the mid-1970s, Gulf Stream
presents an approach to fabric as a pliable
planewhat weaver Anni Albers identified
as textiles that not only occupy architectural
space but also, potentially, reshape it (as
in a movable screen).31 Although Knodels
fabrics were woven on a loom, they
disobediently reject their place against the
wall or on the floor; instead they float within
the architectural environment, creating
a curvilinear space within the otherwise
rectilinear dimensions of the building (Figure
4). This work thereby focuses on the
tectonics of architecture; but tectonic here
has two meanings, two dimensions. On the
one hand, it is related to the construction
and crafting of space; on the other, it implies
a deformation of spacelike tectonic shifts
in the geological realm.
In The Art Fabric: Mainstream, Constantine
and Larsen devote a chapter to works
that expand fabric into built environments,
commissions by architects for public spaces
and private corporations. Their attempt was
to understand weaving as a medium at once
distinct from and yet especially in tune with
architectural questionshaving to do with
the body and phenomenological space. A
special issue of Fiberarts in 1977 had been
dedicated to this trend.32 But whereas the

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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 277

Tai Smith

Fig 3 Gerhardt Knodel, Gulf Stream, 1977. W.D. Anderson Library, University of Houston, Texas.
Image courtesy of the artist.

magazines editors praised the contrast

between the soft textures of fiber art and
the cold, spare environments of modern
corporate buildings, Larsen and Constantine
were, it seems, more interested in the
convergence of architectonic weaves and
architectural space. Thus, in a reference to
medieval European tapestries at the opening
of the chapter, they write:
[T]hese old tapestries are not only
remarkably successful in their power
but also in an architectonic organization
consistent both with the order of the
spaces in which they were hung and in
relation to the sculpture, stained glass,
and forged metals within these spaces.
That they related so well to architecture

is ascribed to their being a weavers art:

through the use of a few rich colors
and by subordinating their flat images
to the horizontal/vertical structure of
the cloth, these weavers achieved solidly
architectonic compositions.33

The authors similarly conclude the chapter

by arguing that one should recognize
there is a natural convergence of disciplines
between the architect-designer and the
artists working in fiber, which includes
their common concerns for structure,
for expressed scale, for the articulation
of shade and shadow.34 So, although
several works displayed in Mainstream do
include hanging piles of rope, the authors
text is ultimately more concerned with

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278 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

Tai Smith

Fig 4 Gerhardt Knodel, Gulf Stream, 1977. W.D. Anderson Library, University of Houston, Texas.
Image courtesy of the artist.

discussing fiber art that explicitly addresses

its architectural surroundings. From this
perspective, Tawneys Cloud Series (1979)
and Knodels Gulf Stream (1977) and Free Fall
(1977; Figure 5) are not distinct, large-scale
sculptures that happen to hang in an
environment, but rather works that integrate
into the physical structure of the ceiling and
walls. But again, if architecture is central to
(or rather fully encompasses) their forms,
Tawneys and Knodels commissions suggest
that this convergence relies on the deeper
architectonics of the weave.
The Journal of Modern Craft

By 1970, when he arrived at Cranbrook

as an artist-in-residence, Knodel had
already been inspired by examples of fabric
architecturefrom the tents of nomadic
peoples around the world to architectengineer Frei Ottos German Pavilion
at the Montreal World Expo, which he
saw in 1967. Later, Knodels deepening
interest in the subject compelled him to
assign for class reading Bernard Rudofskys
Architecture Without Architects and to bring
Alexandra Kasuba to campus as an artistin-residence.35 Kasubas strange systems

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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 279

