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Weaving Threads & Pushing Boundaries: Exploring the Anni Albers Exhibit & Local Female Textile Artists

Step inside the “Anni Albers: In Thread and On Paper" exhibit at the Blanton Museum and get to know two Austin textile artists, Jade Walker and Beili Liu

Anni Albers Exhibit
Photo by Manny Alcala

Throughout the annals of art history, textiles emerged as a singularly acceptable avenue for female artists, while disciplines like painting and sculpture stood reserved for their male counterparts. For German artist Anni Albers, one of the most profound textile masters of the 20th century, her start in the medium was similarly due to the constraints imposed by gender norms. After attempts to enter programs of glasswork and other departments at Bauhaus, the renowned art school, Albers reluctantly accepted a spot in the weaving department — the only one available to women at the time in the early 1920s. Albers’ work transcended the conventional craft of weaving, breaking connotations of female labor and bringing the medium of textiles to light as an art form. Albers’ “pictorial weavings” stood as testament to the endless creative possibilities of artistic expression beyond craftsmanship. 

Anni Albers Work on View at The Blanton

Anni Albers: In Thread and On Paper, made its Austin debut in February at the Blanton Museum of Art. Drawing from the collection of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, the exhibition boasts intricate pieces from the later part of Alber’s acclaimed career, well after she was lauded as one of the first female artists — and the first textile artist — to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among countless other top industry nods.

Photo by John T. Hill

This grand display of Albers’ work at the Blanton Museum of Art is curated by Fritz Horstman, Education Director at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and organized for presentation by Claire Howard, Associate Curator, Collections and Exhibitions at the Blanton. The selection of works is curated to show the dynamic talent Albers maintained throughout her lifelong career, transitioning from weaving to printmaking while reinventing the mediums along the way. 

Albers’ commitment to innovation continued with poignant explorations of her designs in printmaking. As Albers shifted her focus, she seamlessly merged her signature patterns and previous textile creations into mesmerizing iterations on paper. Much of her work was reproduced as wallpaper for commercial use.  

The artist’s intricate repetitions and elaborate designs resound powerfully in both textile and paper forms. The exhibition not only demonstrates an artist’s groundbreaking journey through mediums but a woman’s tenacity to push boundaries. See Anni Albers: In Thread and On Paper, on view at the Blanton Museum of Art through June 30.

RELATED: The Blanton Museum’s Exhibit “The Floating World” Boasts a Prolific Collection of Striking Japanese Prints

Celebrating Local Textile Artistry

On the heels of this important display of textile artistry from Anni Albers, we celebrate Jade Walker and Beili Liu, two Austin women reinventing the medium in the city’s art community and on the global art stage. These two innovative artists pay homage to a historic art form with a modern usage of textiles, resulting in powerful sculptures, installations, and weavings. 

Photo Courtesy of Jade Walker

Jade Walker

Upon view, textile artist Jade Walker’s soft sculptures and large-scale, intricately woven pieces evoke familiarity. 

”Most of the work I create relies on our shared communal sense of comfort intrinsic to textiles,” said Walker. 

The artist has long appreciated the medium ever since her great grandmother taught her to make stitches. Her work draws inspiration from variations of textile design rooted in strong female leaders of the craft in Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and Ireland. The deep-seated appreciation of textiles as an art form championed by women is clear throughout Walker’s contemporary iteration of the medium.

Photo by Essential Creatives

Walker is furthering this notion of deep rooted female artistry with her latest exhibition, “Cloud Shadows,” on view at grayDUCK Gallery in East Austin. In partnership with Walker’s friend, Virginia-based artist Margaret Meehan, the two-woman show is an exploration of shared materials, stories, music, and friendship. The visual conversation is a powerful display of women supporting women, allowing both artists to explore new avenues of their mediums. For Walker, the added support of the partnership inspired her to add new levels of communication into her textiles through layering, mixing materials, and removing tangible elements. 

Beili Liu

For artist Beili Liu, creating with her hands is the foundation of her art practice. Her earliest memories of sewing with her mother and grandmother in her native Chinese village gave her an intrinsic appreciation for the handmade. 

“Over the years, I have grown to view women’s work as fundamental and powerful,” explained Liu. “It provides and enables society’s very existence.” 

Photo by Amos Morgan

Liu’s site-responsive installations and performances make use of these cherished female crafts. Her thoughtful use of textiles in her immersive and delicate installations captures the essence of the connective power through the history of the textile medium. 

“I am interested in the dichotomy between fragility and strength, and vulnerability and power,” said Liu. “My performed gestures of making intend to make women’s labor visible, and present.”

Photo by Rino Pizzi

As an Endowed Professor in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin and an active member of the Austin arts community, Liu is committed to making environments that resonate with cultural memory and existence in society. Liu’s work can can be seen at Ivester Contemporary in Austin, as well as various galleries and exhibitions around the globe.