Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Memory Holloway and Laurie Carlson Steger


Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on the new interest in fiber arts, with the claim that this interest has seen a revival in the hands of contemporary artists exploring bold new forms. “The emergence of fiber art,” states Glenn Adamson, director of New York’s Museum of Art and Design, “is not just the reappraisal of an historic textile movement, rather a much more broad-based interest.”1 The fiber artists on this roundtable addressed two topics related to this broad-based interest, one on formal experimentation, the other on their geographic placement as artists on the Atlantic coast, particularly in and around New Bedford and the links to the slave trade with Savannah. New Bedford received fugitives as part of the Underground Railroad, namely on whaling vessels run by northern abolitionists arriving from the South, as well as by overland routes. Port and sea have left traces on the works of these artists: in their observations of light on water, in the adaptation of West African weaving methods, in the form of waves in the weave itself, and in the risks taken in pushing new techniques to the limit as aspects of contact culture with the environment and populations around them. Questions for discussion included the ways in which artists use new materials matched with traditional methods and how rethinking fiber arts enables them to solve issues that they face when working with new media. Technical discussions included, references to the historic impact of the Spinning Jenny and Cotton Gin, as well as innovative equipment modification techniques for weaving structures of double weave, ondolé, gauzy structures and graphic images. Each artist spoke on the following questions: 1. How and whether they use technology in new ways? (materials or equipment) 2. The textile traditions or techniques that brought them to the springboard of invention? 3. Whether living on or near the Atlantic Coast that has had a bearing on their work? 4. Whether the development of new technologies has inspired them to make their current work?