2019 LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT ARTS PRIZE FOR VISUAL ARTS
In school, Janice Lessman-Moss was the girl who loved to draw, and created all the posters and murals her class needed. Her teachers encouraged her art interests, but when she went off to college, she still had no idea that art would figure so prominently in her future.
She focused on interior design, then took art classes part-time, which is where she met her future husband. Al Moss was an art major at the University of Pittsburgh, where they both grew up. When they enrolled in the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, she looked at the course schedule which listed a textiles class. “Textiles?” she thought. “We all wear textiles, but how do you use the processes artistically?”
“So I took an introductory textile class and fell in love,” she says. “I liked manipulating the materials and engaging the metaphors inherent to the process. There was something to work with, to build both the plane and the surface, as well as the content, and that integration is really my primary love.”
She earned an Associates degree (Summa cum laude, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society) from Endicott College in 1974 and then her BFA (Magna cum laude) from the Tyler School of Art in 1979. Immediately after, she went on to complete her MFA at the University of Michigan in 1981, before being hired by Kent State University.
Since arriving in 1981 to teach textiles in the School of Art at KSU, Janice quickly established herself as a widely acclaimed textile artist. As head of the Textile Department, she has taught for many years, and mentored and inspired several distinguished contemporary artists in our region, including Hildur Asgeirsdottir Jonsson (CAP 2008) and Rebecca Cross.
“The university has been very supportive of textile practice,” Janice says. “And teaching weaving has motivated and inspired me. As a young weaver, I had much to learn about a range of techniques that would allow me and my students to use the language of textiles to its best advantage. While technological advances provided my biggest challenge, they also contributed most profoundly to my own textile art.”
When digital technology became available to hand weavers, she was given an opportunity to purchase a $60,000 digital jacquard loom for the Kent State textiles program in the School of Art through the Fashion School, which had a large technology budget. Although she had used computer assisted looms before, this equipment was significantly more advanced.
“The Jacquard Center opened in Hendersonville, NC, the year that I was looking to learn how to weave on a jacquard loom,” she says. “So, I went there, took a crash course, we got the loom, and that’s history!”
As a textile artist, Janice developed a technique to marry mathematical mapping to both the two- and three-dimensional aspects of her woven tapestry paintings. She has been a forerunner of integrating hand processes with digital jacquard weaving, and relies on the mathematical stochastic process of the Random Walk to generate form and procedure in her work. Janice creates surface and object through the integration of art and science, the imaginative and the logical segments of human experience.
“Janice is an extraordinary artist,” says Rebecca Cross, adjunct professor, Center for Visual Arts at Kent State University and fellow textile artist. “Her work is complex, beautiful, and steeped in a life-long engagement with the world of contemporary art and textiles. Her knowledge is vast and her deserved acclaim and recognition as an artist is wide-ranging, long and consistent.”
Recent recognition of her contributions include the United States Artist Fellowship in 2019, a national award for creative work of the highest order. In addition, she has won the prestigious Ohio Arts Council Governor’s Award in Art, and received the OAC Individual Artist Fellowship nine times. Academic accolades include the Distinguished Scholar Award, Kent State University, the OAC/Soros Artist Exchange Grant, Academy of Applied Arts, Prague, Czech Republic, and the Arts Midwest/National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Crafts in 1988.
“I really love what I do, and am excited by the continual challenges of making meaningful, visually engaging work,” Janice concludes. “You make some pieces that are very successful, and some pieces that just get you to the next step, and I’ve made enough good work that I am pleased with my oeuvre. Integrating digital technology does make some things about the process less physically demanding, so hopefully I’ll be able to work for many years to come.”