Kent State exhibits abstract weavings by longtime professor Janice Lessman-Moss

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While a student at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in the late 1970s, Janice Lessman-Moss wasn’t sure what to expect when she signed up for a class in textile art.

“We wear them all the time. We sit on them. But textiles as art was kind of new to me,” Lessman-Moss said. “I thought, ‘Well, I'll try this.’”

By the end of the semester she was hooked.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from the Tyler School of Art and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, she went on to teach textile art at Kent State University and develop her own art practice.

“When I say that I'm a weaver, people generally assume that I am making garments or that I am making fabric for function,” she said. “It takes a while for me to convince them that, in fact, it is a medium just like painting that allows you to create abstract images for the wall, for contemplation, for, you know, visual enjoyment.”

Janice Lessman-Moss weaving

"Walking with my Shadow II" by Janice Lessman-Moss [Janice Lessman-Moss]

Her intricate tapestries blend geometric shapes and lines, varying in color and size. Her work has been shown both locally and internationally, and she won the Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. A new exhibit at the Kent State University Museum showcases 20 years of the Pittsburgh-native’s art.

Working in Photoshop on a computer, Lessman-Moss creates her abstract designs, inspired in part by walking.

“When I am designing, I'm actually thinking of that same notion of movement, kind of following a path,” Lessman-Moss said.

Those paths make different lines and shapes that she layers with other patterns.

“Everything kind of builds in that same systematic way… and yet deviates from any kind of real plan. It's just that it is ordered because of the nature of the structure,” she said.

Janice Lessman-Moss working

Janice Lessman-Moss working on a design at her computer. [Carrie Wise / Ideastream Public Media]

Once she has her design set, she feeds it to a large digital Jacquard loom she works with in her home studio. But that doesn’t mean her work is done. For instance, many of her recent pieces include metal wire she adds in by hand.

“It’s a lot of work just to get the wire to be cooperative,” she said.

The metal wire adds shine to her weavings. While she has used metal in her work for years, at the start of the pandemic she began using more and more.

“In thinking about it, it was this attempt to kind of create a sense of hope, you know, just have some little bright spots in my weaving,” she said.

After four decades at Kent State, Lessman-Moss will soon turn her focus to her art full time.

“It’s bittersweet that I am graduating from teaching, as I say,” she said. “I feel like retiring suggests that I'm going to do nothing. I'm going to do lots of things. I'm just not going to be teaching.”

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