Fig 5 Gerhardt Knodel, Free Fall, 1977. Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan. Image
courtesy of the artist.
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280 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

for creating curvilinear environments and

temporary housing using stretched-knit
fabric pertained especially to his interest in
expanding the spatial limits of cloth. Out of
this milieu of approaches to architecture,
Knodel began creating a series of spatial
experiments using his hand-woven,
rectangular bolts of fabric.
For his first architectural commission at
the Renaissance Center in Detroit, entitled
Free Fall (1977; Figure 5), Knodel considered
what architecture might offer his practice.
After studying the built setting, a complex
of towers designed by John Portman, and
reacting to invisible conditions existing within
those vast concrete walls, he wove about
thirty rectangular lengths of fabric on an
eight-harness loom.36 The vertical movement
implicit in the glass elevators of Portmans
postmodern architecture is replicated in the
arrangement of Knodels swooping textiles.
Knodels falling fabrics in many respects
emphasize what Fredric Jameson identifies
as the hyperspace condition of Portmans
building, which leaves the visitor without a
sense of coordinates, a clear sense of how to
traverse the space, as she stares up into the
vertical vortex.37 But the phenomenological
experience of the atrium, through Knodels
addition, also gains another dimension as
the visitor is reminded of the means of
constructionthe pulleys and scaffolding
that generated this fortressed city within
another city (Detroit) otherwise falling into
But the question of Free Falls ontology
emerges with still more complexity. Knodel
would later claim that his architectural
work was actually rooted in loom weaving
and that, while weaving each panel, he
anticipated its performative function, that
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Tai Smith

of physically and expressively interacting

with the viewer.38 For example, in his first
large-scale cloth installation, Act 8 (1974),
what appears to be the warp is, quite
physically, working to suspend a fabric wave
from the ceiling. As viewers enter the space,
the air circulates and the waveor delicate
balance of threads-to-clothadjusts to a
slightly different frequency. Knodel wanted
to bridge the intimacy of handweaving on a
loom to the larger dimensions of inhabitable
space. Ultimately, he decided that the most
practical solution was to be found in weaving
fabric in its most natural form, a rectangle,
and then finding ways to manipulate the
panel in space, finding a new posture for
that plane.39 Thus in Free Fall the floating
sheets of fabric, suspended on pulleys in
an architectural atrium, recall another past
experience no longer visible to the viewer
the temporal choreography of warp threads
on the loom. As the weaver raises and
lowers the treadles with his foot, he adjusts
the architecture of the warps shed; and then,
passing the shuttle through that shed, the
weft works to build (or bind) a flattened
version of the warp-sheds architecture:
the weave. In Grand Exchange (1981), the
geometry of the atrium is tempered by the
arrangement of many intersecting layers
of warp and weft (Figure 6). Thus the
viewers phenomenological experience of
the fabric installationas she walks around
the spaceevokes, in some sense, the
phenomenological experience of its weaver.
Architecture is important to Knodels work
as a designed space of engagement.

Architectonic Concept
When he arrived at Cranbrook in 1972, after
several years of studying weaving and drafting

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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 281

Fig 6 Gerhardt Knodel, Grand Exchange, 1981. Cincinnati, Ohio. Image courtesy of the artist.
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282 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

at the Philadelphia College of Textiles, Seelig

was less inspired by examples of fiber art
than he was by the possibilities that emerged
from his technical training.40 He was
conscious of Anni Albers writings on design
and the constructivist approach that could
be found, for instance, in the work of George
Rickey and Naum Gabo.41 Gabos Kinetic
Construction No. 1 (1920) must have been
especially intriguing to this young student
of the loom. When static, Gabos sculpture
was only a single line (a string-like piece of
metal), but in motion it came to resemble a
volumetric, harp-like form (morphologically
similar to Seeligs Vertical Shield 4, Figure 11,
see below).42 Works like this, along with
Gabos Linear Construction No. 1 (19423),
which defines a volumetric form through
an intersecting field of transparent, nylon
threads, helped Seelig imagine possibilities
for his own practiceone that attempted
to consider how his particular craft and
technique might generate new thought
about volume and structure.
Constantine and Larsen refer to
architectonic propensities at many points
throughout The Art Fabric: Mainstream, but
the significance of this term only comes into
full relief in the section on Grids, where
they discuss several works by Seelig.43 Here,
the authors identify the taut, folded surfaces
and procedural specificity that defined the
artists work from the mid-to-late 1970s:
Confining himself to black and white
cotton string and working in double cloth
technique, Seelig soon discovered the
potential for using the intersections of two
cloth layers as an integral hinge. Working
on a series of pleated fan shapes, he also
found that, if two layered pockets between

