Working With Judy Chicago | Letters | Chicago Reader

Working With Judy Chicago 

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Dear editor:

I am writing in response to Fred Camper's article entitled "The Banality of Badness" [January 21]. Although I respect Mr. Camper's right to his own opinion I have a problem with his inaccuracy of statement. Most importantly, Mr. Camper's statement regarding the collaboration between Judy Chicago and weaver Audrey Cowan on The Fall tapestry. Mr. Camper states, "This enormous tapestry was recently completed by an unpaid weaver who worked long hours for years, following Chicago's design." This statement makes it sound as if the "weaver" is some kind of an indentured servant, who has no brain and wasn't allowed to contribute creatively in any way. In fact by not identifying the weaver as Audrey Cowan, Mr. Camper diminishes her significance in this project; her importance, though, is quite well documented and acknowledged in the Holocaust Project exhibition.

Furthermore, it is simply untrue that Ms. Cowan is unpaid for her efforts. She is paid as most artists are, through ownership of the work. Ms. Cowan owns one-half of The Fall tapestry and in the event of its sale will receive one-half of the money. Artists rely on the eventual sale of their work to make a living all of the time; why should it be so strange that two people could collaborate with that understanding? I'll tell you why it's so strange, because it just doesn't happen very often. Many times in artist/artisan collaboration the artisan has no creative input, receives no acknowledgement and is paid poorly, if at all.

Judy Chicago and Audrey Cowan have been collaborating together on weaving projects for 20 years, and together have developed a unique dialogue which not only satisfies both of their creative needs and assertions, but also leaves some very incredible contributions to the history of art. I believe in light of this that it would be appropriate to print some sort of retraction or errata.

Jessica Buege
Curator assistant
Through the Flower
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Fred Camper replies:

I agree that I should have named Audrey Cowan, and I appreciate your elucidation of the nature of her and Judy Chicago's collaboration, though to my ear "weaver" doesn't connote someone with "no brain." Cowan's creative contributions to the tapestry may be great--it is finely and elegantly woven--but to my eyes it's controlled by Chicago's design.

I did know from Chicago's book on the project that the proceeds from the sale of this work would be shared with Cowan, but it isn't known if it will be sold. The great majority of artists cannot "make a living" from "the eventual sale of their work"; working at other jobs, often jobs they hate, to support their art, few if any would regard ownership of their unsold work, however much they treasure it, as "payment."


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