My Hero: Theo Moorman

In the book, Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kleon, writes about building your creative family tree. Exploring the people who have inspired you. The teachers you learn from. I have decided to start exploring some of my creative and weaving heroes.

My first weaving hero is Theo Moorman (1907-1990)

Theo Moorman

Miss Moorman was born in Northern England. She studied weaving at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. After graduating she spent years working at the well-known furniture store Heal and Son, Ltd., in London, and later Warner and Son’s. During WWII she worked various jobs to help in the war effort including helping to build the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts. After the war, she tried her hand at free-lance weaving and eventually developed and taught her own technique which bears her name today. (More on the technique in my next post)

Three things really stick out through Miss Moorman’s writing in Weaving as an Art Form; A Personal Statement by Theo Moorman. First is her humility and understanding; which I feel go together. Second, is her thoughtfulness. She really thought through all aspects of what she was doing. Third, is her explorative nature. She loved experimenting with new fibers and weave structures.

Miss Moorman found the structural change in the in the world of weaving beginning in the mid 20th Century inspiring. She also took it very seriously. In her book, Weaving as an Art Form, she explains how all weaving taught in the 1920s were yardage, rug weaving and tapestry weaving. There were no wall hangings and all weaving was strictly 2 dimensional. Also, throughout history an artist designed the tapestries which were then woven in weaving studios by craftsman. The credit went to the artist. Beginning in the mid 20th Century we saw the appearance of the artist-designer-weaver as one person. The ensuing creativity was incredible. The dilemmas that we began to see were clear, and beautifully outlined and answered in the introduction to Weaving As An Art Form, published in 1975.

“In the textile arts the resultant outpouring of new works varies in quality from the fully convinced and controlled work of art as seen, perhaps, at its height in the products of some of the Polish weavers, to the muddled, tangled, undigested bid for novelty at all costs which, if we are honest, we must admit appears only too frequently in the innumerable exhibitions of textile arts of the present day. For let us be clear on one point: when we weavers join the ranks of artists we are plunging into the company of painters and sculptors of all time. However small, trivial, and insignificant our efforts, we are no longer in a backwater. We are out in the mainstream, whether we like it or not, and our aims, if they are to be in any sense valid, must be of the same essence as those of the great masters. We stand, minute and trembling, in the company of Michelangelo and Titian, of Turner and Henry Moore. Before you pronounce this claim exaggerated and farfetched, stop to consider. If our work is devoid of all practical use, if it is not even a space divider or a door curtain, if it ceases to stop a draft or mask a window, its sole purpose is to enhance the beauty or significance of its setting. A wall hang in a room fulfills the same essential function as a drawing or painting, even though it is far removed from either in appearance. It is intended to please and interest the eye and arouse thoughts and emotions in the mind. It has no other function, and if it fails in this, its value vanishes. The responsibility of the producer of a wall hanging or piece of textile sculpture is therefore very great, and, if we are striving to reach a high standard in our work, we must perforce face up bravely to this situation.” pg.7

In this she did not mean that our work should be pictorial or non-inventive. She appreciated abstract work and the use of varied materials, techniques and approaches. I believe her point was that we as artist must master our materials, whether they be rock and twigs or found objects (a popular and adventurous form of art weaving at the time) or the perfected tradition methods (which she refers to as walled gardens).

“Here then is our dilemma — Here is the problem with no answer or with many answers. What should be our own true goal? Should we aim at near perfection with in the walled garden or should we go outside the door and face the tremendous pressures and buffetings waiting for us in the permissive and dangerous modern world? This is a world full of synthetic materials, of plastic in all forms, of ugliness, rebellion, and violence, of anti-art and anti-craft. It seems to me that this dilemma must be faced by serious modern craftsmen, and that the right answer can only be individual and personal to each of us. Our first duty is to honest with ourselves.” pg. 8

“…Between these two extremes, the serenity of the walled garden and the turbulence of the rapids, it is, of course, possible to compromise and find a middle portion. The really important aim should be to embark on a project with the right motives. A woven object must relate to its environment, and in producing works specifically for an exhibition there is an element of artificiality which can be a danger. Although an exhibition can be a useful stimulus to creativity, it can also lead to the production of something dishonest. The thoughts of the best of us are capable of turning, shamefully, in the direction of going one better than our fellow exhibitors, and we can only too easily become involved in a concept which fails to spring from a true emotion.  It is apparent that today’s conditions present us, above all, with a need for honesty, particularly for honesty with ourselves. We must train ourselves to select, from many possible lines of approach, the one that is right and fruitful for us, where our ideas can have a chance to grow strongly and naturally and where we can ourselves develop to our full stature as both artists and craftsmen.” pg. 9

I find these writings and thoughts equally challenging and important today as they were when Theo Moorman wrote them. Especially with my draw towards art weaving and the impact art has on the world.

What do you think?

Blue Gradations by Theo Moorman

Blue Gradations by Theo Moorman

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2 Comments

Filed under Heroes, Inspiration

2 responses to “My Hero: Theo Moorman

  1. Theo is definitely a great influence on the weaving community, in her right. I like the message – pretentiousness is not artistry, true artistry is not competitive. And, to quote Shakespeare, “to thine own self be true”.

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