Tawney at Coenties Slip Studio, 1958
The story of Lenore Tawney is the story of someone who followed their curiosity. Through travels around the world, encounters with renown artists and indigenous makers, going through training and experimentation, Tawney became a pioneer in the world of weaving, taking it from a utilitarian women’s craft to a thought provoking artform. This month’s wine club is an ode to an inspiring figure to Caravan Wine Shop (we keep her photo by the register!) and it is also an attempt to stop time, to pause the tape, and capture a moment of transition in action. This is the transition of a craft becoming an artform- a moment almost impossible to see because the phases before and after that moment look a lot alike.
Craft can sometimes be mistaken for a lesser quality, but is actually the application of great skill toward the creation of a specific object with the intention of it serving a utilitarian purpose. This is a category where we see much of what is considered (but does not have to be) women’s work: weaving, pottery/ ceramics, beading, sewing, quilting, and other traditional “home” based objects. These are displays of technique with an aim at perfection. Artwork is more open ended, and does not require any formal object or outcome or even skill because the purpose of art is to express something. It does not need to be usable, it just needs to make you think and feel. Where craft exercises the brain and hands (and I believe also the heart), art exercises your entire body.
We see this subtle transformation from craft to art happen in Lenore Tawney’s world of weaving two times over her 100 years on earth; first with an innovation she called “open warp weaving” and again with a new concept she coined “woven forms”. We will be focusing on these two moments as an attempt to answer the question “when does craft become art?”. To aid in this exploration, we have paired another medium that can walk this same line that teeters between craft and art: winemaking. The wines introduced to you this month have been chosen because they too hold within their bottles an expression of something beyond the function of imbibement. They are the product of the winemaker not only being an excellent craftsperson, but manipulating that skill so that they can tell you something deep and new. As you immerse yourself in the story that Lenore Tawney has woven for us, let the wine speak to you too. You might just catch that fleeting moment of transition where you taste art.
There is some technical terminology to establish in order to understand the ingenuity behind Tawney’s open warp weaving. If weaving is the interlacing of threads or yarn in order to make fabric, there must be two directions in which the threads interact: vertical and horizontal. The vertical threads or the “warp” are fixed on both ends to the loom so that they are straight, taut, and stable. Then horizontal threads or “weft” are then interlaced, over and under the warp, filling in the spaces and creating a solid piece of fabric/ blanket/ tapestry/ rug. This is one of those practices that has been around for so long in all societies big and small, that no one really knows when or where it began. It is within this simple process that so much imagery can emerge.
Once Tawney had developed a fascination with weaving through her time at the Chicago Institute of Design under the tutelage of New Bauhaus School masters like László Moholy- Nagy, she pursued it further at the Petland School of Crafts in North Carolina around 1954. This is where she experimented with ways to include her love of drawing into the medium of weaving by using threads as lines and incorporating negative/ unwoven space. She named this style “open warp” because the warp lines were left visible in the negative space and could then give more dimension to the scene being created. For example in her piece “Landscape” (1958) we see a scene of ground, forest and sky. The gaps between warps in the middle take on the impression of tree trunks and even can change color depending on the surface used to hold the piece. It is here that we see a break from function. Without total coverage, this weaving can no longer adequately cover space, or keep you warm. The image takes on more importance than the function and therefore becomes a piece of art.
Dark River Wall Hanging, 1961
The discovery of this new illustrative power of weaving that happens when playing with the relationship between warp and weft allowed Lenore Tawney to ask new questions of this medium. In the early 1960s, Lenore immersed herself in Peruvian gauze weaving which would have a tremendous effect on her next evolution. Peruvian gauze weaving, or more specifically, Chancay gauzes, have been a means of communication, storytelling, and writing history in Andean/ Peruvian cultures for centuries. They too used an open warp technique of weaving, knotting, and braiding to create shapes and figures in their weavings allowing for a school of fish to swim across a tapestry or the use of certain colors and forms to convey the social and political status of the weaver. The study of this indigenous practice led to Lenore developing an “open reed” for her loom that gave her the freedom to create non rectangular shapes, and therefore labeling them “woven forms”. In pieces like “Dark River Wall Hanging” (1961) we see her deep connection to water (one of her favorite activities being to ride the Staten Island Ferry!) taking on a more meaningful form because of this open reed technique. The threads, so tightly gathered at the top in ominous black, begin to move away from each other in each tier below, illustrating the calm flow of water and perhaps the moonlight’s reflection insinuated by the negative space. She further addresses the question of form with her piece “The Bride” (1962) where she has created a silhouette of a woman in dress out of linen and feathers. The work from this era not only proves that weaving has crossed over from craft to art by breaking form from function, but she begins to even question the definition of “wall hanging” by hanging her pieces in the middle of gallery rooms so that they can be viewed from all sides. This is a profound leap from the more European tradition of weaving and tapestry because it allows the viewer to now interact with the piece and therefore connect more emotionally to what they are seeing.
