Material Legacy

Masters of Fiber, Clay and Glass at the PAA

Philadelphia Art Alliance

Philadelphia Art Alliance is dedicated to the advancement and appreciation of innovative contemporary art with a focus on craft and design, and to inspiring dynamic interaction between audiences and artists in a setting of historic and aesthetic significance. The 2014-2015 season marks the 100-year anniversary of this remarkable institution.

In 1915, philanthropist and theater aficionado Christine Wetherill Stevenson established the PAA with the goal of uniting the arts by presenting music, theater, fine arts, craft and design, and literary events in a single venue. In 1917, through the generosity of Christine’s father, Samuel Price Wetherill (1846–1926), the Art Alliance moved to a new headquarters at 1823–25 Walnut Street on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. At this site, there were club rooms, galleries, and a restaurant for the 830 members of the organization; and studios in which artists lived and taught. In 1920 the Art Alliance purchased the adjoining property at 1827 Walnut Street, expanding its galleries and studio space. At that time, the PAA’s committees numbered eleven: Architecture, Crafts, Drama, Extension, Literary Arts, Music, Oil Paintings, Prints, Sculpture, Watercolor and Drawing and Illustration.

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Artist Bios

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.

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—Melissa Caldwell

Lewis Knauss

The prolific body of work by Lewis Knauss (b. 1947-Macungie, PA) in the field of textiles has always been influenced by his natural surroundings. Whether it was the fields in rural Pennsylvania where he grew up, or the mountains of Colorado, which he visited later in his career, or his travels to Egypt and Israel, his connections to place at a particular point in time has heavily influenced both his choice of materials and his technique.

As an education major at Kutztown University, Knauss was first exposed to textiles when fulfilling a general requirement for graduation. Attracted to the material properties of yarn, Knauss decided to take a weaving class, which forever changed his career path. In the late 1960s, many artists were exploring the tensions within the field of craft, often questioning the need for crafts to be defined by functionality and opting to focus on process and materiality for its own sake. His exposure to contemporary weaving and textiles was reinforced through his study at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and subsequently at Tyler School of Art, Temple University where he received his Master’s degree.

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—Melissa Caldwell

Judith Schaechter

Heavily influenced by medieval iconography and the intense color found in Byzantine panel paintings, Judith Schaechter’s work defies the current interests in the field of glass, which is typified by abstraction and transparency. Playing on the religious traditions of stained glass as a medium, her subjects explore human frailty and tragedy, yet there is not a specific didactic narrative, which has characterized the intent of stained glass for centuries.

Schaechter (b. 1961, Gainesville, FL) began her artistic career as a painter, receiving a BFA degree from Rhode Island School of Design in 1983. During this time, she was introduced to glassblowing and in a matter of weeks, she realized the expressive potential of the medium. Schaechter turned to stained glass, rejecting contemporary explorations of the material’s form and function. She researched its origins in Europe from the 12th century until the Protestant Reformation, and its resurfacing during the late 19th century Arts and Craft movement.

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—Melissa Caldwell

Warren Seelig

Although the art of Warren Seelig can be categorized into two interrelated bodies of work, his aim in both is to define and redefine the qualities that are unique to textile, and especially to a kind of abstraction rooted in repetitive processes. As the third generation of his family to be involved in textiles, his interest in weaving began very early in his education when he first witnessed how cloth is actually created on a loom and how that process offered the possibility of endless reiterations and exploration.

An equal interest for Seelig to the very materiality of the woven textile is building up form and the relationship of weaving to basic architectural principles. Seelig was born in Abington, PA, in 1946. His formal training began with Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, followed by a master’s degree in fine art at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. He became interested in the writings of Bauhaus textile artist Anni Albers and the work included in the groundbreaking 1972 craft exhibition, Objects USA, held at what is now the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

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—Melissa Caldwell

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