By Marti Fleischer and Claudia Chase (1996), Edited and updated (2002 and 2012)
The Early Years
The American Tapestry Alliance grew out of a friendship between two tapestry weavers, Hal Painter and Jim Brown, who had a common desire to promote and establish tapestry during a time when the art form was experiencing a revival. From their auspicious first meeting at Hal’s studio in 1968 where Jim was suddenly transformed from a potter to a weaver, to the 30,000 miles they traveled through the United States and Mexico to teach tapestry, to their eventual creation of an alliance in 1982 that would unite American tapestry weavers, Hal and Jim broke the ground that current ATA leaders and members gratefully till.
The goal of this new alliance was to unite tapestry weavers and designers in order to promote an awareness and appreciation of tapestries designed in America. This would be accomplished by coordinating national juried tapestry exhibits that would showcase the finest quality American-made tapestries, and encourage the collection of tapestries by both corporate and private collectors. The founders of ATA envisioned: developing a directory of tapestries displayed in public buildings across America; establishing a slide archive that would provide a permanent record of American tapestries; establishing a speaker’s directory; promoting workshops and seminars; and establishing a network that would connect tapestry weavers and designers.
The Ten-Year Journey
During the ten years that ensued, ATA flourished in its goals to teach, to inspire, and to provide American tapestry with a sense of legitimacy and a place in the wider world of tapestry. Fastidiously juried exhibits were launched, three of which were documented in full color catalogs. Slides were collected, workshops were taught, and lectures were given. For ten years Painter and Brown nurtured ATA, until Hal Painter’s failing health and eventual death slowed the organization to a near halt. Picking up the pieces, a core of members installed Marti Fleischer as Director and set to work, perpetuating and adding to the work that had already been done by the two founders.
ATA in the 1990′s
During this decade ATA’s membership grew to more than two hundred members. This necessitated formalizing an organizational structure to ensure consistency from president to president and from Board to Board. All of the traditional organizational tools were installed, from bylaws to newsletter, from budget to computerized information banks. ATA also gained its not-for-profit status. The old ideals were maintained and flourished. Traditions continued, such as the American Tapestry Biennial (ATB), which showcases the best contemporary tapestry has to offer.
ATA is proud of its accomplishments during this decade. They include: a successful Design Solutions seminar in November 1995, in conjunction with Ohio State University, that set the stage for a similar event to be held at Convergence ’96; the completion of the Weaving Guilds publication; the creation of the publication, “American Tapestries in Public Places”; and the ongoing work toward establishing both an educational and a gallery directory. Projected for the future was a materials and supplies resource listing for tapestry weavers, as well as the compilation of a guide to successful public relations. During this time, ATA also planned to take advantage of the World Wide Web in ways that could only be dreamed of at the time. The American Tapestry Alliance remained dedicated to its future while persevering in its seminal purpose: to give American tapestry a name, a place, and a presence in the wider worlds of tapestry and art.
ATA in the first decade of the 21st Century
The goal of an Internet presence took root and grew in a dynamic and inspiring way during this decade. Jim and Hal’s goal of connecting tapestry weavers was aided by the ever-blossoming possibilities for communication and connection through the Internet. Computers broadened ATA’s reach to weavers around the world and provided new possibilities for collaboration in our mission of promoting contemporary tapestry and tapestry makers.
ATA’s website, first created in 2002 and updated in 2012, is our hub of communication. The website offers opportunities for: curated web exhibitions; educational articles with color images; artist pages showcasing members’ work; and resources such as book lists, show listings and workshop announcements. In 2011 ATA hired a professional graphic designer to unify our graphic output and the members voted on our new tagline, Honoring Tradition, Inspiring Innovation, a reflection of our organizational goals.
In 2002, ATA sent American Tapestry Biennial outside the fifty states for the first time. Richmond, British Columbia hosted ATB 4, along with an exhibition of Hungarian tapestries, Karpit. This collaboration with our Canadian neighbors underscored ATA’s inclusive intentions as an alliance of contemporary tapestry weavers around the world. ATA continues to produce full color catalogs of our shows. They are sent to libraries and curators throughout the United States. Friends of Fiber Art International has been a long time financial supporter of our efforts in producing first class catalogs.
