Lenore Tawney with Vespers, South Street studio, 1961. Photo: Ferdinand Boesch, courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.
When Lenore Tawney incorporated the LGT Foundation (now doing business as the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation) in 1989, she became part of a small but growing number of artists to establish a foundation. Only a fraction of these artist-endowed foundations were founded by women, and few represented artists working in non-traditional materials. But Tawney, whose broad practice included a variety of media though she was best known as a weaver, was accustomed to being an outlier. The choice to name her foundation with the anonymous “LGT” initials is also revealing. Tawney had long been philanthropic but frequently made gifts anonymously, preferring to follow a quiet path, out of the limelight.
During her lifetime, Tawney provided periodic support to the Foundation, enabling it to begin a modest grant making program. She acted as board president until her death at 100 in 2007, and clearly outlined her vision for future giving. Her highest priority was to assist emerging artists with learning opportunities through scholarships and internships at professional art schools and organizations. She also wished to support exhibitions, catalogues, and special projects at museums. Tawney’s estate plan left her entire residuary estate to the Foundation, including her important collection of her own work (and that of other artists), her studio archive, personal papers, and library. Through the Foundation, she wished to make the collection and archive available for exhibitions and scholarly study. She also intended that the Foundation place groupings of her work with selected institutions.
Following Tawney’s wishes, the Foundation has established a series of endowed, named scholarships at both full-time professional art schools and summer craft education centers. In fact, it was the scholarship program that led the Foundation to file an assumed name certificate during Tawney’s lifetime. When Tawney realized that students were honored to receive a named Lenore G. Tawney Scholarship, she was surprised and pleased. And over time, the scholarship program has made this small foundation somewhat unique: few funding organizations direct support to emerging artists engaged in professional art education. Likewise, relatively few organizations focus on craft media in general and fiber art in particular. In finding this niche, the Foundation has learned that a small organization and small a grant making program can make a positive difference.
One of the Foundation’s greatest challenges has been increasing awareness of the legacy of an artist who is under-recognized, a woman, and a weaver. Tawney’s intentions aside, the fact that her works were made on a loom has often caused them to be dismissed. But there are encouraging signs of change: works have recently entered the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Modern, and the Menil Collection. As Tate Modern curator Ann Coxon has written, “While this distinction [that sets fine art above craft] has not entirely disappeared, in recent years fibre art has become a source of inspiration for a new generation of artists and curators,” allowing artists like Tawney to receive “fresh consideration.”
Tawney’s work was most recently featured in the Spotlight section of Frieze Masters, presented by London’s Alison Jacques Gallery in cooperation with the Foundation. Spotlight curator Toby Kamps described it as “absolutely gorgeous stuff that suddenly makes sense to us now. And it exemplifies the kinds of work we’re trying to show: something that is between worlds and that is unusual, and represents a different side of what you think of when you think of the sweep of milestones of 20th century art.”
This is a moment when outliers are being reconsidered. Artists, curators, and scholars are all giving fresh consideration to Tawney’s work along with that of other under-recognized artists, often women working in non-traditional materials. And through its ongoing scholarship program, its support of exhibitions and special projects, and perhaps most importantly, its sharing of Tawney’s groundbreaking work with an increasingly receptive audience, the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation continues to realize Tawney’s vision for the foundation she established nearly three decades ago.