Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


San Francisco Bay as the Fountainhead and Wellspring

Jack Lenor Larsen led off the 9th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America in Oakland, California, with a plenary session directed to TSA members and conference participants. He congratulated us, even while proposing a larger and more inclusive vision of our field, and exhorting us to a more comprehensive approach to fiber. His plenary remarks were spoken extemporaneously from notes and not recorded. We recognize that their inestimable value deserves to be shared more broadly; Jack has kindly provided us with his rough notes for this keynote address. The breadth of his vision, and his insightful comments regarding fiber and art, are worthy of thoughtful consideration by all who concern themselves with human creativity.

On the Textile Society of America

Larsen proffered congratulations on the Textile Society of America, now fifteen years old. He highlighted the attendance at this symposium and lauded our strength in numbers and diversity of the people gathered, representing among others both curators and creators. But he also cited the striking and significant absence of the textile industry, of designers, and of people working at the far edges of the invention of new industrial fabrics. And he made note of the fact that an overview of fabric in the broadest sense was also lacking.

On the State of the Field

Larsen applauded the increased prominence of the textile arts in mainstream art venues, including SOFA (Sculpture Objects & Functional Art) exhibitions in Chicago and New York, and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Cooper-Hewitt, and the Museum of Art & Design. He also noted the significant research on resist techniques undertaken at the Ethnographic Museum in Basel, Switzerland.

He urged us to approach a standardization of terms for everyone to share, similar in some ways to the Dewey Decimal system, for the description and classification of fiber and its manipulation in varied cultural contexts, styles, and time periods. He advocates use of the term “craftmaker,” advising us not to shy away from the making of the craft; craftmaker offers a better and more descriptive term than craftperson or the gendered craftsman. He considers fabric to be more inclusive than textile; he laments use of the term fiber artist, which he considers “deplorable,” likening it to the non-existent paint artist. He encourages the use of fiber, however, as an umbrella term, directing us to consider also the related terms, fiber art and art fabric.