New Exhibition on Jack Lenor Larsen Opens at LongHouse Reserve

On view June 26 – September 5, 2021 in the LongHouse Pavilion, Jack, Larger Than Life, is an intimate portrait of creator-collector Jack Lenor Larsen (1927–2020). His innovative textiles are presented side by side with his various “enthusiasms,” the objects of craft and art he assiduously gathered, as well as the clothing he collected and wore.  Over 100 objects from the several thousand in LongHouse Reserve’s collection are juxtaposed with Jack’s pronouncements and videotapes of his interviews.

In a period of increasing automation, Jack Lenor Larsen reintroduced handweaving techniques to the textile industry.  Established in the 1950’s, his eponymous brand presented a series of innovations, making Larsen one of the most prolific and respected American designers of his time. A proponent of craft before it was trendy, Larsen’s appetite for the handmade took him across the globe seeking both traditional techniques and modern interpretations. Jack had an insatiable hunger and curiosity for other cultures. Said Kate Irwin, Curator of Costume and Textiles at the RISD Museum, “From the beginning of his career to his last collection for Cowtan & Tout in 2019, Jack’s approach to textile design was innovative and technical, while steeped in hand-craftsmanship and global practices of making. Many of his early designs combined natural fibers with synthetic materials of varying textures, transforming age-old textile techniques into contemporary designs that softened the transparent glass and dense steel of modernist International Style buildings.”

Nearly fifty iconic Larsen textile lengths fill the gallery with color, texture, and pattern, including major commissions such as Leverlin for Lever House, New York’s first International Style high rise; Swazi Drapery for the Wolf Trap Theater; and Magnum, with light-reflecting mirror Mylar, for the Phoenix Opera House.

Organized according to the color stories Jack favored in his textile designs, exhibition groupings weave together a spectrum of Larsen textiles with garments from Jack’s wardrobe, furniture and art from his home, and sculptural objects from around the globe. Atop an angular Wharton Esherick table sits a Dale Chihuly silvered glass cylinder. The table was Jack’s first important purchase and started his extensive Esherick collection (the largest outside the artist’s own house museum). The Chihuly was the last of several gifts from the artist to his friend and mentor on the occasion of a milestone birthday. A graphic Japanese kimono rubs elbows with a Marc Leuthold-carved ceramic and Stephen Proctor mid-century table; metalwork vessels by Chunghi Choo mingle with a Japanese indigo patched boro and West African resist-dyed textiles; Dawn MacNutt’s fiber sculpture keeps watch over a Sheila Hicks miniature and Toradja armor made of horn (a gift to LongHouse from playwright Edward Albee). As backdrop to these groupings, an entire wall is covered in a sensuous array of Larsen’s printed cotton velvets.

Jack, Larger than Life is curated by Wendy van Deusen and Sherri Donghia; Kate Irwin, Exhibition Writer, and additional support from Caroline Bauman, Alexandra Munroe, and Lee Skolnick.

The exhibition is designed by Lee Skolnick, and his firm, SKOLNICK Architecture + Design Partnership.  Design team members included Jo Ann Secor, Director of Interpretive Services, Scott Briggs, Associate Principal and Project Manager, Katie Ahern, Senior Manager, Content and Visitor Experience Design, and Vonn Weisenberger, Exhibit Designer.

This exhibition was made possible in part by the generous support of Cowtan & Tout / Larsen, Amita Chatterjee, and Nina Gilman.  Public Programs are funded in part by Suffolk County and LongHouse Reserve Members and Supporters.

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