Out from storage: Sheila Hicks’ Untitled Tapestry

by Adam MacPharlain, Curatorial Assistant of Fashion Arts and Textiles

8/8/2018

Sheila Hicks , Tapestry , textiles , curatorial

Here at the Cincinnati Art Museum we recently reinstalled our Nancy and David Wolf Gallery, which showcases contemporary decorative arts. Included in this installation is a large fiber piece by the artist Sheila Hicks. It is made up of seventeen long loops of bundled yarn that hang over a wall-mounted bar. This untitled “tapestry” was originally purchased in 1972 by Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Weil for their home on the French Riviera. The piece was donated to the museum in 1993, but it has never been installed since its arrival. In our files is a photograph of the piece in the Weil’s home, but unfortunately the focus of the picture is a flower vase in front of the Hicks tapestry, which is only partially visible in the background.

With no layout diagrams in the file and only an incomplete photograph, our Curator of Fashion Arts and Textiles attempted to contact the Hicks’ gallery to get more information on how the tapestry should look. Unfortunately, we did not hear back from the gallery, so it was up to our team, made of up of the curator, curatorial assistant, textile conservator and installation staff, to figure out how these yarn loops were put together.

The process began by laying out all of the yarn bundles onto a table side by side to get an idea of overall width and height. A bar was installed 11-feet off the ground in an unused office and the loops were draped over it one by one, referencing the partial photograph for placement where possible. When all the loops were in place, the curator moved each piece around to mimic the swags and twists seen in the photograph. Once we felt that the layout was correct, each loop was numbered with its placement from left to right, and reference photographs were taken.

Over time, individual strands of yarn in the bundles had become slightly tangled and untwisted, so each loop was taken down, the tangles smoothed, and the loop replaced on the test bar. When it came time for the final installation in the gallery, the individual loops were taken down and moved to the gallery, where a final bar had been installed. Using the reference photographs, each loop was placed on the bar from left to right, recreating the test run. When we felt like all of the loops were in their proper place, the task of tidying the bundles began. Despite some untangling previously, more smoothing and twisting of loops needed to occur.

All in all, we estimate that it took between 75 to 100 hours of manpower to get this one piece looking its best. We encourage you to come see this spectacular piece by Sheila Hicks, on display in the Nancy and David Wolf Gallery (Gallery 222) from now until November 3, 2019.