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Tai Smith

these intersections were stuffed with a

stiff plastic film or a cardboard cut to size
during weaving, his pleats would be crisp
and his forms rigid; this new system had
such structural and aesthetic potentials
that he persevered in this direction. All
in white, the first fans are remarkable, not
only for technique but also for highlight
and shadow of their folded relief. They
grow from 90o fans to the 180o curves
of the arches . Framing the periphery
with a band of double-woven red and
black checkers was consistent with the
architectonic concept.44

What the authors call the architectonic

concept in several of Seeligs objectslike
Box Relief #4 (1976) or Conjuncture #1
(1978)refers to his technique of double
weaving and his insertion of stiff materials to
create an armature or structure of crisp
pleats (Figures 7, 8, 9, 10). Yet this adjective,
architectonic, also points to their geometric
character, or the fact that they bear the
visual traits of what appear to be pattern
elements from an architectural facade or
surface ornament. The phrase architectonic
concept indicates how the look invokes
a particular structure and constructional
means. Thus, Seeligs approach to the loom
enabled him to articulate a new system, a
new approach to building and thinking on a
loom, and this ultimately became apparent
through its formal dimensions.
Architectonic concept, indeed, evokes
a discussion in the realm of architectural
theory around the notion of tectonics.
Constantine and Larsen may have known
of a short essay from 1965 by architectural
historian Eduard F. Sekler, which neatly
synthesized the fundamental principles

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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 283

Fig 7 Warren Seelig, Box Relief #4, 1976. Image courtesy of the artist.

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284 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

Fig 8 Warren Seelig, Box Relief #4, 1976. Detail. Image courtesy of the artist.
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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 285

Fig 9 Warren Seelig, Box Relief #4, 1976. Detail. Image courtesy of the artist.

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286 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

Tai Smith

Fig 10 Warren Seelig, Conjuncture #1, 1978. Image courtesy of the artist.

behind this term.45 Structure, Sekler

writes, refers to a system or principle of
arrangement destined to cope with forces
at work in a building, such as post-andlintel, arch, vault, dome and folded plate.
Construction, by contrast, refers to the
The Journal of Modern Craft

concrete realization of a principle or system.

The former implies the abstract principle
or the objective system, whereas the latter
implies the material processes by which the
work is produced. Tectonics, as the third
term, is defined syntheticallyas the fusion

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Tai Smith

of this technical-conceptual pairbut also

When a structural concept has found its
implementation through construction, the
visual result will affect us through certain
expressive qualities that clearly have
something to do with the play of forces
and corresponding arrangement of parts
in the building, yet cannot be described in
terms of construction and structure alone.
For these qualities, which are expressive
of a relation of form to force, the term
tectonic should be reserved.46

Although the long history of debates

about architectural tectonics was perhaps
less familiar to American readers in 1981,
when the catalog for Mainstream was
published, the original formulation of this
term in the early nineteenth century, when
the term first gained ground, is especially
apt here.47 The first major theorist of
tectonics, Karl Btticher, sought to resolve a
fundamental opposition between structure
(the various mechanics and forces of a
building) and ornament (architectures
representational language) in order to
identify its unity as an Art.48 According
to historian Mitchell Schwarzer, Btticher
advanced the concept by synthesizing
several seemingly disparate aesthetic and
other philosophical discoursesfrom the
Enlightenment philosophy of Immanuel
Kant, which stressed the Architektonik of a
unified system of thought, to the CounterEnlightenment texts of Johann Gottfried
Herder, which placed emphasis on sensation
and an understanding of matter as a living
field of forces.49 Thus, Tektonikderived
etymologically from the Greek word Tekton,
meaning carpenterreferred in Bttichers

