Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


In 1978, Mary Walker Phillips won the American Craft Council Fellows Award for being "the first to introduce knitting as a form of artistic expression." Phillips's work in the 1960s bridged industrial design and studio craft; her wall hangings pushed knitting outside traditional associations with home craft and into the realm of modern art, architecture and interior design. Phillips trained as a weaver at Cranbrook Academy of Art in the 1940s and the 1960s with Marianne Strengell and Glen Kaufman. Her initial forays into knitted textiles were experimental responses to prominent contemporaries, Anni Albers and Jack Lenor Larsen, who believed that knitting had the potential to replace weaving as the dominant mode of 20th-century textile production. From designing adventurously conceived knitted prototypes for mass-production and use in architectural and industrial settings, Phillips discovered greater freedom in making wall hangings, often at architectural scale, which demonstrated her extraordinary command of knitting's technical and expressive possibilities. Using non-traditional materials, Phillips's refined, quintessentially modern compositions revealed her fascination with architectural sources, and with the historic and ethnic textiles that inspired many fiber artists of the 1960s. This presentation on Mary Walker Phillips's journey from industrial designer to studio artist in the medium of knitting will address major influences on her work, both personal and broadly expressed within the emergence of art fiber during the 1960s, including a perception that hand craft was consistent with the democratic goals, values and aesthetics of American modernism.