In the early days of ATA there was a bias against small tapestries. This was a result of the historical attitude that only large tapestries were significant. That attitude has changed dramatically within ATA and with our audiences. We now organize, in alternate years, Small Tapestry International, which spotlights small formal tapestries from around the world in a premier exhibit and outstanding catalog.
Also, as an effort to offer opportunities to all tapestry weavers, ATA took over the sponsorship of the unjuried small format exhibit held in conjunction with Convergence. This popular exhibit had its origins with Kathe Todd Hooker. Kathe was interested in creating more opportunities for small tapestries. She organized an unjuried, international small format tapestry show called It’s About Time, at Portland Convergence in 1996. This experiment was very successful and Tommye Scanlin and a group of tapestry weavers in the Atlanta area sponsored the next exhibit, Encore, at Convergence in 1998. These shows are open to all tapestry weavers and each participant receives a catalog. The tapestries can be no larger than 10″ x 10″. Beginners and professionals alike submit over a hundred tapestries, resulting in a very lively and exciting exhibit.
In response to continued membership and programming growth, ATA reorganized its structure in 2002. Two Co-Directors now oversee committees organized under the broad categories of Member Services and Resources. Each committee is headed by a board member with expertise in that area and includes several sub committees. This structure allows us to keep track of expanding programming. Board members and ATA volunteers conduct business via email.
ATA has continued to develop programs to help people learn about and appreciate tapestry: Distance Learning and Helping Hands programs, Online Educational Articles and ATA’s Facebook page. Our Member Retreats have attracted professional teachers from all over the world to expand the interchange of ideas about tapestry and to help weavers of all proficiency levels improve their skills. We also sponsor lectures and workshops in connection with our juried exhibits. This broadens the exposure of tapestry and enables those that live in various parts of the continent to not only see a first class juried exhibit, but also attend a lecture and/or workshop.
ATA has greatly expanded its Awards programming to include: the ATA Scholarship for Tapestry Study; Emerge – membership grants for new and emerging weavers; the International Student Award; Teitelbaum Awards for ATB and STI; and, of course, ATA’s Award for Excellence.
ATA continues to produce a quarterly newsletter, Tapestry Topics, with articles and information that keep the tapestry community informed about the field. Previously produced on paper in black and white, it is now produced digitally with numerous color images.
In confirmation of the excellence of our programming, ATA received two family trusts, the Ellis Family Trust in 2009 and the Teitelbaum Family Trust in 2008. The interest from the Teitelbaum Trust funds awards for artistic excellence for both American Tapestry Biennial and Small Tapestry International. These two trusts form an Endowment fund to support future projects for ATA. We also received our first named giving donation, the Christine Laffer Curatorial program. The premier exhibit of this program will be launched in fall 2012. ATA continues to receive other donations for specific projects such as the Emerge Membership Grants, or as unrestricted funds. Our annual appeal, now scheduled around Valentines Day, funded a new website and the ATA Scholarship for Tapestry Study.
In 2010, ATA initiated Think Tanks as a way to focus planning for the future. Board members, volunteers and general members participated. The 2010 member survey also helped the board determine the direction of future programming.
In 2012 ATA took out a booth at Convergence in Long Beach, CA. This was a very successful venture. It became a meeting point for ATA members and a way to reach out to other fiber enthusiasts. We sold catalogs and welcomed new members.
As of mid 2012 ATA includes over 600 members around the world. Contemporary tapestry weavers continue to weave – pass by pass – as always. This counterpoint to an escalating pace of life is a welcome change. However, tapestry weavers are not Luddites. Many designer/weavers use computer programs in their design process. Weaving has, for most of us, become an amalgam of technique and technology. This has a notable impact on what we produce, enhancing exhibitions with added layers of interest.
ATA’s growing membership and increased programming prompted hiring our first part time paid staff. Our Executive Administrator, Mary Lane, works for ATA’s Co -Directors, helping keep track and guide 10 major committees, numerous subcommittees, 8 board members and 50 to 100 volunteers working in any given year. Because ATA is primarily a virtual organization it is critical to have one person that follows the activities of the whole group.
We hope you will join ATA as we continue to create opportunities for tapestry weavers to learn, to exhibit, to network and to promote the field of contemporary hand woven tapestry.