usage to the architects ability to represent a

buildings mechanical and tactile or physical
dimensions, its ontology and forces, through
means at once visual and conceptual.50 As
Schwarzer says: Architectural ornament
is the explication of complex functional,
structural, and spatial relations.51
Taking up his mentor Friedrich Schinkels
question: how is architecture, in the service
of need and utility, elevated to fine art?
Btticher followed by arguing that ornament
was essential to tectonicsthat it was, in
Schwarzers words, the ultimate culmination
of the architectural act.52 Looking at classical
Greek architecture, Btticher considered
how ornamental features best represent
the ontological (functional and physical)
dimensions of the building, and in this way
point to the architects handling of these
forcesthe architects thought on and through
the dimensions of the material, built space.53
Bttichers theory of the tectonic provided
a concept that complicated the proposal
widely argued during the romantic period
of aesthetic philosophythat architecture
was not representational (it was merely
mechanical or utilitarian), and as such
could not be Art.54 Ironically, given its
lower status among the modernists who
followed Bttichers ideaslike Adolf Loos
or Le Corbusierornament is understood
here not as peripheral but as integral, as
the element of building that represents
architectural thought.
Thus, in the nineteenth-century writings
of Btticher, and its subsequent iteration
in Sekler, tectonics came to imply a visual
representation of structure and construction,
but also the philosophical and aesthetic
dimensions of architectural practice.
Constantine and Larsens use of the term

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288 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

architectonic concept, if understood

within this context, suggests that the work
seen in The Art Fabric: Mainstream does not
simply relate to architecture or pertain
to construction, or constructiveness, which
a simple definition might suggest.55 Instead
these architectonic weaves are premised on
a conceptual principleone that begins in
the constructional practice and architecture
(or structure) of the loom, of technique, and
has a continued life in the formal dimensions
of the work.
The architectonic as a visual expression
of the relationship of form to force is
materialized in several objects by Seelig. To
create structures out of two-dimensional
lengths of fabric and the rectangular format
imposed by the loom, Seelig turned the
textile surface into a taut relief of intersecting
planes. Vertical Shield 4 (1977) thus lacks
the substantial mass of stone or wood, but
nevertheless suggests a vertical column in
human scale (Figure 11).56 The skeleton of
the structure is bowed and bent, as though
the warp has been pinched at both ends and
the weft has formed crystalline pleats in the
weaves surface.
Although Seeligs formalism is in some
sense self-reflexive, it has little claim to
autonomy, as a good modernist might
expect.57 It seems that by taking on the
geometric matrix of the loom, the work is
marked as technologicalthat is, produced
on a machine and dictated by its logic.
And the concept, moreover, cannot be
applied retroactively, after and beyond the
craft is done (as seen, for instance, in the
feminine forms of Abakanowiczs sculptures,
in keeping with the romantic idea of art
as representational). The concept rather
emerges, as Seelig says, organic and alive,
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Tai Smith

out of the mathematical and material forces

that emerge from the loom, in the cloth. It
cannot be separated from the technique, the

Practical Language: Thought on

the Loom
To conclude, it seems useful to turn to the
words of Knodel, as he now looks back on
the critical discourse of fiber art that began
in the mid-1970s:
[Those years] were particularly exciting
because, in many ways, a new language
was being formed on the back of
established ideas, images, techniques and
materials [that] characterized the field of
textiles through the 1960s. That language
was deeply embedded in the work of
artists, in the circuit between eye, hand
and brain that yields new insights in the
process of making. New knowledge was
revealed in the work, and communication
often existed through direct experiences
with the artwork, as opposed to
channeling/accessing the work through
thoughts articulated in response to the
work. Words followed the work rather
than leading or even predicting it (which is
so often the approach to study today) .
Few people were there to interpret this
work in words, and those that did often
used the language of design as a means to
express their reactions.58

On the one hand, Knodel reveals the

excitement of this moment, when the
language of craft criticism emerged directly
from practice. Without a critical armature or
a set of criteria, fiber artists were necessarily
at the forefront of thinking about (and even
writing on) their medium. But Knodels

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Architectonic: Thought on the Loom 289

Fig 11 Warren Seelig, Vertical Shield 4, 1977. Image courtesy of the artist.

