Sheila Hicks

The next chapter of The Textile Reader edited by Jessica Hemming is titled Politics so I’m expecting it to be heavy going. One good thing is that I’m sitting at a small table in the shade in my garden – the smell of the jasmine is surrounding me along with the sounds of the day. Sparrows chirping, a blackbird is singing his heart out and other sounds are being drowned out by the occasional raucous scream from a magpie.

Arthur C Danto (American art critic) opens the chapter with his essay which was included in Sheila Hicks: Weaving as a Metaphor (2006).

“Textiles had been relegated to a secondary role in our society, to a material that was either functional or decorative.  I wanted to give it another status and show what an artist can do with these incredible materials.” Sheila Hicks.

Firstly I need to know who and what she is – a bit of research on her.

Sheila Hicks in a 2004 interview from Archives of American Art

Oral history interview with Sheila Hicks, 2004 Feb. 3-Mar. 11, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

This interview is taking several hours to read but I’ve become totally absorbed in her life story. My feeling is that I’m not even going to start reading the essay itself today – too rich a pickings here to pass by.

Sheila Hicks in her MFA show at Yale, May 1959
photo by Ernest Boyer
Study for Homage to the Square 1964 by Josef Albers 1888-1976








Josef Albers Homages to the square 1950 – 1976. A colour theorist and tutor to Sheila Hicks.

An exercise to demonstrate how colours change depending on their surroundings. They can never be seen in isolation and always relative to their placement.

On Cerré’s blog there are some early photos of Sheila Hicks and her work.

Meeting this author in Paris 1959 was a great privilege for Hicks as she’d referenced his book when writing her MA thesis.


Claire Zeisler Coil III a Celebration 1977

I feel I’m jumping all over the place as am looking up many of the artists Hicks mentioned. Unless they are of anything more than context I’m passing them by – only including  the ones I’m fascinated by such as Claire Zeilser.

Double Wall Triptych

by Claire Zeisler
Illinois Collection
James R. Thompson Center
Chicago, Illinois
81″ Tall x 53″ Deep x 108″ Wide

lenore tawney

Lenore Tawney
linen, wool, silk

40″ x 42″, 1958

On talking about commissions.

“I pose the question very early on so that we know our objectives are compatible.

What is the budget for the space or the wall? That influences choices of materials and construction techniques. Is it a background wall, or is it the featured wall, the major statement in this area? In which case, what is the message you want to send? Is it a private space? How much traffic will it have, and how often will you see the artwork? Is it something you look at every day or only on special occasions – a kind of festival hall or important reception room?

All this figures in when I’m designing. It influences my concept when I’m preparing the original project.

Suppose there is a flood and a work is damaged? I have kept records of all my projects and every supplier of material.”

“Artists or colleagues would come and hang out and we’d end up talking, eating, and trading works.

MS. LÉVI-STRAUSS: Can you tell me the names of a few artists with whom you had exchanges of that sort?

MS. HICKS: Piero Dorazio, Allan Glass, William Hayter, Joop Beljon, Corrie de Boers, Benno Premsela. Mathias Goeritz came from Mexico to see how I was progressing – what I was doing. He brought [Alexander] Calder to my studio. And I worked for him on a project making banners for the Philadelphia Bicentennial. He invited me out to Saché, to his studio.”

Piero Dorazio, ‘Very Sharp’ 1965

Very Sharp Molto a punta
 Piero Dorazio
Date 1965
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions support: 1556 x 2349 mm frame: 1610 x 2410 x 60 mm


Acquisition Purchased 1966
Cinq Personnages, 1946
Stanley William Hayter (British, 1901–1988)
Engraving and soft-ground etching
Sheet: 20 1/8 x 23 3/16 in. (51.1 x 66.4 cm); plate: 14 15/16 x 24 in. (37.9 x 61 cm)
Alexander Calder, ‘Untitled’ 1937
Alexander Calder(1898‑1976)
Title: Untitled
Dimensionsobject: 2280 x 2030 x 2600 mm
Collection: Tate
Acquisition Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to Tate 2002

“MS. LÉVI-STRAUSS: So you saw many painters.

MS. HICKS: We saw the Cuban, Wilfredo Lam and his Swedish wife, Lou Bona, the Venetian artist; Matta – Roberto Matta and his companion Malitte.

MS. LÉVI-STRAUSS: And Alicia Penalba [Argentinean sculptor]?”

Retrato en azul

Wifredo Lam

Retrato en azul, c. 1942   107 x 86.5 cm.

