Fabric Workshop: From Thread to Finish

Inside the Fabric Workshop and Museum.

Story by: JANIECE OWENS / Paul Robeson High School 

Photo by: DAYANE OLIVEIRA / Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush

Founded in 1977 as a workshop to print fabrics, The Fabric Workshop and Museum is a highlight of Philadelphia. This “diamond in the rough” is located at 1214 Arch Street and works with everything from paper to bio-engineering to create beautiful masterpieces. It includes the work of well-known artists and designers such as Marie Watt and Bill Smith. This musem and workshop is really unique and original.

“I don’t think there is a museum like this in the country, or even the world” says Jennifer McTague ,who also works at the workshop and museum. Funded by grants and public funding, the museum has amazing art exhibits that have been created in days, and some that taken months and even years. The exhibits include samples and ideas from places like New Zealand and Alaska. However, these artists do not just walk in and throw their pieces down. Artists are invited by the Board of Art Advisory and are paid by the museum to show their work in the museum.

It is very hard to find a favorite collection in this large building, according to museum worker Cary Zhao, 24, who  has been working at the museum for two years. “It is important to work with the artists and have their input,” said Zhao. “I can’t say which is my favorite, it’s hard to say because I’ve gotten to know all of them.” Zhao works in just about everything from education, tours and helping put up shows.

Do not think that there is not much to see here just because the building looks so small from the outside, inside it is very large. The Fabric Workshop and Museum actually have a exhibit coming in late September showing all exhibitions and is going to be a really large show with a lot to show.

The museum and workshop do not have just art though, there is a little shop where you can buy things that were handmade by the workshop’s printing masters who print yards and yards of fabric for people to look at or work with. This place is really unique because their art is of a personal nature.Sometimes with dark humor that takes a while to understand but when you do, its like another world has opened up.

The museum actually came after the workshop.  It includes printing on pig skin and fabric made for chairs and wallpapers. Also, there are works made with horse hair and wool. Those things help the artists come up with ideas to make art never seen before or thought of yet.

There is also an educational side of the workshop and museum too. There is an apprenticeship program that pays college and high school students to work there and  learn the whole extended printing process. The students actually get to see their work hanging in the workshop. They get to work with drawing the patterns, printing them and also working with production printing.

Seeing behind the scenes of the artwork being created is almost like seeing the evolution of artwork. The works start from string and organic natural dyes, then move to print pictures, patterns then move to whole exhibitions. It is a really interesting sight and is recommended as a place to visit. There is so much to take in.

People can be part of the museum and workshop by purchasing a membership which includes invitations and first looks at all the events happening at the museum. For more information visit the website at:  http://www.fabricworkshopandmuseum.org. This museum has everything to offer and will not disappoint. They have nice, friendly staff and breathtaking art from electronic art to sculptures; and larger than life exhibits that will make visitors feel like ants. This museum is fun, whimsical and entertaining, but has a very deep meaning and every piece of fabric tells its own story and each story is well worth reading.


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