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290 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

statement also points to the degree to which

an interest in obtaining knowledge out of
practice ultimately lost favor. Today, he says
making reference to work by Anne Wilson
words tend to precede, rather than follow,
the work.59
Moreover, if architectonic concepts
helped many weavers like Seelig and
Knodel begin to imagine a language for
their practice, that language may have also,
inadvertently, re-crafted the medium. These
concepts brought many of its practitioners
back into the discursive domain of the
applied arts, in specialist periodicals like
Fiberarts. (After all, only a practitioner can
truly understand the complex workings of
the loom apparatus; it intimidates the critic
trained to find evident meaning but unaware
of the mediums technical aspects.) So, the
increasing concern with craft technology in
1981 was problematic for the budding field.
Rather than buttressing the fields aesthetic
criteria, as it had done for modernist painters
in the 1920s or 1950s, this instance of
language developed out of practice resulted
in ghettoization. A tendency toward
technical complexity and refinement in
other craft media in many ways provides
the broader context for fiber art in these
years: hyper-realistic ceramics, technically
challenging woodwork, more skilled glass
blowing, and experiments in metalwork
with techniques such as mokume gane and
electroplatingall witnessed in new, glossy
industry magazinesinadvertently narrowed
all of these fields framework of reference.60
Craft developed its own language, but it
became less understood by a wider public.
Even Constantine and Larsen foresaw
the problem when they asked, with a
slightly apologetic tone, regarding Seeligs
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Tai Smith

cool intellectualism and stunning,

technical perfection: Is this perfection too
closely related to the strong line and cool
neutrality of orthodox International Style
architecture?61 Their discomfort was no
doubt related to postmodern imperatives
that had taken hold of art world discourse.
Writing in the context of 1981 (several years
after much of the cited work was made),
Constantine and Larsen clearly recognized
a potential antipathy to this architectonic,
seemingly modernist, work.
And so a hierarchy, it could be said, has
developed from within fiber art. Today, works
that can be framed within feminist or other
theoretical vocabularies applied retroactively,
after the making, continue to fetch
significantly higher appraisals as compared to
their architectonic counterparts.62 Without
any apparent idea that exceeds the craft, the
tectonic objects engendered by the loom
have suffered from the continued lineage
of romantic aestheticsone that sees the
architectonic work of weaving as mere
1 Elissa Auther, String Felt Thread: The Hierarchy of Art
and Craft in American Art (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2010), p. 14.
2 Auther, p. xxi. The artists in Authers narrative
who did not move off the loom are Lenore
Tawney (who nevertheless used an unorthodox
manipulation of the loom) and to a lesser extent
Kay Sekimachi.
3 Auther, p. 14. Auther discusses the work and
reception of Robert Morris and Eva Hesse in
her second chapter, Process Art, Postminimalism,
and Materiality. In later years, soft and highly
textured fiber work would be interpreted from
within the domain of feminism. On this, see her

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third chapter, The Feminist Politicization of the

Art/Craft Divide, pp. 93162.
4 Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen
authored both Wall Hangings, exh. cat. (New
York: Museum of Modern Art, 1969), and Beyond
Craft: The Art Fabric (New York: Museum of
Modern Art, 1972). Although not terribly well
received by art-world critics, these exhibitions
were successful insofar as the field of fiber art
subsequently began to flourish.
5 Beyond Craft, pp. 823.
6 Beyond Craft, p. 135.
7 Susan Jamarts Field of Color (1979), Maria
Nemess String Box (1976), and Maria von
Blaaderens Study Square (1977) can be found in
Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen, The
Art Fabric: Mainstream (New York: Van Nostrand
Reinhold Company, 1981), pp. 845. Warren
Seeligs Fabric Tiles (1979) is illustrated on p. 55.
8 The close-up photographs to which I refer are
of Abakanowiczs Blanche (1966), in Beyond Craft,
pp. 801; and of Seeligs Vertical Relief #5 (1974),
in The Art Fabric: Mainstream, p. 162.
9 The Art Fabric: Mainstream, p. 163.
10 See installation photographs of these three
exhibitions in The Art Fabric: Mainstream,
pp. 289, 49.
11 See, for example, the quarterly magazine
Handweaver and Craftsman (New York), whose
first issue came out in April 1950. According
to its title page, it was for everyone interested
in Handweaving home and professional
weavers, designers for industry, occupational
therapists, teachers and students .
12 The Art Fabric: Mainstream, p. 163. Certainly the
process of weaving textile-like objectsmade
from interlacing somewhat perpendicular
threadshad persisted through the 1960s and
early 1970s. Even Buic insisted that her work was
fundamentally based in the tapestry tradition.
But the work of the mid-to-late 1970s marked
an emphatic return to the structural possibilities
of the loom and to demonstrations of technical

