Tapestry by Evelyn Anselevicius
Photo: Jeremi Bialowas
A large tapestry by one of the United States' most prominent textile artists is now part of the permanent art collection at Oakton Community College. The 40-foot creation by Evelyn Anselevicius (1925-2003) was commissioned in 1974 by Harris Bank, and for decades was displayed at their downtown Chicago location. Currently hanging in the lobby adjacent to Parking Lot D on Oakton's Des Plaines campus, the tapestry was donated to the College in June 2009 by NOP HB Building LLC, which purchased the Harris building.
Anselevicius left her native Oklahoma to study at the celebrated Black Mountain College in North Carolina under the renowned artist Joseph Albers, a former teacher of the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany. She later continued at the Institute of Design in Chicago. During the 1950s she worked for the design company Cohama & Knoll. In the 1960s she started to produce her own designs and in 1969 exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. "Since she has been weaving 'for herself' she has become one of the most unswervingly forthright of the American weavers," according to Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric, by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen (Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1973). "Her works combine concept, impact, and scale with a convincing execution. A decisive innovator, she disciplines each work to a single idea and subordinates all else to it."
Anselevicius spent time in Mexico to study and practice local traditions of weaving; she especially enjoyed working on the 10-foot looms at San Miguel de Allende, an artists colony in Guanajuato, Mexico. She preferred to use wool that was spun and dyed in Mexico. She lived for 20 years in Albuquerque, New Mexico, until her death in 2003.
The black areas of the tapestry are composed of sheep's wool, henekin (fiber from cactus plants), and synthetic raphia. The white areas contain sheep's wool, henekin, and natural raphia. The warp yarn is a blend of nylon and sheep's wool. Evelyn Anselevicius designed, directed, and participated in the weaving. She determined texture, structure, yarn use and preparation. Mario Valenzuela- wove a major part of the hanging and was responsible for quality control in carding, spinning, washing, dyeing, and mothproofing. Francisco Valenzuela (brother of Mario) wove a major part of the hanging and did much of the spinning of wool and untwisting of the henekin rope. Desiderio Gonzales- made the warps and helped wind them onto the looms. Also helped in yarn spinning, the making of bobbins and butterflies, and participated in dyeing, carding, and mothproofing. Poncho Gonzales (brother of Desiderio) prepared raw wool for carding by taking out burrs, separating the brown from the white wool and washing it. Also the carding and dyeing of yarn.
All work on the hanging was done at San Miguel de Allende and was installed in five sections. The free-form design depicting irregular shapes within the large black and white areas was spontaneously woven by Anselevicius and the Valenzuela brothers without resorting to a prepared scale drawing.
This tapestry synthesizes two major influences on Anselevicius' artistic career. The abstraction was inspired by her Bauhaus teacher, Joseph Albers, and the earth tones and texture were inspired by her experiences in Mexico and the southwestern United States.
"When a work is finished, the thoughts that went into it can be felt on one level or another by all who see it. Machine-made things are empty of thought, and become uninteresting, lacking the surprise, the unpredictable, and the irregularities found in nature. My team works together like a group of improvising musicians." –Evelyn Anselevicius
Installation of the tapestry on campus, July 2009
Anselevicius signing the tapestry
Anselevicius working on the tapestry