Susan Talbott named interim director of Fabric Workshop

Susan Lubowsky Talbott will lead a transition after founder’s death.

Susan Lubowsky Talbott, who retired in December after eight years as head of the venerable Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn., has agreed to take the reins of Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum for at least the next year.

She will guide the contemporary art institution during "our current transition," said president Katherine Sokolnikoff, and facilitate two large projects in the spring and fall.

The Fabric Workshop (FWM) was stunned in August by the death of its founder and director, Marion "Kippy" Boulton Stroud, 76, who took her own life.

Talbott, 67, who left the Wadsworth Atheneum after completing a widely praised $33 million renovation and reinstallation, said she was a longtime friend of Stroud and a believer in the workshop's mission of enabling artists.

"The Fabric Workshop has such a history of supporting artists, it is very appealing to me to be involved in real day-to-day, hands-on work with them," she said Wednesday.

Talbott officially starts her new job Feb. 1.

"We are fortunate to have a person with such strong skills to guide our current transition," Sokolnikoff said.

The Fabric Workshop, founded by Stroud in 1977 and now on the 1200 block of Arch Street, has long been a haven for artists, facilitating projects, offering residency programs with no demands, and exhibiting the many unusual results.

The architect Robert Venturi has designed neckties for the workshop, the sculptor Italo Scanga did napkins, and the artist Cai Guo-Qiang created an explosion event and fireworks at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The artists Red Grooms, Louise Bourgeois, Donald Lipski, Marina Abramovic, Claes Oldenburg, and many others undertook workshop residencies.

Talbott will help guide two particularly ambitious projects this year.

In the spring, visual artist Janine Antoni; choreographer, theater, and community artist Anna Halprin; and choreographer Stephen Petronio will present the results of their multidisciplinary collaboration.

In the fall, the museum will mount a major installation by multimedia artist Ann Hamilton.

Before she headed the Atheneum, Talbott served as director of Smithsonian Arts at the Smithsonian Institution. She has also guided the Des Moines Art Center and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, N.C.

From 1989 to 1992, she directed the visual arts program at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Her NEA tenure, coming at the onset of the culture wars over federally funded art - sparked by an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photos that began at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania - had a big impact on Talbott's thinking about art, and its making and exhibiting.

"The idea of working with artists to help them realize projects was so appealing to me from my time at the NEA," she said.

"Susan Talbott brings a rare depth of experience in successfully leading great institutions and, as a curator, extraordinary dedication to working with artists - a combination FWM needs at this moment," said John Ravenal, who serves as the chair of the workshop's artist advisory committee.