There is no way my kid could weave that Think of the masterworks of mid-20th-century American art and a sequence of big, bold images by big, bold art stars cascades through your mind. Abstract Expressionists, Color Field painters, modernists of various stripes — Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hoffmann, Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell … whoa, back up a minute. Frankenthaler was married to Motherwell, and her older sister was a certain Gloria F. Ross (1923-1998), who also played a prominent role in the art world, though you’re less likely to know much about her. Her passion was weaving, and she created a niche by promoting the “translation” of paintings by notable artists — including all of those mentioned above — into tapestries executed by many of the finest weavers on the planet.
Ross sometimes viewed her task as analogous to what a movie producer does. She orchestrated the process by selecting — and sometimes commissioning — suitable images from artists, figuring out which textile artisans (in Europe, America, and Asia) would be most attuned to realizing the images in woven format, aligning the pecuniary matters through sponsorships and marketing deals, and basically overseeing the whole complicated scheme from start to finish. Under her stewardship, some 30 artists and an army of textile artisans gave rise to nearly 250 woven tapestries.
The epicenter of Rossiana is the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where a Ross research center is overseen by Ann Lane Hedlund. Yale University Press has just issued Hedlund’s weighty, gorgeously illustrated volume Gloria F. Ross & Modern Tapestry, which effectively serves as a catalogue raisonné chronicling her jampacked lifetime of projects. The American Southwest plays an important part in this international story. A detailed chapter is given over to vibrant images by Noland, as interpreted in wool by leading Native weavers, including Ramona Sakiestewa. Elsewhere we find Ross bluntly rebuffed by Georgia O’Keeffe. Hedlund gives a lecture on Noland and Native American weavers at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian (704 Camino Lejo on Museum Hill), with a book signing following. For information, call 982-4636.
— James M. Keller