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Working in the Archives of The Fabric Workshop and Museum

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Working in the Archives of The Fabric Workshop and Museum

By Connie Yu.
 

Walking into The Fabric Workshop and Museum, you’re funneled past the brightly wallpapered lobby, past the shop carrying artist multiples, artist books, and fun design paraphernalia, and into the first room of the gallery. Richard Tuttle’s Both/And Richard Tuttle Print and Cloth (May 15–Summer 2015) spanned the first, second, seventh, and eighth floors. In the second room of the first-floor gallery, along the left wall, objects lined the walls, fastidiously measured fifty-four inches above the floor at Tuttle’s request, small-scale constructions that hearkened back to Kazumi Tanaka’s show last fall, Mother and Child Reunion (August 1–September 9, 2014). In the same first-floor room, handmade miniatures of Tanaka’s family cabinets and wardrobes extended from the wall, their small shadows set against prints of scale drawings of the objects themselves. What Tuttle and Tanaka’s shows revealed at first glance was the careful making of these objects; what is most remarkable about The Fabric Workshop and Museum is that the making is done in-house by the studio team, in collaboration with the artists for their dedicated shows.
 

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    • Fabric Workshop and Museum exterior. Photo credit: Matt Wargo & VSBA, LLC.

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    • Fabric Workshop and Museum Sales Shop. Photo courtesy of FWM.

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    • Richard Tuttle, The Present, 2004. Metal, cloth, paper, paint, and rope, with four colored lamps. Approximately 61 x 13 x 13 inches (155 cm x 33 cm x 33 cm). Galerie Ulrike Schmela, Berlin.

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    • This installation view at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia of Both/And  Richard Tuttle Print and Cloth features work from Richard Tuttle: I Don’t Know . The Weave of Textile Language, exhibited at and organized by the Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2014. Photo credit: Cameron Blaylock.

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    • This installation view at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia of Both/And  Richard Tuttle Print and Cloth features work from Richard Tuttle: I Don’t Know . The Weave of Textile Language, exhibited at and organized by the Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2014. Photo credit: Cameron Blaylock.

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    • Richard Tuttle, Clutter, 2008–12. Mixed media on mounted cardboard circles, on wood, on black cardboard circles; fifteen parts. 23 5⁄8 x 139 x 7 1⁄8 inches (60 x 353 x 18 cm). Collection of Gian Enzo Sperone, Switzerland.

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    • Richard Tuttle, Fiction Fish I, 7, 1992. Graphite and ribbon on cardboard and graphite line. 5 x 4 1/2 x 1 1⁄8 inches (12.7 x 11.4 x 2.9 cm), excluding line. Collection of Craig Robins, Miami.

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    • Kazumi Tanaka, Mother and Child Reunion. Installation at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, 2014. Photo courtesy of THEartblog

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    • Kazumi Tanaka in collaboration with the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Conception-#1 (2014), hand screen-printed pigment on linen, details. Photos courtesy of THEartblog.

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I have worked at FWM for the past two summers, this year as a Publications Intern. The Fabric Workshop and Museum is both a contemporary art museum and screenprinting studio. The studio, on floor six, comprises Master Printers, and frequently Apprentices, high school, college, or post-grad, as selected by the museum’s Education department. The artists chosen for residencies are often established makers in a wide range of media, from sculptor Louise Bourgeois to photographer Lonnie Graham, ceramist Betty Woodman to performance artist Marina Abramovic, painter Glenn Ligon to video artist Ryan Trecartin. After careful correspondences, parlays of ideas, and grant applications, the artists visit Philadelphia and work closely with the studio staff to fabricate objects, prints, yardage for future shop items, wallpaper, costumes, and more. Founded in 1977, The Fabric Workshop, a nonprofit space by Marion Boulton Stroud — the late Artistic Director, whom everyone called Kippy, seemed an untouchable icon of vision and energy, though to me, scanning the myriad handwritten notes folded into the archives, she felt warmly enthusiastic — exists as a place where artists would be able to experiment in fabric and touch on new definitions for function, art, fashion.

I spent my summer on the fourth floor, with much of the archival documents and correspondences between the Artists-in-Residence and museum contacts. The richness of these documents, in addition to the digital and physical archives on the third floor, is at first overwhelming, a collector’s dream. On one of my first days at FWM last year, Carlos Avendaño, artist and keeper of the archives, unearthed some umbrellas from A Rain of Talent (1989), a group show in which past Artists-in-Residence created umbrellas in collaboration with the studio team. Nick Cave’s Soundsuits from his 2011 show were in the middle of the floor, safely covered but standing eight, nine feet tall in full glory.

My project for the summer involved researching, compiling, and writing text for the Fortieth Anniversary publication, due in 2017. With the encouragement of Stephanie Greene, Head of Exhibitions and Publications, and Alec Unkovic, Administrative and Publicity Coordinator, I began unearthing material from the fourth floor stacks. The stale-sweet smell of papers in safekeeping for twenty or thirty years was a rush; something about handling the physical objects, paraphernalia and doodles all, that made the process of collaborating and creating real to me. The opportunity to dig through a museum’s written history, especially one that delineated in detail the processes of making, was instructive and therapeutic, serendipitous and deeply engaging for me.

I’ve learned at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, which is fundamentally and with incredible boldness both a work- and show-space, that creating artwork as well as their exhibitions and publications is an enormous effort of community. The papers, sketches, announcement cards, and fabric samples I handled with awe remain proof of this.


Edited by Mariah Macias.


Connie Yu is a junior in the College studying English and History of Art. She works at the Kelly Writers House and The Fabric Workshop and Museum.