Fabric Workshop names temporary director Susan Talbott as permanent head

Susan Talbott, who agreed to temporarily guide the Fabric Workshop and Museum following the death of founder Marion Boulton "Kippy" Stroud in 2015, has accepted a permanent appointment and become the organization's second executive director.

The Fabric Workshop, founded by Stroud in 1977, has fostered imaginative projects, offered freewheeling artist residency programs, and exhibited and collected the many unusual results.

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Susan Talbott became interim director of the Fabric Workshop and Museum after the death of Marion Boulton "Kippy" Stroud.

The workshop's main operations are in its building on the 1200 block of Arch Street, but projects can overflow and take place almost anywhere. Currently, artist Ann Hamilton's habitus fills the Pier 9 warehouse on the Delaware River as well as the Arch Street space.

Workshop and Museum president Katherine Sokolnikoff characterized Talbott, 67, as "a consummate professional whom we are fortunate to have at the helm of FWM."

Talbott, who headed the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Conn., before retiring at the end of 2015, said she "didn't agonize" over the decision to take the Fabric Workshop helm.

"There's an embarrassment of riches here," she said.

She arrived in Philadelphia in February and quickly realized that the workshop, which has an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million, was "not a sinking ship." Rather, it offered an unusual opportunity to engage with art and the city on many fronts.

People in Philadelphia responded to art, she said; they turned out for lectures and exhibitions. Attendance for the current presentation of habitus, for instance, has topped 11,000 in the last month, a record for the workshop.

Such interest helped convince Talbott that Philadelphia offered an unusual and congenial opportunity.

Next year will be the institution's 40th anniversary, and she is already working on an exhibition (her first here) to mark it.

The show will present a selection from the workshop's archive of 289 artist boxes that contain materials produced by artists working on projects here since the 1970s.

Once the artist finished a work, all the notes, false starts, fabric samples, sketches, research notes, and experimental renderings produced in the making were boxed and squirreled away.

As a result, working materials from the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Tuttle, Louise Bourgeois, Yinka Shonibare, and Do Ho Suh should provide a kind of oblique institutional and artistic memoir, a shadow biography of making in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The exhibition - boxes and, in some cases, completed works - will open Feb. 10, 2017.

"This is the heart and soul of what we're about," Talbott said. "Making, exhibiting, and collecting are the heart and soul of this show."

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