Renown textile designer, 90, opens University exhibit

The exhibit has about 70 of his archived works


Design enthusiasts joined world-renown, 90-year-old textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen for the opening of an exhibit of Larsen’s works Friday night on the St. Paul campus.

About 70 pieces of Larsen’s creations at the University of Minnesota’s Goldstein Museum of Design showed exhibit attendees hallmarks of Larsen’s works.

These hallmarks include innovations in textile technologies and techniques, lessons learned from other cultures while traveling abroad and characteristic designs. 

Larsen said about the University exhibit, “It’s reassuring that, after all this time, there can be a new exhibit.” 

Larsen added that he had not seen some of the items in years. 

Stephanie Zollinger, an interior design professor and co-curator of the exhibit, said some examples of Larsen’s textile developments are fold dyes, printed velvets, double cloths, wax resists and stretch fabrics.

“Everybody, at one time or another, runs into all of these fabrics,” Zollinger said. 

Larsen is probably the most innovative designer of the 20th century, she said.

“He’s a designer who changed the entire field of textiles with these innovations, and it’s really seldom that you have one person be the instigator of so many advances,”

Larsen also tried out new business practices, said Lin Nelson-Mayson, director of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Nelson-Mayson said that Larsen licensed his own name and created an array of products for the home, like tableware that complemented his fabrics.

Jean McElvain, associate curator of the Goldstein Museum of Design, said that architects and interior designers sometimes have difficultly understanding each other’s role when combining ideas for a project.

But architects connected with Larsen, trusting him to expand on the vision that the architect had, McElvain said.

Brenda Stock, an interior design consultant, said that throughout her 25 years of design experience, “Larsen is the best of the best,” having “the most inspirational and aspirational textiles.”

In the 1960s and early 1970s, western audiences respected and showed interest in other cultures’ designs, said Nelson-Mayson, an interest that Larsen shared. 

Larsen said he worked 39 times in Japan. “People were doing things that nobody had ever done before. That was exciting,” he said.

An archive of Larsen’s textile works and writings is held between the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), the University’s libraries and the Goldstein Museum of Design.

When the original plans for the archive fell through at the last minute in 1998, the Minnesota institutions made a quick offer, said Lotus Stack, retired curator of textiles at Mia.

If the offer had not been made within two days, the archive might have been split up instead of staying together in one area, she said. 

Today, Larsen’s 16-acre home Longhouse Reserve hosts an outdoor sculpture garden open to the public, according to its website.

To celebrate Larsen’s 90th birthday on August 5, attendees of the University event sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” before Larsen blew out candles on a birthday cake.

One exhibit attendee asked Larsen if he was retired. Larsen answered with, “I won’t retire.”

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