Roberto Matta

Alicia penalba
“There are two versions of this monumental work in existence made in bronze, produced by “Tesconi & C. Fonderia D’Arte S.N.C” from Pietrasanta, Italia. One of them is part of the “Fondation Pierre Gianadda” collection in Martigny, Switzerland, and can be seen at the Sculpture Park of the gallo-roman museum there. The other piece is in Milwaukee, U.S.A. at the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation.”
Malcolm X #3
Malcolm X #3, 1969
Barbara Chase-Riboud, American
Polished bronze, cotton, and rayon
118 x 47 1/4 x 9 7/8 inches (299.7 x 120 x 25.1 cm)
Trapeze de Cristobal 1971

MS. LÉVI-STRAUSS: Sheila, you have told us that you make big three-dimensional pieces that you send to the museums to be exhibited, especially in this one – in the Stedelijk Museum – but these pieces are not sold when they are shown in a museum, so they come back to your Atelier [studio]. How do you deal with these masses of textile that come back to your Atelier?

MS. HICKS: They’re more masses of fiber than textile. Although there is some textile. The Stedelijk did buy quite a few things from that show – amazingly enough – for their permanent collection, and I saw them on display recently, 30 years later.

MS. LÉVI-STRAUSS: That must have been a satisfaction.

MS. HICKS: They have an installation right now with work by Jagoda Buic, Magdalena Abakanowicz and Jun Nam Paik’s video

Jagoda Buić 

Another day I will research this Croatian artist’s work further. If I do it today I think I’ll be straying too far from the reader. Also I need to contain my blog in manageable chunks.

The Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz is also going on my list.
MS. HICKS: I’ve had funny experiences where people want to buy a work they have seen exhibited or published. In fact there is one in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I can’t find it. It’s been unwound, unwoven, and recycled. A lot of my work was. Often they’re just the crayons organized in different ways. It is a challenge to think up new ways of building things with colors, lines, shapes.
Ha, this rings so true as I recycle much of my work!
Ann Sutton
Cutaway Squares 1983

MS. HICKS: Co-weavers and adjust the tension and expand woven interpretations of my painted cartoon guides. Ann Sutton, an old friend and English textile designer, offered to make one of the tapestries – to weave it in her workshop.

“In the Chateau of Fontevraud I used surgeon’s smocks.”

MS. HICKS: When you say “my own work,” I considered all of the production design my own work, too.

MS. LÉVI-STRAUSS: Yes. Yes, of course.

MS. HICKS: I’m going to use that as the trampoline to emphasize that when I showed laundry, which I borrowed from hospitals, I considered it to be my work. I piled it up in the Eighth Biennale of Lausanne [1977] – about five tons of laundry, placed on a platform, and sculpted it in the form of a glacier, or an avalanche, or a cascade. It was textile art composed of white, clean, cotton hospital laundry.

That, too, was my most personal work.

MS. LÉVI-STRAUSS: Yes, of course.

MS. HICKS: Some visitors and a few of the show’s organizers were disturbed or upset, but I learned from that experience. Many artists were making decorative or functional textiles and tapestry, but this basic material has a profound echo. You can sense the presence; it is powerful. You can use it as art language. I found I could work with it and say meaningful and significant things about the world. When I went to Israel, I used military uniforms and sculpted an environment with them. In the Lausanne Biennale, I used their nurse’s blouses. [In the Chateau of Fontevraud I used surgeon’s smocks.]

I saw how people could be affected by the silent presence – the physical presence – of familiar textile garments used in a conceptual way.

“What did I learn? I learned about the gamut of emotions that can be somehow elicited from the viewer. I won’t call it art, but an experience quite equivalent to what some call art. Art provokes an emotion, a reaction: attraction or repulsion. It can be a significant learning experience, or jolt, even a revolting, upsetting experience. And I thought: this is the way I want to work – with this material.”

Half Moon Needle in the Silk Rain Forest. Here is a video of a talk given by Sheila.
MS. HICKS: The first one, called Textile Magicians, was poetic and brilliant. It won many prizes. The second film by Zañartu with Clark, was Basho to Spun Steel. That included the weaving of banana fiber [basho] in Okinawa. It was magical.
Another couple of films to watch – hopefully they are in the library at Swansea Met!
A comprehensive collection of Hicks’s work is here

This has led me on to look at the book Weaving as a MetaphorFortunately there is a preview available in google reader so I’ll have chance to dip into it there before reading the full version. But back to the essay.

Much further watching and reading to be done on Sheila Hicks – I’ve yet to read the essay ……… another day!


One thought on “Sheila Hicks

  1. Pingback: A few hours in London | dorcaspennyfather

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