13 A similar assessment can be found in an essay

by April Kingsley for a small, paperback catalog
for the exhibition, Fiber: Five Decades, held at the
American Craft Museum in 1995: In the later
1970s and the 1980s a reaction set in against
the huge scale and the bombast of the previous
decade which could almost be described as
an implosion, so intense was the mediums
internalization and exploration of what weaving
could do and be when it wasnt just so big. The
optical sensuality and delicacy of an earlier work
like Trude Guermonprezs 1965 Banner, took on
new resonance.
14 See Glenn Adamson, The Fiber Game, Textile:
Journal of Cloth and Culture, 5(2/Summer 2007).
At the opening of his article, Adamson presents
two oppositional tendencies among fiber artists
in the early 1970s: the first, that of designercraftsmen, aligned itself with the Bauhaus
principle of experimentation toward the design
of industrial textiles (Albers, Loja Saarinen,
Marianne Strengell, and Dorothy Liebes); the
second, opposing tendency in fiber art was
embodied by a group of weavers who had
been moving in the direction of free-standing
three-dimensional forms (p. 156). Albers and
Guermonprez, European migrs who were
both at Black Mountain in the 1950s, are cited by
Constantine and Larsen for their contribution to
what they call New Classicism in Mainstream
(pp. 1645).
15 This argument is substantiated by the contents
of Fiberarts magazine from this period. Although
there was plenty of attention to off-loom
techniques, it was no longer the dominant
approach. Artists whose medium is loom-based
weaving, like Susan Iverson and Warren Seelig,
are especially highlighted. See, for example,
Fiberarts, 3(4/JulyAugust 1976) and Fiberarts,
7(5/SeptemberOctober 1980).
16 Sekimachis work appeared in the curators first
exhibition (Wall Hangings) and then disappeared
in the second (Beyond Craft). Jack Lenor Larsen
first called her a Weavers Weaver in 1993,
for an essay of that title in Marriage in Form: Kay
Sekimachi & Bob Stocksdale, exh. cat. (Palo Alto,
CA: Palo Alto Cultural Center, 1993).

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292 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

17 The Art Fabric: Mainstream, p. 161.

18 From Guermonprez, Sekimachi explains that she
came to understand the relationships between
the parts of the loom. All I know is I threaded
but I really didnt understand what the harnesses
were doing, but she sort of clarified everything
. I saw some of the wall hangings that she
was doing, and then, of course, she introduced
us to the work of Anni Albers and the Bauhaus.
Suddenly I realized that we dont have to be
doing three-yard lengths and handtowels. Kay
Sekimachi, The Weavers Weaver: Explorations
in Multiple Layers and Three-dimensional Fiber
Art, an oral history conducted in 1993 by
Harriet Nathan, Regional Oral History Office,
The Bancroft Library, University of California,
Berkeley, 1996.
19 For an eloquent technical discussion of
Sekimachis use of split-ply twining, a technique
from India that Virginia Harvey brought to light
in the early 1970s, see Larsen, The Weavers
Weaver, p. 16.
20 The Art Fabric: Mainstream, pp. 1867
21 Gerhardt Knodel, The Field of Fiber at
Cranbrook, in Hot House: Expanding the Field of
Fiber at Cranbrook, 19702007 (Bloomfield Hills,
MI, Cranbrook Art Museum, 2007), pp. 1315.
22 See Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision
19251950, exh. cat. (Detroit: Detroit Institute
of the Arts; and New York: Metropolitan
Museum of Art, 1984).
23 Gerhardt Knodel, email to author, November 11,
24 Knodel, Hot House, p. 14.
25 Knodel, email to author, November 11, 2010.
26 See Glenn Adamsons brief discussion of Semper
in Thinking Through Craft (Oxford, UK: Berg,
2007), pp. 967.
27 For further discussion of the grid in relation
to Knodels work, see Marsha Miro, Gerhardt
Knodel: Inhabitations, in Gerhardt Knodel,

