Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,


Copyright 2014 by the author(s).


Mary Lois Kissell was a pioneer in the comparative cultural study of textiles and basketry, an art educator, a museum anthropologist, and an intrepid fieldworker. When she died in 1944, no obituary was written about her, and no single study has focused on her contributions to textile scholarship. We have not come to know her through a single collection of personal papers; for as far as we can tell, nothing of the kind was ever deposited in a repository. The scattered correspondence that we have amassed by and about Kissell comes from various museum, library, historic society, and university archives in North America and Europe. These letters attest to her extensive research and teaching on textiles, and to her miscellany of distinguished art educator, anthropologist, and collector-scholar correspondents and mentors: Otis T. Mason, Arthur Dow, Clark Wissler, Henry Ling Roth, Charles F. Newcombe and James A. Teit. In this paper we examine how Kissell appears to have inhabited and been influenced by several communities of practice, while being marginal to each of them. We offer a rendering of Kissell’s training, teaching, and research activities that demonstrates how she lived within a series of separate disciplinary boundaries. Although her writing left an imprint on the study of textiles, she and her pioneering publications are rarely anything more than a footnote or a bibliographic entry. To some students of fiber arts, her name is still connected with the founding of the program at the University of California; a program that later included Lila O’Neale, who is associated with the establishment of the cultural study of basketry and textiles. This biographical sketch serves as an introduction to Mary Lois Kissell, and raises the question of the impacts of her training, social network, and innovations on textile study.