Date of this Version
Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).
The work of Ed Rossbach, his colleagues, and students at the University of California, Berkeley during the 1960s and 1970s was critical in forming the modern movement of American fiber art. What may not be as well known is the continuity of this work with a tradition of textile art and study at UC Berkeley going back to 1912.
Founded as a department of Household Art as part of the home economics movement, it became a department of Decorative Art in 1939, under the leadership of Berkeley anthropologist and textile scholar Lila M. O’Neale (1886–1948). A cultural approach to the teaching of historic textiles was carried forward by her successors, anthropologists Anna Gayton and Ruth Boyer (who taught 1948–65 and 1962–72, respectively).
The most important creative weaver in the department was C. Edmund Rossbach (1914–2002), who taught from 1950 to 1979. Although he never knew O’Neale, he was inspired to creatively adopt the ethnic and historic influences which he encountered in the teaching of her colleagues and in the rich museum collections at Berkeley. This approach was also taken up by Professor Lillian Elliott (1930–94) and student Joanne Segal Brandford (1933–94).
As an introduction for the other essays from my session, my article reviews the political battles over the status of the department from its entry into the College of Environmental Design, through its official demise in 1974, until the last textile classes with Rossbach’s retirement in 1979.