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Thread Lines at the Drawing Center

A textile collection illuminates the "expressive and conceptual potential" of thread


Knoll designer Sheila Hicks is one of sixteen artists featured in a new exhibit at the Drawing Center spanning decades of conceptual and technical innovation in textiles. In exploring the connection between line and thread, the exhibit attempts to "illuminate affinities between the mediums of textile and drawing." The exhibit opened on the 19th of September and will remain on view through the 14th of December.

Sheila Hicks' Punched Notations, 2012
Punched Notations, 2012 by Sheila Hicks. Image from Andrea and José Olympio Pereira's Collection.

Known for her dimensional-weaving method, inspired by her studies of pre-Columbian textiles, Shiela Hicks’ work utilizes mixed materials (including plant fibers, rubber bands, and hospital laundry) interwoven in a deliberate and forceful manner that gives an assertive textural physicality to the end result. Her methodology has been compared to that of graffiti, as she shifts seamlessly between a variety of different techniques including: stitching, weaving, wrapping, braiding, and twining. With half a century's worth of experience, Hicks’ ouevre becomes all the more interesting when placed in context with other contemporaries in the field. The exhibition, which brings together textile pioneers as varied as Sam Moyer and Louise Bourgeois, presents an intellectual milieu in conversation, debating and demonstrating the limitless potential of a line through thread and fiber.

A Sheila Hicks Inspired Installation for Knoll
A Sheila Hicks inspired installation for KnollTextiles (formerly Knoll Textiles). Image from the Knoll Archives.

With work ranging from small-scale studies—which Hicks calls "minims"—to monumental installations, a central concern of most every work is her raw material and its ontological significance. Whether considering the delicacy of thread or the sheer weight of fabric, Hicks' work reinforces the peculiar distinction given to weaving by the philosopher Plato, who used the craft as a metaphor for how an ideal government should function. The subject matter provided the title for her book Weaving As Metaphor, published in 2006. Divorced from the realm of external representation, weaving’s beauty, Plato believes, is intertwined with its capacity to unite disparate materials into a unified whole.

After beginning her studies at Syracuse University, Hicks transferred to Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture where she crossed paths with several notable Knoll designers including Anni Albers, Eero Saarinen (responsible for her first major commission), and Herbert Matter (with whom she went on to study photography). Albers, a figurehead of the Bauhaus school and 20th century textile arts, became something of a mentor to Hicks and, subsequently, a major influence on both her artistic philosophy and general approach to her craft. In spite of her Bauhaus tutelage, Hicks’ work shows little outward similarities to the movement. Always reluctant to be pigeonholed, some of Hick’s large-scale work is evocative of Robert Morris’ domineering felt sculptures, while her prismatic use of color calls to mind the work of colorful concept artists like Dan Flavin.

KnollTextiles color/weave sample for Inca by Sheila Hicks, 1965
A KnollTextiles color/weave sample for Inca by Sheila Hicks, 1965. Image from the Knoll Archives.

In 1964, after returning from Chile where she pursued her Fulbright Scholarship, Hicks took a job at KnollTextiles working as a design consultant to guarantee a fixed income while she tried to jumpstart her career as a professional artist.

An early opportunity to apply her encyclopedic knowledge, Hicks adapted her 1957 master’s thesis on pre-Incaic textiles into Inca, her first textile line for Knoll. The predominant pattern consisted of a playful reimagining of an Andean pattern, formed by an alternating block sequence, demonstrating Hicks’ penchant for playful structures. She went on to design hand-embroidered upholstery for Eero Saarinen’s iconic pedestal collection and stage some marketing installations, before leaving the company shortly thereafter. 

Please visit the Drawing Center's website for more details about the event.


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Eclat Weave