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Portfolio Collection, Volume 16 (Winchester

UK: Telos Publications, 2002).
28 Seelig mentions reviewing the work of previous
Cranbrook students in a public symposium,
Vivid Forms: New Inventions, at the Kansas
City Art Institute, transcribed in American Craft
(JuneJuly 1985): 17.
29 See Warren Seelig, Craft and the Impulse to
Abstract, in The Haystack Reader (Deer Isle, ME:
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 2010).
30 Warren Seelig, email to author, August 27, 2009.
The full quote is: The idea of a Textile is for me
a phenomenon [that] has its source in the magic
I experienced when weaving my first length of
cloth. Through the accumulation of thousands
of intersecting threads I observed the growth of
an energy field which for me was organic and
alive, where its true life was not represented on
the surface of the cloth but hidden within. That
early experience of constructing a textile has
informed my work in many ways including the
more recent Shadowfields.
31 Anni Albers, The Pliable Plane: Textiles in
Architecture, in On Designing (Middletown, CT:
Wesleyan University Press), pp. 1824.
32 See Fiberarts, 3(3/MayJune 1976).
33 The Art Fabric: Mainstream, p. 203.
34 The Art Fabric: Mainstream, p. 226.
35 Knodel, Hot House, pp. 16, 18.
36 Knodel, email to author, November 11, 2010.
37 See Fredric Jamesons analysis of Portmans
Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, which was
built the same year as the Detroit complex,
in Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University
Press, 1999), pp. 3843. Jameson likens the
phenomenological experience of the LA building,
with the vertical movement of its glass elevators
and the dizzying logic of the floor plan, to the
schizophrenic condition of late capitalism.
38 Knodel, email to author, November 11, 2010.

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39 Knodel, email to author, November 11, 2010.

40 Seelig often describes his work from this period
as an overt rejection of the dark, brooding,
hairy wall hangings coming out of Eastern
Europe. Here he is referring to Abakonowicz
and Buic in particular. Seelig, email to author,
January 4, 2011.
41 While at Cranbrook, Seelig came across Naum
Gabos work in George Rickeys Constructivism:
Origins and Evolution (New York: George
Brazillier, 1967). He was also inspired by the
work of Hermann Scholten, a Dutch artist
whose weavings were displayed in Beyond Craft:
The Art Fabric and who studied with designer and
architect Gerritt Rietveld.
42 Rickey, pp. 1912.
43 In this section titled Gridspart of the
chapter on New ClassicismConstantine and
Larsen also discuss the work of Blair Tate, Anne
Wilson, Richard Landis, Herman Scholten, Peter
Collingwood, Lenore Tawney, Marlise Staehlen,
Akiko Shimanuki, and Margot Rolf, among others.
44 Constantine and Larsen, The Art Fabric:
Mainstream, p. 179.
45 Seklers essay, Structure, Construction,
Tectonics, was published in Gyorgy Kepes,
Structure in Art and in Science (New York:
George Brazilier, 1965), pp. 8995. Kepesa
former New Bauhaus instructor and the
director of MITs CAVSwas important to the
American art and design circles of the 1960s,
of which Naum Gabo and George Rickey were
46 Sekler, p. 89.
47 The tectonic was also a central principle in
the Soviet constructivist movements key
triad of concepts, which included facture and
construction. Alexei Gan defined the term in
1921 as that which emerges and forms itself
based on the one hand on characteristics of
Communism, and on the other on the expedient
use of industrial materials. The word tectonic is
taken from geology where it is used to define

