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Lenore Tawney

Photograph of Lenore Tawney, a female artist. She sits at a table, with her elbows laid down and her hand resting on her hands. Beside her is a large textile weaving.
Portrait of Lenore Tawney by Yousuf Karsh, 1959. Gift of Estrellita Karsh, in memory of Yousuf Karsh.
Also known as
Lenora Agnes Gallagher
Date of birth
Date of death

“To see new and original expression in a very old medium, and not just one new form but a complete new form in each piece of work, is wholly unlooked for, and is a wonderful and gratifying experience.” 

– Artist Agnes Martin on Lenore Tawney, 1961

A major figure in the fiber movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Lenore Tawney redefined the possibilities of weaving and led the way toward the explosive growth of fiber art in subsequent decades.  She created a new vocabulary for textile works by subverting the typical woven grid and inventing new ways of weaving beyond the traditional boundaries of the loom. In order to emphasize the sculptural qualities of her works, Tawney maintained that they hang in space rather than against the wall.

Born in Lorain, Ohio, in 1907, Tawney moved to Chicago at the age of twenty and supported herself by working as a proofreader for a legal publishing company. After 15 of years living and working in the city, she began taking classes at the Art Institute as well as Chicago’s Institute of Design (formerly the New Bauhaus). At the ID, Tawney studied sculpture with Alexander Archipenko and weaving with Marli Ehrman, an alumna of the innovative weaving workshop at the Bauhaus school of art in Germany. Tawney bought her first loom when she was 41 and devoted herself wholly to weaving at the age of 47.

In 1957 Tawney set out for New York City, where she established a studio among a community of artists that included Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman, Robert Indiana, and Agnes Martin. As her career progressed, Tawney worked on an increasingly large scale, making fiber works up to 20 feet in height. These monumental works include The Bride has Entered and the striking tapestry Waters Above the Firmament. Throughout her career, she also created intimately scaled drawings and collages, often in the form of postcards she would mail to friends. Tawney’s dedication to spirituality and meditation greatly influenced her work and her choice of subject matter. When her vision gradually failed in the 1990s, she continued making art with the aid of an assistant.

The Art Institute of Chicago has highlighted Tawney’s groundbreaking fiber art in two solo exhibitions: Lenore Tawney: A Retrospective (1990) and Woven Forms by Lenore Tawney (1962). Her work has also been included in larger exhibitions such as the 2019 show Weaving beyond the Bauhaus.

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