Janice Lessman-Moss learned that she had been awarded a prestigious United States Artist Fellowship at the closing plenary session of the September 2018 Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium. While amidst so many people who would happily congratulate her on this accomplishment, she had to remain silent about the award until the public announcement in January 2019. Janice was one
of five individuals to receive the honor in the crafts category this year and one of 45 artists and collectives working across disciplines. Each awardee received $50,000 in unrestricted funds. USA provided a rigorous set of questions for the final nominees, who submitted their portfolios and documents and then waited months to learn the fate of their applications.
In a telephone interview with Janice on July 9, 2019, we spoke about the impact the award has had on her and her work. She says she still feels lightheaded about having received this honor: “It is still unbelievable to me.” Nevertheless, she has been able to make plans to use this windfall. For example, she will hire a lighting designer to improve her studio lighting and also replace a well-used Homasote® wall in her workspace. The new piece of equipment poised to make the biggest difference in her work is a TC-2 single module loom. While Janice already has a multi-module digital Jacquard loom for her large projects, this new loom will enable her to work more easily on smaller pieces at a higher number of ends per inch. Particularly with the demands of her work as professor and head of the program in textiles at Kent State University, she is excited to have this new tool to work out ideas more quickly as individual, small pieces.
Janice describes herself as a digital weaver. Early on in the evolution of her complex weavings, Janice adopted digital tools to create preliminary drawings for her work. She developed a set of pattern presets in Photoshop® to render effects and weave structures in her electronic sketches. She has said, “My weavings begin as drawings that develop pixel by pixel in direct correspondence to the intersections of threads on the loom.” Her skill at rendering the intended result of her weavings is astonishing. Today she works with a foundational template, based on interlocking circles, which provides her
with endless permutations and variations to develop mind boggling patterns of intersecting shapes. Color, thread, texture, and structure merge to generate the flowing geometric and dimensional variations in her work. She writes that “My ideas originate from an interest in method and order. I use networks of patterns based on the circle and the square, cut them, layer them, and distort them.”
The United States Artist Fellowship program brought the honorees together for a chance to talk about their work and become acquainted with one another in the spring of 2019. The artists had five minutes to give a presentation about their work to the entire group. Janice took this opportunity to talk about her fusion of digital drawing and weaving, emphasizing the relationship of the pixel on the screen to the structure of the cloth, with one pixel representing a warp thread up or down. She capitalizes on this relationship in the conceptualization of her work—from the initial steps of the design process to the actualization on the loom. She presented the audience with the two final digital drawings that brought her work to fruition. One sketch is a color rendering that is linked to her dye choices for her warp and weft and the other is a black and white drawing which communicates with the weaving software, indicating which warp threads are raised or lowered for each successive pick.
Janice received her BFA from the Tyler School of Art, Temple University and her MFA from the University of Michigan. She numbered the first piece she did as an undergraduate at Tyler. She continues to number her work and if she does a series, she numbers them with a number and letter. To learn more about Janice’s work and see more images, visit her website.
Previous TSA members who have received USA award include Rowland Ricketts, 2012 and Anne Wilson, 2015; some of the other awardees in the textile field include Teri Rofkar, 2006; Joyce Scott, 2010; Sonya Clark, 2011; Jon Eric Riis, 2011; Piper Shepard, 2016; and Warren Seelig, 2018 (this is by no means an exhaustive list; please see the USA award’s website for a full list of past winners). Congratulations to Janice on joining this distinguished group.