The lobby of the former Kingswood School for Girls at Cranbrook — the unique educational community in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where art, architecture, science and nature combine — is one of the loveliest rooms I’ve seen. Its woven floor rug, with yellow and white designs on a light green background, makes for a striking finishing touch.
The original rug, designed and handwoven on a custom loom at Cranbrook, was a product of Studio Loja Saarinen. The commercial weaving studio was operated between 1928 and 1942 by the wife of Eliel Saarinen, Cranbrook’s architect.
I recalled that beautiful weaving as I stood in the Schumacher Gallery, in Capital University’s Blackmore Library, on the last day of its recent exhibition, Central Ohio Weavers Guild: A Sampling of Our First Eighty Years. Through documents, samples and 40 pieces woven by current members, this exhibition celebrated the first 80 years of the Central Ohio Weavers Guild, now known as the Central Ohio Weaving and Fiberarts Guild.
The guild of weavers and other fiber artists got its unofficial start in 1933, when women from all over Ohio met while exhibiting their handwoven creations at the Ohio State Fair. It was officially founded in 1937 as Associated Ohio Weavers. In 1946, the group became known as the Central Ohio Weavers Guild.
Dues were just 25 cents in those early years. To qualify for membership, weavers presented three woven pieces to a guild jury. While members hailed from the whole state, most lived in the Columbus area. Three times a year, they gathered to learn about weaving, first in members’ homes and then at other locations like the School for the Blind and the Columbus Art Museum.
The earliest guild members shared this Bernat loom, manufactured in Massachusetts in the 1920s or 1930s, for their weaving projects. They have continued exhibiting their handwoven items at the Ohio State Fair, as well as at the Columbus Art Museum, the forerunner of the Columbus Museum of Art, and at Capital University’s Schumacher Gallery.
Weavers conceptualize new projects by creating a sample, or swatch, pattern for how the lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (weft) threads weave together on a loom. During the 1940s, the guild purchased sample subscription services like “Mrs. Gano’s Drafts and Samples” and “Mrs. Atwater’s Shuttle-Craft,” published by Mary Meigs Atwater, known as the Dean of American Handweaving. Each monthly bulletin described a specific weaving pattern and was accompanied by a woven sample.
The guild’s collection of these samples, together with those woven and exchanged by members from every decade of its history, continues to inspire today. Cushions, window treatments, garments, handbags, scarves, throws, dish towels, and other creations handwoven by members were displayed in the exhibition.
For example, this hospitality runner on which member nametags are placed during guild meetings reminded me of the geometric designs in light-and-dark juxtapositions of textiles woven at the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany.
Noted for their functional, modern style, Bauhaus weavers varied color combinations to change the appearance of how the weave was constructed. To develop the ideal industrial upholstery fabric for cars, trains and airplanes, they made innovative choices in materials, including cellophane, plastic, leather, and novelties like Lurex, a synthetic metallic film-coated fiber. Read more about Bauhaus weaving in Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop, by Sigrid Wortmann Weltge.
Notebooks of handwritten meeting minutes, annual membership booklets and meeting-reminder postcards document guild history. Sample issues of its newsletter, Thrums (named for the leftover threads of a completed weaving project on the loom), included articles describing educational trips, presentations and workshops given by weaving experts, reflections written under the headline, “The Eager Weaver,” as well as woven samples. Many of these publications featured various versions of the guild’s logo, comprised of crisscross lines to represent the interplay of threads in weaving.
I was particularly entranced by “Artistic Weaving and Metal-Working Are Part of Daily Routine in Log Cabin Home of Flurschutz Sisters Out on Wilkins Run Road,” a circa-1941 newspaper feature on Martha Flurschutz and her sister Sophia, a former guild member.
The article described “two quiet women who sit serenely before a fire in a little log cabin and perpetrate feats of artistry which are as old to the ages as war itself….[whose] fingers, quick with talent, have long since made the products of their Log Cabin Craft shop famous to lovers of fine woven fabrics or carefully wrought metals.”Martha first taught violin, then became a metalworker, creating platters, tableware, lamps and jewelry from bronze, silver and pewter after being trained at the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute and the Appalachian School of Handicraft in Penland, North Carolina. Sophia fell into weaving one summer while she was in Chautauqua, New York. Her interest led her to Berea, Kentucky, where her skill eventually established her as a designer for Churchill Weavers. She returned to her hometown of Newark, where, in a log cabin on Wilkins Run Road that she shared with Martha, she created handwoven ties, scarves, suiting and dress materials. One of Sophia’s weavings was displayed in the exhibition.
The Central Ohio Weaving and Fiberarts Guild is for anyone with an interest in the fiber arts, from weaving, spinning and dyeing to knitting, crochet and felting. It offers educational lectures and workshops given by skilled fiber artisans during its monthly meetings and informal gatherings, and lends looms, spinning wheels and textile-making tools to members. The guild expects to publish a book about its history early this year.