eruption from the earths centre. Alexei Gan,

Constructivism, in Art in Theory 19002000: An
Anthology of Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul
Wood (Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell
Publishing, 2003), p. 343. Historian Maria Gough
points out that other constructivists criticized
Gan for his invocation of organic or geological
forces on the grounds that it seemed too
spontaneous and natural. See Gough, The
Artist as Producer: Russian Constructivism in
Revolution (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University
of California Press, 2003), p. 72.
48 For a thorough discussion of the use of this
term in early nineteenth-century Germany,
see Mitchell Schwarzer, Ontology and
Representation in Karl Bttichers Theory of
Tectonics, Journal of the Society of Architectural
Historians 52(3/September 1993): 26780.
49 Schwarzer, pp. 2689. Schwarzer, citing Herder:
all matter lives: For in it and conforming to
its outer and inner organs, a thousand living,
manifold forces are at work.
50 The etymological root of this term, the Greek
Tekton, as related to the craft of the carpenter, is
strongly emphasized by Kenneth Frampton, who
is interested in architecture as a constructional
craft. See his Rappel lordre: The Case for
the Tectonic, reprinted in The Craft Reader, ed.
Glenn Adamson (Oxford, UK: Berg, 2010).
51 Schwarzer, p. 236.
52 Schwarzer, pp. 2689.
53 In Thinking Through Craft, Adamson has an
especially informative discussion of Kenneth
Framptons use of the term tectonic (pp. 91
100).Adamson considers Framptons tectonic
in light of theories of education around the
multivalent concepts of skill and craftsmanship.
54 Schwarzer refers in particular to the arguments
of Enlightenment aestheticians Johann Georg
Sulzer and Karl Philip Moritz; Schwarzer, p. 272.
55 Oxford English Dictionary entry for

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294 Architectonic: Thought on the Loom

56 According to Gottfried Semper, who followed

on the heels of Btticher, architectural tectonics
is rooted in textiles, in the principle of the
lightweight frame. See Frampton, p. 414. See
also a special issue of Textile: Journal of Cloth and
Culture, 4(3), concerning architecture.
57 For a discussion of modernist autonomy as
distinct from the practice of craft, found in the
writing of Theodor Adorno, see Adamson,
Thinking Through Craft.
58 Knodel, email to author, November 11, 2010.
59 See, for example, Anne Wilsons project for
the Knoxville Museum of Art, Wind/Rewind/
Weave, which was created in 2010. Wilson
hired professional weavers from the now-dead,
local textile industry in Tennessee to weave a
long bolt of cloth from threads spun by gallery
participants. The work addresses issues around
the loss of labor and craft in modern American
society and is meant to emphasize the process
of weaving, but insofar as the parameters set
for the weaver and the cloths design were
pre-established by Wilson, the verbally and
textually articulated concept precedes the

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WindRewindWeave.pdf (accessed June 16,
60 I am grateful to Glenn Adamson, whose editorial
comments are cited here, for pointing out these
examples and making this broader connection.
Edward Cooke addresses this issue in the
case of furniture in The Makers Hand (Boston:
Museum of Fine Arts, 2009), and Tina Oldknow
does so in Pilchuck: A Glass School (Seattle:
University of Washington Press, 1996).
61 Constantine and Larsen, The Art Fabric:
Mainstream, p. 179.
62 For example, documents at the Museum of Arts
and Design associated with the 1989 donation
of the Dreyfus Corporation Tapestry Collection
reveal that items by Sekimachi were appraised
significantly lower than works by Zeisler
and Hicks. Of course many factors go into
appraisalsuch as provenancebut it seems
fair to say that the critical discourse (or lack
thereof) is in many ways responsible for the final

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