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.