Adela Akers

Adela Akers is a Spanish-born (1933, Santiago de Compostela) textile artist who moved with her family to Cuba at an early age to escape the civil war. With an interest in biochemistry, she initially graduated from the University of Havana with a degree in Pharmacy. While in Havana, she met a group of artists — Los Once (The Eleven) — that included painters, playwrights and actors. Influenced by their creative freedom, Akers was persuaded to study weaving and ceramics at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1957. During this time, Akers began to complete commissions for sale, developing a collaborative process of drawing and weaving in consultation with the collector or corporation. That practice has continued throughout her career.

Travelling throughout North and South America and Europe over a lifetime has strongly influenced the direction and evolution of her work. After completing her Master’s degree at Cranbrook Academy of Art and a residency at Penland School of Crafts, Akers traveled to Peru with a government program, Progress for Peace, as a weaving adviser in a program initiative of the Kennedy administration. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Akers was tasked with organizing and selling the work produced in a local cooperative and developing a sustainable economic model. This was a transformative event in the development of her oeuvre. Exposed to textiles of pre-Columbian Peruvian weavers and other early Indian weaving techniques, her tapestries began to incorporate more subtle design elements, and take on greater scale. These styles of textile became an intrinsic part of the structure of her pieces because of their dependence on math and geometry.

Continuing to travel to discover new techniques, Akers also made a trip to Mexico, where she was introduced to alternative methods of dyeing and weaving as well as new materials, like sisal, readily available in the market place. This was followed by a research trip to the Santa Barbara Museum to study basketry. As a result, Akers also began incorporating stiffer materials into her weavings, focusing almost entirely on structure and texture, and less on composition and color. Throughout her career, Akers focused on process, developing a technique of wrapping warps with extra threads to provide more of a three-dimensional quality and adding color that was not in the warp itself. Using this double weave technique provided Akers with the possibility of having multiple layers and planes at the surface.

Akers’ artistic impact on the field of textiles is also reflected by her tenured career as a teacher and mentor. As Professor and Chair of the Fiber Area, Crafts Department from 1972 to 1995, Akers taught at Tyler School of Art at Temple University and the Chair of the Fiber Department. Akers considered her work at Tyler as means to create and sustain a continuous community; a place where her consistent feedback to students and colleagues, along with a robust visiting artist program, were reciprocated by an exposure to new ideas, materials and techniques. Twenty years after her retirement from Tyler, Akers continues to develop and refine new ideas and new work.

An internationally-recognized artist, Akers has had numerous solo exhibitions at: Quicksilver Mine Company, Forestville, CA (2012); Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa, CA (2010) Hibberd McGrath Gallery, Breckenridge, CO (2009) Fiberscene, Online Gallery, San Francisco, CA (2009); Triangle Gallery, San Francisco, CA (2008 and 2001) Thirteen Moons Gallery, Santa Fe, NM (2004); Solomon Dubnick Gallery, Sacramento, CA (2004); browngrotta arts, Wilton, CT (2001); Helen Drutt Gallery, New York, NY (1990) 1987 Patrick King Contemporary Art, Indianapolis, IN (1987); The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA (1986); Modern Masters Tapestries, New York, NY (1984); The Mandell Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (1981); Fiberworks Gallery, Berkeley, CA (1980); and Bloomsburg State College, Bloomsburg, PA 1977).

Major group exhibitions have included: Frontiers in Contemporary American Weaving, Lowe Art Museum, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL (1976); Fiberworks — Invitational International Exhibition, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH (1977); Art in Crafts: Work in Fiber, Clay & Metal by Women, Bronx Museum, Bronx, NY (1978); Contemporary Fiber Art, Newark Museum, Newark, NJ (1978); 8 Artists, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA (1978); Clay, Fiber, Metal: Invitational Pennsylvania Craftsmen, Arcadia University, Glenside, PA (1979); Fibers, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston Salem, NC (1980); Jacquard Textiles, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, Cooper Hewitt Museum, and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, NY (1982); Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical, a traveling exhibition organized by the Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY (1986); Inaugural Exhibition, Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC (1992); Textile Invitational, Baylor University, Waco, TX (1992); Weaving Metaphors: Adela Akers, Virginia Davis, Emily DuBois, Arts Benicia, Benicia, CA (1997); Cranbrook to Lancaster and Back, Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI (2005); High Fiber, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (2005);Penland School of Crafts Resident Artists Exhibition, Asheville, NC (2005); Material Difference: Soft Sculpture and Wall Works, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL (2006); Saturn Returns: Back to the Future of Fiber Art, San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, San Jose, CA (2007); Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY (2011).

In 2014, Akers was an Artist in Residence at the de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA. She was named a Fellow of the American Crafts Council in 2008. Fellowships, awards and grants include: Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2008); Flintridge Foundation Award (2005); Faculty Award for Creative Achievement, Temple University (1995); Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Grant (1989 and 1983); Faculty Research Study Leave, Temple University (1988 and 1979); Faculty Grant-in-Aid of Research, Temple University (1988, 1979 and 1975); Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, Temple University (1984 and 1975); National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship (1980 and 1974); New Jersey State Council on the Arts Grant (1971); National Endowment for the Arts, Artists at Penland School of Crafts, Penland, NC (1971 and 1969); and Cintas Foundation Fellowship (1968 and 1967). Her papers are at the Archives of American Art. Akers has also been represented at browngrotta arts as well as the Snyderman-Works Gallery, Philadelphia, PA (2008–2014). Akers works and lives in Guerneville, CA.

—Melissa Caldwell