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Duluth Fiber Guild celebrates 50 years with exhibits across Minnesota

The installation runs Tuesday through May 21 at the Tweed Museum of Art.

women looking at fiber art in gallery
Duluth Fiber Guild members Beverly Martin, from left, and Kit Sitter talk with curator Annie Dugan during a gallery walk through at the Tweed Museum of Art on Wednesday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The Duluth Fiber Guild turned 50, and to celebrate the milestone, the Tweed Museum of Art is hosting the first of a series of exhibitions across Minnesota.

Fiber arts run the gamut of weaving and knitting, to felting and basketry, and there’s a history of meeting your basic needs through clothing or rugs. But, there’s also an element of beauty to be made in the functional, said guild member Debbie Cooter.

women looking at fiber art in gallery
Scarves created by Duluth Fiber Guild members are featured at the Tweed Museum of Art.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The kickoff exhibition runs Tuesday through May 21 at the Tweed, with an opening reception from 5-7 p.m. A changing exhibition featuring works selected by different curators will move to Grand Rapids, Minneapolis and back to Duluth again later this year.

Annie Dugan, Tweed curator and longtime Northland arts educator, hopes this exhibition highlights the skills of regional artists, what the fiber arts can do and how this medium fits into the large context of the visual arts tradition.

Fiber arts were relegated to women’s work or considered craft over fine art. The work of the guild and the rise of manual and book reprints helped validate these traditions. The guild’s structure of shared learning continues to leave an impact.

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women looking at fiber art in gallery
Curator Annie Dugan, left, speaks to Duluth Fiber Guild members in a room featuring the work of guild founder Janet Meany at the Tweed Museum of Art on Wednesday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“In the art world in general, we’re realizing the myth of the individual artist falls away, to a certain extent, to the community and networks involved in that person making art,” Dugan added.

Expect colorful historical pieces, weavings, clothing, housewares, felted art, spun yarn, tapestries and much more made by Duluth Fiber Guild members as well as a space dedicated to guild founder Janet Meany, who died in 2019.

women looking at fiber art in gallery
A detail of a weaving created by the Duluth Fiber Guild at the Tweed Museum of Art.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The start of the pandemic meant there wasn’t a way to honor Meany’s legacy, but the 50th anniversary events give guild members and surrounding areas an opportunity to celebrate Meany, added Dugan.

***

In 1973, Meany started what was then called the Fiber Handcrafters Guild in Duluth.

“She wanted company as she worked with fiber, and it’s been growing ever since,” said guild member Marcia McCormick, of Two Harbors.

The group started small, meeting in coffee shops, homes and churches. They moved to the Duluth Art Institute’s Depot location, the DAI Lincoln Park building, and back again.

For the past three years, the Duluth Fiber Guild operated out of their own space at 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 210. They’re one of the few fiber or weaving groups anywhere to have their own studio, McCormick said.

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women look at fiber art in gallery
Duluth Fiber Guild members Marcia McCormick, left, and Kit Sitter discuss the artwork displayed at the Tweed Museum of Art on Wednesday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Weaving and spinning were the focus of early gatherings, but the guild evolved to participating in the Duluth International Folk Festival and hosting the Minnesota Federation of the Weavers Guilds and Fiber Artists conference, along with past exhibitions at the Duluth Depot and the Ripple River Gallery in Aitkin.

For McCormick, the guild was attractive for the social aspect: to be with people with similar interests and for the educational opportunities. Since she joined, the guild has had a name change, they’ve added many more members and achieved nonprofit status.

women look at fiber art in gallery
Work created by Duluth Fiber Guild members at the Tweed Museum of Art.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Members have access to the extensive fiber library and equipment rental today, and the guild offerings have evolved to cover rigid heddle, felting and working with recycled materials, among others.

“The community has a vitality to it that was infused by Janet since she came here,” said guild member Carol Colburn.

***

After earning her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa in painting and establishing the guild, Meany would develop her perspective as an artist, an educator, textile researcher and history preservationist, said Colburn.

Meany traveled the country, interviewing folks about the hand-built, factory-made and obscure looms. (They were commonly made with tractor parts, tree trunks and random wood, said guild member Debbie Cooter.)

women looking at fiber art in gallery
A weaving hangs in the center of a room at the Tweed Museum of Art.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Meany created the Weaver’s Friend newsletter and co-authored the “The Rag Rug Handbook” with Paula Pfaff. She co-founded the Minnesota Federation of Weavers and Fiber Artists and served as Minnesota representative for the Handweavers Guild of America.

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She poured years into creating her extensive loom manual library, which is in the process of being digitized through a memorial fund at the Textile Center in Minneapolis — ensuring fiber artists everywhere can access the history of looms used across the U.S., their instructions, photos and information on the inventors.

“When you stop to think how long fiber processes have been around, it's hard to argue against the sustainability and usefulness of fiber,” said Kit Sitter, 50th anniversary co-chair. “That fiber arts legacy is what we need to preserve, share and continue to create.”

This story was corrected at 10:10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, to correct the book title "The Rag Rug Handbook" by Janet Meany. The News Tribune regrets the error.

women looking at fiber art in gallery
Duluth Fiber Guild member Beverly Martin examines a piece of work created by guild founder Janet Meany at the Tweed Museum of Art on Wednesday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

If you go

  • What: Duluth Fiber Guild special exhibitions gallery opening reception
  • When: 5-7 p.m. Tuesday
  • Where: Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota Duluth, 1201 Ordean Court
  • More info: duluthfiberguild.org , https://bit.ly/3XjWB0h

Tweed Museum docent tours

  • 10 a.m.-noon Feb. 4, March 4, April 1, May 6

Tweed Museum Family Day

  • 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 4
  • Felting, weaving and paper-making projects available.

The year's exhibitions

  • Jan. 24-May 21: Tweed Museum of Art 
  • June 2-July 29: The MacRostie Art Center, 405 NW First Ave., Grand Rapids
  • Sept. 2-30: The Nordic Center, 23 N. Lake Ave., Duluth
  • November-December: The Textile Center, 3000 University Ave. SE #100, Minneapolis
More by Melinda Lavine
Darin Bergsven shoots “Coffee & Guitar” from his living room-adjacent, home studio. “I can play all day and still be part of the family, not a reclusive dad down in the basement,” he said.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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