Wall hanging by renowned artist donated to Wisconsin fiber-arts museum in Cedarburg
An Alexander Calder tapestry titled “Swirl” was recently donated to the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg, tremendously enhancing its fiber arts collection.
The Calder sisal woven tapestry is among about a dozen tapestries, rugs and wall hangings the BMO Harris Foundation donated to the museum through the Kohler Foundation in Sheboygan.
“To get something like this is wonderful. We are so excited,” Melissa Wraalstad, executive director of the quilt and fiber arts museum, said. “We have a wonderful collection of quilts, but not as many fiber arts.
“To have an Alexander Calder is incredible. We are grateful to BMO Harris for this generous donation.
“These pieces help the museum broaden our collection to include a wider variety of fiber arts. We are flattered to be recognized as a worthy recipient of important works of all fiber arts.”
Although best known for his public works of bold abstract mobiles and sculptures found throughout the world, Calder was also a prolific painter and designer of tapestries, jewelry and mechanical toys, said Terri Yoho, executive director of the Kohler Foundation.
The tapestry is one of 100 that Calder designed based on his paintings and woven by Nicaraguan and Guatemalan artisans, according to documents that came with the piece.
BMO Harris acquired the tapestry from Sewall Gallery in New York. The gallery’s show brochure states:
“The hammocks and mats presented in this show have been hand-woven and dyed by 100 Nicaraguan artisans and 45 Guatemalan craftsmen.
“The idea of bringing together the joy and freshness of Alexander Calder’s designs and the 1,000-year-old tradition of dyeing and weaving jute and manilla came from Calder’s wife Louisa. Calder was himself inspired and encouraged to begin this project by his wife’s long respect and understanding of native handcrafts.”
According to Artnet.com, an online fine arts auction site, Calder, inspired by a Masaya hammock given to him in 1972, designed hammocks and tapestries made by Nicaragua weavers. He wanted the proceeds of their sales to benefit earthquake victims in Central America.
Special European dyes were used to match Calder’s palette of bold, primary hues, and the artisans used teams of weavers and hundreds of needles to complete the project. The tapestries feature flowing, natural motifs, whimsical circus imagery, spiraling nautilus shells, undulating snakes and a trapeze performer that were all hallmarks of Calder’s graphic work.
Although not registered in the Calder Foundation’s archive, Calder was so pleased with the wall hangings and tapestries that he acquired several for his home and studio, according to artnet.com.
The bank foundation’s collection is the second major donation to the quilt museum facilitated by the Kohler Foundation.
In December, a private donor in New Jersey contacted the foundation to find good homes for 40 quilts. Half went to the quilt museum and half to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
Yoho met with an appraiser from the Smithsonian and also with Wraalstad and Carol Butzke, a certified quilt appraiser who oversees the quilt museum’s collections.
“We were very impressed with their knowledge and enthusiasm and toured the facility,” Yoho said.
“That put them on our radar. When we were approached by the bank, they were one of the first people we contacted. Within the collections were some Persian rugs that were given to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
“We feel very fortunate to have the quilt museum in our back yard. The expertise and knowledge housed in that place is impressive. They are wonderful to work with. We know they’re going to give them the proper care and they’re so appreciative.
“We also like that the Calder is staying in Wisconsin.”
The BMO Harris collection also includes a 10-by-10-foot wool and cotton tapestry by noted modernist Frank Stella titled “River of Ponds” that Yoho said is in pristine condition.
Wraalstad is not sure when the Calder tapestry and other pieces in the collection will be displayed in the gallery. Each piece in the collection must be evaluated by outside appraisers, then catalogued before it can be shown, she said.
The museum’s collections are stored in a climate-controlled archive room in the lower level of the museum, a repurposed 1850s barn that includes the gallery, gift shop and classrooms.
The Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts, N90 W9090 Portland Rd., is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
More information is available on its website www.wiquiltmuseum.com.
Image information: AN ALEXANDER CALDER tapestry titled “Swirl” was admired by Melissa Wraalstad (left), executive director of the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and
Fiber Arts, and Luella Doss, curator. The Calder piece is one of several tapestries, rugs and wall hangings donated to the Cedarburg museum by the BMO Harris Foundation. Photo by Sam Arendt