Lenore Tawney’s Waters above the Firmament owes its striking character to the simplicity of its basic concept: a large circle set into a square. This simplicity is complicated by the weight Tawney has given to the upper half of the circle, in which the warps are made of paper and fabric coated in thick blue paint. Here Tawney, known for her pioneering exposure of the warp (vertical thread element), provided a variant on that theme: she wove the circle with slits that open at regular half-inch intervals, emphasizing a third dimension, a device she utilized in many of her weavings. Trained in sculpture at the Institute of Design in Chicago and an alumna of the School of the Art Institute, Tawney’s exploration of weaving as a sculptural enterprise fits well within her body of work, which also includes laminated boxes and collages as well as constructions composed of such materials as eggshells and chairs.
Lenore Tawney (born Leonora Agnes Gallagher; May 10, 1907 – September 24, 2007) was an American artist known for her drawings, personal collages, and sculptural assemblages, who became an influential figure in the development of fiber art. Tawney began weaving in 1954. Her early tapestries combined traditional with experimental, using an ancient Peruvian gauze weave technique and inlayed colorful yarns to create a painterly effect that appeared to float in space. Because of her unorthodox weaving methods, Tawney was spurned by both the craft and art worlds, but her distinct style attracted many devoted admirers. She is considered to be a groundbreaking artist for the elevation of craft processes to fine art status, two communities which were previously mutually exclusive. Tawney’s weavings fall into three categories: the solid straight weaving, the open warp weave, and the mesh or screen woven as background for solid areas. Tawney often went beyond traditional definitions of weaving, including needlework to add action to the line of a woven design.
Furthering her experimentation, Tawney began creating what she called “woven forms”. These totem-like sculptural weavings abandoned the rectangular format of traditional tapestries, and were suspended from the ceiling off the wall. She sometimes incorporated found objects such as feathers and shells into these pieces. Beginning in 1964 Lenore Tawney began a series of linear drawings using ink on graphing paper. This eight piece collection would go on to inspire the 1990s series Drawings in Air, a three dimensional study of lines as threads in space. Tawney suspends threads in space with the help of plexiglass and wood framing.
In conjunction with her drawing series Tawney began a number of collage works. The artist utilized antique book pages, envelopes, and postcards as a working surface to which she liberally applied imagery, text, and drawing. These works contained a variety of messages, some secret to humorous messages. The artist sent collages to friends and eventually created a series of collage books along with other items.