To have the openness of mind and heart to ask these questions of tradition, form, and function shows the love Lenore Tawney had for this medium and her creations. While some artists have affected change in the world by rejecting the ways before them, Lenore seems to have warmly coaxed these art pieces into existence through kindness and care. These forms of weaving want to be here and she created a home for them. She is a true craftsperson and artist, and we are thrilled to toast her with these bottles made by artists as well, on what would have been her 116th birthday (May 10).
Birds and Flowers, 1955
DOMAINE DE LA BERGERIE, ANJOU ROUGE "LA CERISAIE" 2020
FRANCE, LOIRE VALLEY, ANJOU, COTEAUX DU LAYON
Varietal: Cabernet Franc
36 Hectares spread over a few different vineyard sites
Winemakers: Marie and Anne, daughter of husband and wife Yves and Guegniard
Soil: Silico-Clay Soil on Schist
1/3 of the wine goes through a 3 day cold maceration
9 months resting in stainless steel vats
Then separate vinifications are blended just before bottling
The Guegniard family has been working in the Loire valley as winemakers for 4 generations. Yves Guegniard took over the family estate at Domaine De La Bergerie in 1979 and he and his wife Marie-Annick have been winemakers there for several decades. Recently, in 2018, their daughters Anne and Marie took the reins and mark the fourth generation to carry on the family winery.
The Anjou region is not particularly well known, but does produce some highly celebrated wines. The typical varieties of this region are Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Domaine De la Bergerie sits on the eastern end of the Armorican Massif which provides the bedrock of schist for the varied plots of vines.
The Guegniard family is carrying on a regional tradition of producing an expression of Cabernet Franc that highlights its aromatics and is both dry and a little bit spicy. This wine represents an example of carrying on tradition, and continuing to develop the skills to maintain that tradition. A classic style does not have to be deemed lacking in originality or creativity.
What motivates the winemaker's decisions in crafting a cuvee can come from any number of sources. How those motivations are applied to the actual practice and production can impart nuance that can be difficult to recreate. In the Guegniard family, the two daughters, Anne and Marie, are bringing a unique set of skills to the table. Anne, the eldest, worked in catering and sommellerie for several years. Marie studied psychology. While carrying the estate onward in its traditional direction, it is interesting to note that those at the helm are completely different people than those who came before, and those before them.
We drink this wine as a way to examine how the production of something (wine or weaving) continues throughout generations and time, but the motivations and skills utilized to create it may be wildly different.
The Bride, 1962
AGRICOLA GRILLOS CANTORES FLOR 2020
CHILE, ITATA VALLEY, GUARILIHUE
Varietal: Corinto (Chasselas)
1.5 hectare of Bush Vines
2/3 of wine aged with natural Flor (yeast layer)
18 months aging on the lees in stainless steel barrel (dead yeast)
Non-irrigated, plowed by hand, naturally farmed
Corinto is a terroir translation because of its dry neutral typicity
Steep terrain encourages vines to grow deep roots and produce mineral driven wines.
Production: 1,056 bottles
Aging a wine under Flor (yeast) is not a new practice. It's been happening in the Jerez region of Spain for several hundred years. However, outside of that region, it is extremely uncommon. Corinto is a very old varietal known for producing relatively ordinary and common (but occasionally distinguished) white wines in places like Switzerland and France.
Paco Leyton began Agricola Grillos Cantores in 2019 and is working with a 1.5 hectare vineyard. This is a small side project from their role as winemaker at the larger winery Clos de Fous. Through a friend, Paco discovered an old vineyard that was planted in the 1800s. This 1.5 hectare vineyard was filled with bush vines, on steep slopes of mica and quartz soil.
Working with Flor is exciting because it is not inert. Flor is a very active part of a wine's creation. The yeast cells consume certain compounds in the wine while also creating new ones. A wine's composition is constantly in flux through the metabolic action of the flor, thus impacting the wine's final aromas and flavors. We drink this wine as an example of how the winemaker can create something wildly unique, while working with a relatively plain varietal. The use of Flor is a creative choice by Paco Leyton that takes this wine from being utilitarian to an unexpected and curious experience. There is no tradition to carry on, there is only the present time and place to be immersed within, allowing for a wholly unique combination of aspects of the physical environment and the winemaker's intention and skillset.
Box of Falling Stars, 1984
This is only the beginning! Wisconsin actually has a deep love of Lenore Tawney held about 2 hours south east of Point in Sheboygan, WI. The John Michael Kohler Arts Preserve held a groundbreaking exhibition of her work back in 2019 called Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe, which also resulted in a fantastic book of the same name. If you take a trip to the JMK Arts Preserve, you can see a permanent exhibit of her New York studio as a part of their mission to bring us artists' homes and studios from around the world that have been relocated and rebuilt so that we can essentially take a look inside their minds. It is humbling, it is inspiring, and it comes highly recommended by Caravan. To make the trip extra worth it, stop at Il Ritrovo for some first class Neopolitan pizza and an excellent Italian wine list or if you just ate pizza, stop at Field to Fork which is owned by the same Italian mastermind that created Il Ritrovo, Stefano Viglietti.
Tawney with Yellows in her studio on Coenties Slip, NY 1958
Tawney with Shadow River, 1959, Photo by Yousuf Karsh
Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history. All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring. We are only here to pop the cork.
Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop