The Lasting Impact of Helen Louise Allen

The 50th anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC) is drawing to a close. Over the past year, we’ve seen events, exhibitions, and receptions dedicated to appreciating and reflecting on the impact that Helen Louise Allen and her textile collection continue to have on the university. On Thursday, September 19, an opening reception for two new exhibitions inspired by the HLATC will take place at the School of Human Ecology.

Upon retiring from the UW–Madison, Allen donated her 4,000-piece collection of worldly textiles for students, professors, artists, and scholars to utilize as a teaching collection. Perhaps one of the most educational aspects of this collection is its ability to communicate the history of various cultures through textiles and creativity. The final upcoming celebratory exhibition, Points of Departure: Inspirations from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, perfectly embodies the purpose and legacy of the collection.

Points of Departure: Inspirations from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection promotional image

In January 2018, former Gallery Director David Newell, along with three other directors emeriti, were tasked with selecting artists of note to take on the challenge of creating a new piece of work inspired by the HLATC. Sixteen artists were selected, and spent time with the now 13,000-piece collection. They chose works that spoke to them as inspiration pieces, and a source of education and research. The artists used these textiles as a jumping off point to create new, original work.

Artists chose a variety of mediums and materials to work with, from stickers and jewelry to more traditional textile elements including belts, hats, and even a pin cushion.

“The artists are diverse, so I think the presentation of everything together will be very challenging and vibrant,” said Liese Pfeifer, Manager of the Center for Design and Material Culture. “The people involved have taken this very seriously, kind of like a challenge, and that’s what keeps it totally unique. It’s courageous, having an artist willing to do that and be ready to show something.”

A second exhibition at the new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery opened earlier this month, and will also be celebrated at the September 19 opening reception. Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas, reflects on the narratives, traditions, and relationships of indigenous peoples. The goal of exhibit curators Kendra Greendeer (Ho-Chunk) and Dakota Mace (Diné) was to explore the historical relationships between cultures through the use and study of textiles and other materials.

“What’s unique about Intersections is you have two young cutting-edge curators, both of indigenous communities, who have shaped and directed this show,” said Pfeifer. “The exhibition has works of art that haven’t been seen in public before.”

Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas installed at the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery.

“There’s really exciting work coming in here,” said Stacy Mott, Associate Academic Curator. “There’s activist work and contemporary artists responding to ancient things from all over the world, and doing it in really amazing and interesting ways.”

Join in the celebration on Thursday, September 19, at the opening reception at Nancy Nichols Hall (1300 Linden Drive). Beginning at 5:00 pm., artists, faculty, students, and community members will come together to appreciate both the iconic Helen Louise Allen and the artists who have learned from and been inspired by her collection. At this catered event, exhibit curators will give talks about their work, and the Center for Design and Material Culture Director Sarah Carter will also say some words.

“I think people can expect to both appreciate these wonderful exhibitions, but also can expect a lively night full of food, great people, and above all, art,” said Pfeifer.

Points of Departure: Inspirations from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection will be on display at the Ruth Davis Design Gallery through Sunday, November 24. Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas will be on display through Friday, December 6 at the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery.

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