Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women
Exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Washington, US
22.04. – 28.08.2022

Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women Exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Washington, US 22.04 – 28.08.2022

Leonore Tawney: Box of Falling Stars (detail), 1984, cotton canvs, linen thread, acrylic paint and ink, source:

Cotton, wool, polyester, silk—fiber is felt in nearly every aspect of our lives. The artists in Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women mastered and subverted the everyday material throughout the twentieth century.

The thirty-four selected artworks piece together an alternative history of American art. Accessible and familiar, fiber handicrafts have long provided a source of inspiration for women. Their ingenuity with cloth, threads, and yarn was dismissed by many art critics as menial labor. The artists in this exhibition took up fiber to complicate this historic marginalization and also revolutionize its import to contemporary art. They drew on personal experiences, particularly their vantage points as women, and intergenerational skills to transform humble threads into resonant and intricate artworks.

Several themes place artworks in conversation with an emphasis on the artist’s own words: the complex (often contradictory) influence of domestic life; feminist strategies for upending the art world status quo; shared knowledge of traditional and experimental techniques; and pushing boundaries of the perception and possibilities of fiber art. A dedicated gallery space of archival materials provides a window into the artist’s studio, deepening insight into their creative processes with sketches, mail art, and photographs. Together, these categories illuminate how artists have invited moments of contemplation about the interplay between material and message.

The artworks are as diverse as the women who made them. The artists expressed themselves in the form of sewn quilts, woven tapestries and rugs, beaded and embroidered ornamentation, twisted and bound sculptures, and multi-media assemblages. Each artwork carries the story of its maker, manifesting—stitch by stitch—the profound and personal politics of the hand.

More information:

Cynthia Schira: Reflections, 1982, woven and bound resist dyed cotton and dyed rayon, source:

Miriam Schaoiro: Wonderland, 1983, acrylic, fabric and plastiv beads on canvas, source:

Alice Eugenia Ligon: Embroidered Garment, ca. 1994, embroidered muslin, cotton crochet, pencil, cotton rick-rack trim, source:

Claire Zeisler: Coil Series III - A Celebration, 1978, natural hemp and wool, source:

Lia Cook: Crazy Too Quilt, 1989, dyed rayon, acrylic on woven and pressed abaca paper, source:

Katherine Westphal, Edward Moran: Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, 1964, cotton, source:


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