Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Genius of Richard Landis

 Signal, 1976, Richard Landis

I came upon the work of Richard Landis as I was reading Loom-Controlled Double Weave: From the Notebook of a Double Weaver by the late, great Paul O'Connor.

It was one of those moments.... You see a weaving and the lightbulbs go off: "Who IS this? What exactly is happening here?" 

This was the photo I saw. Even though it was a poor reproduction and printed in black and white, it had presence.

The Passion, detail, Richard Landis, 1978

I wanted to know more. Which led to a Google Search, confirming that this was indeed the work of a celebrated weaver, one whose weavings are in the collections of MOMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Museum of Art (a gift of Helena Hernmarck), and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. 

Google told me he was living somewhere in Arizona. Emboldened, I searched for him on and found a landline. So -- why not -- I picked up the phone and called him. 

And he answered! Long story short, he was kind enough to grant me an interview. As it happened to be his 92nd birthday and he was going out to celebrate with friends, we set up a phone call for the following week. We followed through: I had my questions ready and his answers were every bit as interesting as his work.

First off, I asked him the basics: sett, yarn, loom, inspiration. He explained that he bought standard polyester sewing thread on cones, in hundreds of colors, that were sold in Los Angeles at the time. This fine thread and the vast number of colors allowed him to create fluid color graduations in each block, with his warp sett around 88 epi (44 epi per layer) on his 8-shaft Gilmore with a weighted beater. 

Clearly, to achieve those wonderful shifting hues and values in both warp and weft, he had to do a great deal of sketching and planning before he even wound a warp.

All his designing was done on paper, with colored sketches like this.

A sketch from 1967-68, in which he worked "to discover the position of full tones," he says. (This image is reproduced from a privately published book on Landis, Episodes.) He describes the process of sketching "somewhat tedious." 

Below is an intricate piece called "Triumph of Logic," woven in 1982 and now owned by the Cooper-Hewitt. Landis says that Jack Lenor Larsen told him it was his masterpiece.

This is art you can read and feel: the tactile quality is visible to us as weavers. It speaks volumes to me, as 20th-century art in a language I can understand. 

Landis earned an art degree from Arizona State University in the 1950s. "When I got to college I took a basic design course from a woman, a European woman who was on fire about modern art. I thought a lot of modern art was just crazy, Picasso and Braque and all these people.... but when I took her course I learned it was just amazing."

He found, however, that "painting didn't interest me much.... I just decided that woven things -- things that were made of cloth, fiber -- I just thought that was more interesting."

His training in weaving? "I only studied weaving for three days," he remembers. "I studied at Mary Pendleton's in Sedona and slept in my car because I didn't have any money. She gave me a British book on doubleweave and I went from there."

Landis asserts that "Anni Albers was my North Star. Bauhaus thought and modern art were always in my mind."

He didn't ignore the technical aspects of the work, as with any true artist. His finishing process was meticulous. "I washed them and ironed them in very specific ways. I had to wash them three times, because I wanted them to do the natural shrinking. And then I wanted the doubleweave not be flattened beyond what it needed to be."

Still, technicalities were not his focus. He never used weaving software -- even though it was available in the later years of his weaving career -- and even today he doesn't use email or a cell phone.

Landis stopped weaving in 1995. "I was pretty good at weaving but I'm very bad at salesmanship and giving a damn. After it's done in its proper form, I'm through with it." 

"In its proper form" is an understatement, in my view.

Campo di Fiori, Richard Landis, 1976, Cooper-Hewitt 

All images in this post are used with permission from Richard Landis. To watch a 2018 interview with this master colorist, visit

Thanks for reading!


Marg said...

Excellent review.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this about a wonderful artist who seems so unknown. I’ve studied what I can find about him for some time and still want more. I will try to find that book you mentioned. Again, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I saw the exhibit of his work at Cooper Hewitt. It was a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

Immensely inspiring, thanks!!

Denise Kovnat said...

The book is privately owned and not for purchase or distribution, so it really isn't available anywhere. Richard sent it to me because it had a lot of good information about him. What I suggest is, if you live anywhere in the Northeast, contact the Cooper-Hewitt in NYC to see if any of his weavings are on exhibit. Best wishes!

Virginia Postrel said...

Wow! Lucky you. I saw his exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt and it was amazing.

Denise Kovnat said...

Yes, Virginia, I'm lucky to have talked with him and to have this personal book -- but I would love to see his work "in the cloth," as you have. I don't know if any of his pieces are on exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt now and I rather doubt it... But I could make a call to the museum and ask to see his work, citing that I'm doing research for an article, right? (But then I would have to write the article, perhaps for the Complex Weavers Journal.) Nice to hear from you!

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