I believe this postcard is to abstractionist painter Po Kim, and Lenore Tawney just added an ‘e’ to his name in the address. As you can see by the address, it was mailed as a true postcard, unprotected, despite the fragile crab body attached. In Signs on the Wind‘s excellent introduction, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Holland Cotter writes that Tawney hardly ever even gave handle-with-care type instructions. “Tawney trusted that the collages would be respectfully handled and carefully processed, and they were.” “Tawney sent the [above] card from Truro, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, and it arrived intact on East 4th St. in New York City. A miracle? Yes and no. One can imagine the postal workers, first in the small town, then in the city, being puzzled but charmed by Tawney’s little journeying gift, setting it aside, making sure it isn’t crushed, bringing it intact to its destination.”
Also note the Emily Dickinson stamp. Cotter draws a kinship between Dickinson and Tawney which I found helpful in understanding the artist. I also appreciated this serious treatment of Dickinson, as I’ve noticed lately that the quaintness conditions of her life often lead people to overlook the depth of her work. This is similar to Tawney’s often narrow-minded reception in the worlds of art and craft. From her move to New York in the 1950’s ( when she was in her ’50s) through the 1970s, Tawney rose to prominence as a pioneering fiber artist. Cotter writes that “Tawney’s work was considered heretical by orthodox craft adherents, but too “craftsy” by the orthodox art world, an attitudinal divide that has never been fully resolved.”
Left: Path II c. 1965-66, linen. Image from the blog of “articraft”-er Kathryn Clark.
Right: Lenore Tawney amidst her work. Image from the Italian art blog unoggetto.
Perhaps my favorite Dickinson poem, and also one of her most famous, goes…
This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
To me, Tawney’s postcards have a similar braveness to be vulnerable, like trusting the postal service not to crush the crab. I imagine this quality made the intimate postcard–so different than her wall and room-size weavings–an appealing canvas. Postcard collage was also a form she could pursue when large-scale weaving became too strenuous with age. In the late 1970’s, “Tawney pulled back from monumental projects and turned her full attention to the other, smaller-scale work she had been doing in parallel with her weaving for years,” Cotter explains. Signs on the Wind includes postcards she made through 1990, indicating that the art form allowed her to continue creating into her nineties, such was the wealth of her imagination and love for the people she mailed her work.
The receiver in the case of the postcard above, Kim, went on to found a gallery with his life partner and wide-ranging artist Sylvia Wald. Browsing the Sylvia Wald + Po Kim Art Gallery website, I found that in the 1970’s, Kim ventured into smaller-scale collage just like Tawney. A piece I particularly like is this one from the ’80s, about 1′ x 1′:
The face pasted on the owl is Tawney’s own. Birds are prevalent throughout her collages. Tawney sent this postcard to ceramic artist Toshiko “Toshi” Takaezu in 1990. Takaezu (1922-2011) among her work in 1989
Tawney and Takaezu would fit in splendidly with a growing pantheon of older female artists whom Mama Snail admires, such as Beatrice Wood and Louise Nevelson. We both like to think that their sustained involvement in art has something to do with the fact that these women–all born before 1925–lived so long. Takaezu and Nevelson lived to be almost 90, Tawney saw her 100th birthday, and Wood her 105th. (If this resonates with you and you haven’t seen the blog or book Advanced Style, you must take a look! It’s one of the only blogs I actively follow.)
“how did we miss this at the circus–a singular of boars”
“the tree frog is coming to the Capitol in the Bicentennial”
I just liked the look of this postcard, but I should also mention its humor. With phallic images such as mushrooms, Tawney often mocked what Cotter sums up as “masculine self-aggrandizement.” Here, it says “In his quoque” above the picture of the guy wagging his finger at the viewer. I can see “quoque” being wordplay for “cock,” and/or a reference to the term “tu quoque,” the equivalent of saying “you too” when someone’s being a hypocrite, which is committing a logical fallacy, which sounds like a number of juicy words. Jack Lenor Larsen (b. 1927) is a textile designer, and collector and promoter of all things involving craftsmanship. Larsen is best known for his hand woven upholstery fabrics at midcentury, when clients included Marilyn Monroe and Pan American Airlines, and he introduced Americans to international textile styles like ikat and batik.
The postcard is addressed to D. Tender Buttons, referring to Diana Epstein. On a whim in 1964, Epstein bought a closed button shop, lock, stock and barrel, naming it Tender Buttons after the Gertrude Stein book. It started out as a Happening space, where artists like Tawney, Ray Johnson and Jasper Johns gathered. But when customers started popping in actually looking to buy buttons, Epstein and co-proprietor Millicent Safro embraced it, moving the store to a bigger space in 1965, educating themselves in button collecting, and scouring the globe for interesting specimens. Tender Buttons remains open just where it’s been since ’65, an absolute treasure trove by what I’ve seen on the website. I want to go!
The postcard below is to Safro:
Instead of just writing “To: Malka Safro,” Tawney linked the address with the drawing by writing,
“the lost bone is connected to the ankle bone
the ankle bone is connected to the leg bone” etc.
Until she got to, “the head bone is connected to: →Malka Safro 143 E 62 NY NY”