The American Tapestry Alliance developed from a friendship between two tapestry weavers, Hal Painter and Jim Brown. They 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 tapestry weavers, Hal and Jim broke the ground that current ATA leaders and members gratefully fill.
The goal was to unite tapestry weavers to promote awareness and appreciation of tapestry. While the ideas continue to be in great supply the need to tailor them to the available volunteer base is paramount to success.
The Ten-Year Journey
During the ten years that ensued, ATA flourished in its goals to teach, inspire, and provide tapestry with legitimacy and a place in the wider world of tapestry. Juried exhibits were launched which were documented in full color catalogs. Slides were collected and workshops 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 set to work, perpetuating and adding to the work done by the founders.
ATA in the 1990′s
During this decade ATA’s membership grew to more than two hundred members. Traditions continued such as the American Tapestry Biennial (ATB), which showcases the best contemporary tapestry has to offer.
ATA ’s accomplishments during this decade included seminars and publications designed to promote tapestry. ATA also planned to take advantage of the internet 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 tapestry a name, a place, and a presence in the wider worlds of tapestry and art.
ATA in the first two decades of the 21st Century
Jim and Hal’s goal of connecting tapestry weavers was aided by the possibilities for communication through the Internet. ATA’s website, first created in 2002, is our hub of communication. The website features curated web exhibitions; educational articles; artist pages showcasing members’ work; and resources such as book lists, show listings and workshop announcements. Most of the information on the website is available to the public not just members. 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.
In 2002, ATA sent American Tapestry Biennial outside the states for the first time to British Columbia 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’s full color exhibition catalogs are also sent to libraries and curators.
Historically there was a bias against small tapestries stemming from the attitude that only large tapestries were significant. As a counterpoint ATA now organizes Small Tapestry International, which spotlights small formal tapestries from around the world.
As an effort to offer opportunities for all tapestry weavers, ATA began sponsoring in 1996 the unjuried small format exhibit held in conjunction with Convergence every two years. These shows are open to all tapestry weavers and each participant receives a catalog. The tapestries are no larger than 10″ x 10″. Beginners and professionals alike submit over a two hundred tapestries, resulting in a very exciting exhibit.
In response to continued membership and programming growth, ATA once again re-organized its structure in 2002. The reorganization identified specific committees chaired by a board member with expertise in that area and included several sub committees. This structure allowed 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, Online Educational Articles and ATA’s social media presence. Our Member Retreats have attracted professional teachers from all over the world to expand the interchange of ideas and to help weavers of all proficiency levels improve their skills. We also sponsor lectures and workshops in connection with our juried exhibits.
ATA has greatly expanded its Awards programming to include: the ATA Painter/Brown 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 produces a newsletter, Tapestry Topics, with articles and information for the tapestry community. Previously printed 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 in 2012 our first named giving donation, the Christine Laffer Curatorial program for online exhibits. ATA continues to receive other donations for specific projects.
ATA’s growing membership and increased programming prompted hiring a part time paid staff to help the Board keep track and guide 10 major committees, numerous subcommittees, and 50 to 100 volunteers working in any given year. Because ATA is primarily a virtual organization it is critical to have a staff person to provide continuity when the Board changes its membership.
As of 2021 ATA has over 1000 members and continues to develop new programs, fine tune existing ones, and always stays aware of the need to match the programs with available volunteers.
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.