Tapestry snippets: A chat with Marianne Yoors

Ploughshare, 1977, wool, 84"x84." The Yoors Family Trust.

More about the Yoors tapestries (see previous post here).  If you missed last summer’s exhibition of work by Jan Yoors, or would like a chance to see some of his fascinating output,  there is currently an exhibition of tapestries,  drawings,  and gouaches from the estate of Jan Yoors at reGeneration Furniture, NYC.  The exhibition has been extended until June 5, 2011.

There are several striking pieces in this show, but the standout is the enigmatic “Cobalt Mountain” (shown below), which measures over 20′ wide and took hundreds of hours of weaving to complete, and like most of their tapestries,  was done “on spec.”

"Cobalt Mountain," 1977, wool, 259" wide x 89" high. The Yoors Family Trust.

I continue to be intrigued by the Yoors’ mystique, and I asked Marianne if she would be willing to talk to me about her life and art.  She graciously agreed,  and here are some snippets from our conversation:

Jan, Annabert, and Marianne Yoors, together produced dozens  of handwoven tapestries in their Greenwich Village Studio between 1945 and 1977, the year that Jan died. The actual number is closer to 200,  seven of which are over twenty feet long.

Jan “dreamt in wool – only in wool”  because he loved the intense color that it absorbed.  Coincidentally,  he met and worked exclusively with the Paternayan Brothers, two Armenian wool dyers in New York. Their wool-dyeing business produced the skeins of rich Persian wool for the Yoors’ tapestries.  The colors are as brilliant today as when they were first dyed.  See, for example, the detail below,  from the border of “Wolves Howling at the Moon,” woven in 1956:

"Wolves Howling at the Moon," border detail, 1956, wool.

The tapestries were always signed, “Jan Yoors.”  Marianne  sounded weary of being asked why she and Annabert didn’t sign the weavings, and her answer is “we signed with every stitch.”

The Yoors family’s lives were inseparable from their work. Annabert and Marianne sometimes wove for days without a break. “When you spend six, eight, ten months weaving a tapestry,  you weave a foot or so and roll it up.  You cannot make a mistake because it cannot be fixed.”  Weaving together for fifty years,  Marianne says that they wove as one person,  as the tapestries’ flawless surfaces show.

Jan wove too, but he also wanted to design, and had “definite ideas of what he wanted.” He painted, drew, designed, traveled, sculpted, wrote and took photographs. (Jan Yoors’s photography can currently be seen at the L. Parker Stephenson Gallery in New York City.)

Since most of the Yoors’s tapestries were designed and woven during the 1960s and 1970s, I wondered where their work fit into the “fiber revolution” and concluded that their almost religious devotion to the work,  put it into another realm.  But Marianne has definite ideas on the subject, too, that she summed up by saying,  “all tapestry is fiber art, but not all fiber art is tapestry.”

Postscript:  Shortly after Marianne and I had our conversation,  I came across this sharp snippet of dialogue,  from Nicole Holofcener’s brilliant film “Please Give.”  It’s only 23 seconds long, so I transcribed the clip to make it easier to understand.  Note:  the “tapestry” being argued about is only seen briefly at the beginning of the clip, but is clearly a cut-pile rug.

Shopper 1:  I feel like that would look good in our house in New Paltz, either on the wall or on the floor.

Shopper 2: I’m more of a floor rug person.

Owner 1: It’s actually a tapestry.

Shopper 1: No it’s not.

Owner 1: Yeah, it’s a tapestry.

Shopper 1: It’s a rug.

Owner 1: OK, it’s a rug . . . or a tapestry.

Shopper 1: I’m like a hundred percent sure that’s a rug.

Owner 2 (on phone): You know, I think you’re right.  It’s a rug.

Nicole Holofcener has perfect pitch for yuppie bickering, but I was amused that she chose a tapestry, of all things, for her characters to argue about.

2 Responses

  1. Fascinating post, Fern. I can’t decide if it’s a rug or a tapestry either!


    • Well, either way it’s something different. Thanks for the comment, Eva.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s