Detail of Laurie Herrick's Crater, 1969 (all photos Jeff Jahn unless otherwise noted)
This Summer I sense that many Portlanders feel a little robbed... no it is not
the Juneuary we just experienced. Personally, I'll take 65-72 degree days that
over the blast furnace much of the country has experienced. Instead, it's the
lack of a strong, in depth look at the arts that are the hallmark of major museums.
In fact PORT's writers have been traveling to other cities to catch great shows
like Lee Ufan at the Guggenheim or Picasso/Braque at the Modern Fort Worth, etc.
So now that Summer is finally here in the very manageable 80's we still want to
dive into a museum for some cool contemplation. What are the options?
Exhibition view: Laurie Herrick Weaving, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
This is the last day but the Museum of Contemporary Craft has pretty much the
only game in town with it's very engaging retrospective
of mid 20th century designer and weaver Laurie Herrick
Design was always important for the young, initially LA based Herrick who first
developed men's neckties and worked as a model in her youth before becoming
a weaver in Martha Pollock's design studio in 1940. Pollock's studio specialized
in developing commercial uses for new fibers by companies like Dupont and supplied
Hollywood films. Pollock would have been in competition with even more well
known designers like Dorothy Liebes (who designed fabrics for the likes of Frank
detail of Rainforest (1950's)
After opening her own Beverly Hills design studio in 1950 Herrick moved to
Portland in 1954, bringing her depth of experience to an area where she could
be more of solo practitioner. Early on she began doing mostly ecclesiastical
commissions and also taught for 20 years at the Oregon School of Craft (today's
The exhibition itself is relevatory, non-chronological and more grouped thematically
(Nature, Op art and couture) with a few works by Herrick's contemporaries for
context. Herrick was particularly gifted in her use of texture and structure
as evidenced by her interpretations of Victor
's Op Art and even more so through her own interpretive often Klee-like
natural scenes. This nature motif sets her apart from Liebes who achieved notoriety
through working in the more male dominated architectural world as a patternist,
despite her stand alone pieces being her most compelling. Today, there are major
female architects like Zaha Hadid and Jeanne Gang but back them it was incredibly
rare (I still find architecture to be an exceedingly masculine culture though).
Considering those times it makes sense Herrick would seek a different path.
Redwood V (1969)
In particular, the open warp designs like Redwood and Crater were highly idiomatic
works from 1969, just as sculptural and structural as they were flat... I think
of a piece like this as a kind of portable architecture more than more traditional
Redwood V in particular may be the most striking work in the show as
it uses redwood staves structurally, which recursively parallels both the redwood
trees as material and the weaving tools she would employ to make her works.
Herrick always sought to do what machines could not and believed more repetitive
work was more ideally suited to machines.
detail of Redwood V
Overall, I find these open warp works to be her most original because of this
sophisticated surface/support and philosophical conflagrations and exemplify
poetry in materials that found their own voice more than the otherwise excellent
Vasarely projects which came shortly after.
Photo Jake Stangel
The open warp works lead to her excellent garment designs (all woven on loom)
of the1970's and into the 1980's and the show gets high marks for bringing about
a current collaboration with current designer Adam Arnold, fashion photographer
Jake Stangel and stylist Galen Amussen worked together to bring Herrick's designs
into the present consciousness. It's a brilliant curatorial move that shows
just how this craft museum is thinking more like a design and craft institution
(designers are by nature media savvy and collaborative). It is also a strength
of the exhibition that Herrick's working sketches, correspondences and design
documents are also on display providing the weavers of today access to her process.
Installation view (left) Laurie Coat (1977)
It is a tradition and a weavers legacy (like a great violinist) lives on partly
through the students they pass their knowledge to, not simply their own performances.
For example, a great violinist like Issac Stern mentored YoYo Ma and Itzhak
Perlman and likewise, Herrick (who like Klee was a violinist herself) taught
at the Oregon School of Craft. In fact, money for her commissions went to purchase
looms for the school (most of which are still in use today). The exhibition
makes good on this tradition by having 5 contemporary weavers as artists in
residence; am Patrie, Mackenzie Frère, Christy Matson, Elizabeth Whelan
and Deborah Valoma. I like this idea of a design and craft museum as a kind
of workshop designed to pass on knowledge, not just a display opportunity (though it is a tad overfull).
Tree of Life 1/4 scale (1968) Photo Dan Kivitka
Photo of Herrick's full size Tree of Life installed shortly after it was completed
Perhaps it is telling that Herrick's highest profile comission was the Tree
of Life for the First Unitarian Church is still on display (in what is now called
the 1st Presbyterian church) The design was extremely successful, based on forms
such as the menorah and the Norse tree of life Yggdrasil
(particularly the Överhogdal
) so that even a change in denomination did not prompt its removal.
How often does that happen? A scaled down preparatory version has become the
exhibition's signature piece... perhaps because its graphic design is just as
strong as the weaving?
This is exactly the type of show that worldly Portlanders are hungry for and
are in short supply this summer. This exhibition presents a novel and historical
artist in her first retrospective, while revealing a great deal of curatorial
agility in the displays and scope of the exhibition.
Shawl and Sample (1976)
Go and see it. It is your last chance, though somehow I feel like we will be
seeing a lot more of Herrick in the future. Such is the effect of a good retrospective,
good things come out of the woodwork.