Lenore Tawney

Reflected Ray


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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Lenore Tawney 1907–2007
Ink on paper
Support: 584 × 455 mm
Presented by the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation (Tate Americas Foundation) 2016
On long term loan


This is one of a group of drawings in Tate’s collection by American sculptor and pioneer of ‘fiber’ [sic.] art Lenore Tawney (Tate L03876–L03881). Executed in ink with a fine pen, they are mostly drawn on graph paper or squared paper, their geometrical structure and meticulous approach reminiscent of the drawings of Tawney’s close friend, the abstract painter Agnes Martin (1912–2004). In the mid-1960s, after a period spent making woven sculptures of an increasingly complex nature (see, for example, The King I 1962 [Tate L03873], The Queen 1962 [Tate L03874] and Lekythos 1962 [Tate L03875]), Tawney visited a factory in New Jersey to observe a Jacquard loom. Inspired by this visit, she studied how to use the Jacquard loom for a year at the Textile Institute in Philadelphia, and it was during this time that she produced the series of drawings of which this is one example. These drawings demonstrate most clearly Tawney’s shared interests with Martin, though the forms Tawney created on graph paper were often more complex and ‘sculptural’ than Martin’s equivalent grid drawings. Like Martin, Tawney was interested in meditation and eastern philosophy throughout her lifetime and saw the slow and precise process of creating these drawings, as well as her textile pieces, as a form of meditation.

Having practiced initially as a sculptor, Tawney turned to weaving in 1954 when she studied tapestry with the Finnish weaver Marta Taiple at the Penland School of Crafts. In 1957 Tawney occupied a studio in Lower Manhattan’s Coenties Slip where she became part of a community of artists including Robert Indiana (born 1928), Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015) and Agnes Martin. It was Martin who chose the titles for Tawney’s hanging sculptures, such The King, The Queen, The Bride, The River, The Foundation, The Veil, The Arc, etc. Martin also wrote in the catalogue for Tawney’s solo exhibition at the Staten Island Museum in 1961–2 about the originality of Tawney’s vision:

To see new and original expression in a very old medium, and not just one new form but a complete new form in each piece of work, is wholly unlooked for, and is a wonderful and gratifying experience …With directness and clarity, with what appears to be complete certainty of image, beyond primitive determination or any other aggressiveness, sensitive and accurate down to the last thread, this work flows out without hesitation and with a consistent quality.
(Agnes Martin, Lenore Tawney, exhibition catalogue, Staten Island Museum, New York 1961–2.)

Further reading
Woven Forms, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York 1963.
Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen, Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric, New York 1973.
Kathleen Nugent Mangan (ed.), Lenore Tawney, A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, American Craft Museum, New York 1990.

Ann Coxon
March 2016

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