Material Legacy showcases a diverse range of media, including fiber, glass, and clay, from artists who are well established and highly esteemed in the Philadelphia area. In this post, we consider the relationship between two of these artists, Adela Akers and Lewis Knauss, by focusing on a handful of works currently on view at the Art Alliance. Adela Akers’ The Grid (2008) and Gold Inside (2008) resonate with four pieces from Lewis Knauss’ series, Sitting with Deborah, including Bayview (2012), Calm (2012), Glisten Clear (2013), and Still Fog (2014). These works ask us to slow down, look closely, and listen attentively. The horsehair in Akers’ weavings whispers to viewers, while the dense thickets of knotted fiber in Knauss’ work absorb sound, drawing the viewer into an interior landscape. The mysteries of memory and vision, the transience of place and time–these are some of the themes explored in the work of these two artists.
I focus on a series of pieces by Akers and Knauss that take the familiar if abstracted geometrical form of the window, drawing a veil or a screen over it with horsehair and bamboo. Akers’ 2008 works, The Grid and Gold Inside, share a similar palette of warm reds, standing out among the other pieces on the gallery walls. Looking more closely, we see that these two weavings are reversed mirror images of one another. The Grid uses a rhythmic pattern of gold foil wrappers to create a frame around an empty central square, while Gold Inside places these metallic foil fragments within the central square. The distinction between interior and exterior space, between subject and frame, is blurred, and the viewer is not sure if she is inside looking out, or outside looking in. In a 2008 oral history interview with the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian, Akers spoke about this quality of mystery, saying “there is something intriguing to me and mysterious about an opening, not because of what’s around it but what’s inside that I don’t see, that I don’t know; it’s the unknown.” The Grid and Gold Inside confront viewers with the unknown, drawing them into the mystery through a fine veil of horsehair and linen.
Upstairs on the second floor, situated like a gentle punctuation between the dynamic forms of Warren Seelig’s sculpture and the colorful drama of Judith Schaechter’s stained glass, is the work of Lewis Knauss. Four pieces from the series Sitting with Deborah stand out for their horizontal composition and relatively shallow projection from the wall. Instead of the dense thickets of fiber that surround them, Bayview (2012), Calm (2012), Glisten Clear (2013), and Still Fog (2014) appear like screens drawn between the viewer and an imaginary landscape on the other side, tantalizingly out of view. Like Akers’ pair of warm-hued weavings, these four pieces by Knauss form two pairs whose composition and coloring echo one another. Bayview and Glisten Clear are painted with metallic colors that subtly reflect light, while the bamboo weft of Calm and Still Fog look almost like window shades with their dense horizontal slats. In his artist statement for Snyderman-Works Galleries, Knauss has stated that he uses textile as a “medium to explore [his] memories of place,” while his meticulous artistic process evokes the patient looking required to truly be present in the landscape. Knauss offers this meditative experience of place to his viewers, drawing us in the textured surfaces that seem to suggest a landscape visible only in the mind’s eye.
Given the subtle visual resonance among these pieces, it comes as no surprise that the artists themselves have worked together. Lewis Knauss was among Adela Akers’ first students at the Tyler School of Art, where she taught from 1972 until 1995. Knauss received his MFA from Tyler in 1973, and taught at Moore College from 1982 until 2010. Both artists have strong ties to the Philadelphia area and have left a lasting legacy as teachers and active participants in the craft community. The exhibition at the Art Alliance represents a unique opportunity to see the work of these masters of fiber in dialogue, and in a larger artistic conversation that spans diverse media.
Text by Flora Ward, Intern