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Theo Leffmann Fiber Art is Block Exhibition Focus

June 18, 2010 | by Judy Moore


EVANSTON, Ill. --- The fiber art of Chicagoan Theo Leffman (1911-96) evokes the ancient and the exotic, echoing pre-Columbian and non-Western processes and forms with a distinct personal vision.

This summer, a selection of Leffmann's colorful, richly textured and playful weavings, wall hangings and sculptural objects will be displayed at Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston campus.

Free and open to the public, the July 9 through Aug. 29 exhibition, "'Land Without End' and Other Works by Theo Leffmann," in the museum's Alsdorf Gallery, includes works from the Block's permanent collection.

A July 10 talk by New England designer and hand weaver Randall Darwall; tours of the Block's outdoor Sculpture Garden that start July 10; guided tours of the Leffmann exhibition that begin July 11; and an Aug. 15 "Family Day" of art making activities, also are planned.


Leffmann's 40-year-career coincided with a revolution in textile art in the mid-20th century, as divisions between "high art," such as painting and sculpture, and craft diminished. Her art remained primarily a vehicle for pure expressiveness, created in and for a private sphere. Influenced by her teacher, the modernist sculptor Alexander Archipenko, while studying at Chicago's New Bauhaus (now the Illinois Institute of Technology), Leffmann experimented with processes, textures and media. Working on and off the loom, she used techniques from traditional weaving and braiding to wrapping and crocheting and incorporated yarn, wool, metal, leather and other tactile materials. Extensive travel to South America, Africa and Asia had a profound impact on Leffmann's works. Not only did she collect natural objects that informed her art, she was inspired by non-Western forms of expression.

Leffmann's use of earthen colors suggest geographical and archaeological qualities, as in "Land Without End" (1975), a 26-and-a-half-foot long wool weaving, or the pair of heads crafted from leather and adorned with braided yarn, metal rings and beads in "Soulmates I" (1973). The otherworldly faces of "Soulmates" emerge in other works. In "Scimitar" (1993) coiled yarn fingers gesture against a face on which a round button and crisscrossed strips of thin dark leather imply a half-winking pair of eyes. Shifting patterns also abound in Leffmann's work, such as the recurring stitching and color motifs woven throughout "Epee" (1998), a narrow and highly-textured weaving edged in fringe.


In addition to the Leffmann exhibition, the following admission-free summer programs will take place on the Evanston campus at the Block Museum:

  • Talk by designer and hand weaver Randall Darwall, 11 a.m. Saturday, July 10. Randall Darwall, an exhibiting artist at the Aug. 27 to 29 American Craft Exposition (ACE) at the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion, 2311 Campus Drive, Evanston campus, will discuss his work as a studio cloth maker and fiber artist. The program is presented in conjunction with ACE. A 10:30 a.m. coffee reception will precede Darwall's talk. For more information on the American Craft Exposition, visit americancraftexpo.org.
  • Tours of the Block Sculpture Garden, 1 p.m. Saturday, from July 10 through Aug. 28. The tours will focus on the Block Museum's outdoor Sculpture Garden, including a recently-restored cast bronze of Joan Miro's "Constellation" (1971).
  • Tours of the Block Museum's "'Land Without End' and Other Works by Theo Leffmann" exhibition, 1 p.m. Sunday, from July 11 to Aug. 29. Guided tours of the Block Museum's Theo Leffmann exhibition will begin in the museum's lobby.
  • "Family Day," 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 15. Children aged 5 and older and their families are invited to drop by for an afternoon of art making activities and more.

From July 9 through Aug. 29, Block Museum summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday.

For more information, visit www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu or call (847) 491-4000.

Topics: Campus Life