How to Hang (Fibre) Art

There’s been a big discussion on an art group about the “proper” way to hang our work in order to be taken seriously by the “universal Art Scene.” I won’t name names but the person who started the discussion, while I am sure she had good intentions basically hit us all over the head and told us we were all doing it wrong and, if we wanted to be taken seriously as artists as opposed to quilters, we needed to hang our work like “real” art….ie: stretch and/or frame it and use picture hanging hardware so that a single nail and hook will be all that is needed.

Ok. First, I don’t believe there is a set right or a wrong way to hang/display ANY art. Well, ok, if the display does not show the work to it’s best advantage, that would be the wrong way. However, I believe that Terry Barrett (formerly a professor of art at THE Ohio State and now at University of North Texas) has it right: once an artist puts his or her work “out there” for public consumption it no longer belongs to the artist. I would take that further to the owner of any piece of art having the right to display it any way they want….

That said, according to this person, we art quilters need to devise a “universal system” for hanging our work that can be understood by gallery owners, museum curators and the general (buying) public….

I contend that there is no “universal” way to hang fibre art. While a small piece may look better mounted on stretched canvas (as my piece, “Cinque Terra – Manarola” is), or mounted, matted and framed (as “Primordial Sea” is) or just stretched over stretcher bars (I haven’t made any pieces like this to submit here) to give it more presence or, as in the case of “Primordial Sea”, to give it support (the piece(s) are printed on a very light-weight antique silk kimono lining and the image is only 8 x 10) this method is not necessary for all small pieces nor would it work for larger pieces.

Ok, why wouldn’t it work for larger pieces?  Well, there are a variety of reasons.  First there is the issue of weight.  A really large piece (say, Velda Newman’s wonderful “Zinnia” that is 87″ x 212″  would be impossible to mount on a frame permanently.  The weight would make it difficult to move and hang.  There is the issue of torquing or twisting of the framework (I had this happen to a lovely piece I have that is large but not nearly as large as Velda’s piece.  A friend who is a professional framer reinforced the framework and it has not twisted any more but it will no longer sit flat against the wall).  Then there is the issue of shipping.  It’s expensive enough to ship FedEx or UPS across the country to send a piece to a show or new owner.  I did a piece that was 3′ x 5.5′ that was easy to roll up.  It had to be shipped to Vail, CO from Michigan.  It was less than $50 but it would have been over $100 if I had shipped the hanging rod with it.  And it would have been much more, and required special packaging to ship it had it been mounted on a stretcher.

So, how would YOU display a large piece?  Say, 3′ square or larger?  And do you see a problem with hanging art quilts in the manner that is traditional for quilts and tapestries?

Here are some of the statements made that started this entire issue.  First, the subject line: Million dollar home owners don’t want to hang their Art with nails!!! To which I responded “so what the heck are you going to hang it with? (the response was less than polite).

Then: As Textile Artists, Art Quilters, Fiber Artists, etc, we must find other ways to hang our Art! It needs to be a recognized way of hanging Art, and
that doesn’t include hanging up anything with two nails on the wall. (
Hmmm, what is a “recognized” way to hang fibre art?  Well, take a look at tapestries….all the ones I have seen are hung on rods with at least two attachment points to the wall they are on).

Followed by: People know how their art is hanging, even if they don’t ‘see’ it. And they aren’t comfortable ‘knowing’ there are nails in their wall. Yes, a picture hanger includes a nail, but
that’s different: it looks reasonable when the Art is off the wall-it means an Art piece hangs there. Two nails, in their deepest mind, is what a shack dweller would use to hang up a poster or a magazine picture (
I’m no shack dweller.  I have MANY pieces, fibre and otherwise, hung using two nails and I’m here to tell you, no one I asked gives so much as a passing thought to how the art in their home is hung once it’s up).

Gallery owners, most Museums and virtually all Homeowners do Not know how to hang a quilt with a sleeve; they want a more ‘normal’ hanging system, and I agree
with them (
don’t know how many people she asked….I know several people, myself included, with gallery representation and most works are hung in this method, as are most of the works in private hands that I have seen- quite a few.  I can’t speak for museums….but I’m looking into it).  It’s been my experience that owners will hang it with the sleeve if you show them and/or give them written directions.

I read the above to my BFF who, by the way, owns a home worth WELL over a million dollars (and has a pretty healthy art collection).  Her response?  “Bullshit.  You hang art the way it looks and works best.”  Bingo.  And she’s not an artist.  More importantly, she’s a collector! As for homeowners worrying about multiple nails in their wall, she said “Who cares?  You aren’t looking at the nails, you’re looking at the art.  And a millionaire isn’t worried about the holes.  They can afford to have them patched when they move a piece of art.”

I have one more point: some pieces are made to hang freely.  I saw an installation where an artist printed images of wild mustangs on sheer fabric.  The pieces were hung from clear rods suspended from the ceiling.  The idea was you walked through the pieces, through the spirits of these wild mustangs who had been slaughtered for dog food.  I wish I could remember the artist’s name but it was a VERY powerful piece.  Would  it have been any less art if it was hung with a “wooden slat with hooks slid over nails in the wall”?  Would Velda Newman’s be?  How about Nancy Crow’s work?

Personally, I hang work the way that suits the piece best and that works best in my situation.  When I sell a piece I include written instructions as to how I would hang it with the caveat that it is entirely up to the owner as to how they want to hang it.

I will end with a photo of a piece I purchased this summer.  My feeble brain is having difficulty remembering the name of the artist….I love the piece and knew exactly where I had to hang it when I got it.  Hanging it was not easy.  My poor ex came over and used my 8′ ladder on the steps to the lower level of the house to hang it.  This piece is several layers of dyed, printed and painted sheer fabric that moves gently whenever there is a breeze.  It is attached to a Lucite dowel (glued, actually).  The dowel has holes drilled in either end with clear fishing line.  It is hung from, oh no, a nail!  How “shack dweller” of me.  But, frankly, I don’t see any other way to hang it that wouldn’t change the airy nature of the piece and thus totally ruin it in my eyes….By the way, to the naked eye, the fishing line and nail are invisible.

Just a short addendum: I have sent Velda Newman an email regarding how she hangs her work.  I’ll let you know.

5 Responses to “How to Hang (Fibre) Art”

  1. Helen Conway says:

    You say
    ” no one I asked gives so much as a passing thought to how the art in their home is hung once it’s up).”
    Well you should have asked me. I Have some vaulabe art by Nelson Mandela in quite heavy frames and everytime I look at them I think about the hanging method behind them.
    Of course this is because I hung them myself with picture hooks which came in a bag of ten from the pound shop ( your version of a dollar store) which were frighteningly malleable and I can’t believe that a 20p fitting is still holding those babies up!

  2. Teri says:

    LOL…I can relate. I have a piece my parents gave me. I really have no place to hang it except on the wall over the stairs going to our lower level. The darned piece weighs so much I wouldn’t trust it to anything other than several good-sized lag bolts.

    But the comment (and discussion) was more about the aesthetics not safety, of hanging systems.

  3. Maggie says:

    fascinating. I am planning my first gallery show and have no idea how to hang the quilts, one of which is quite large and heavy.

  4. Teri says:

    First thing you need to do is find out what is acceptable to the gallery. I will take photos of the hanging system at our show and post them

  5. Holly McLean says:

    I agree with your discussion and think art should be hung however suits it best. If you’re planning to exhibit in a gallery then I guess it would be good to check their guidelines. But really one has to be able to express oneself.

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