A Weaver’s Garden

Jack Lenor Larsen
Jack Lenor Larsen
Jack Lenor Larsen

By Emily J. Weitz

Jack Lenor Larsen has always defied convention, pushing the boundaries of design. From a young age he had a broad worldview, and he still recalls one of his earliest Christmas presents: a desktop globe, an atlas, and a large world map at the age of five. As he studied weaving and fabrics, this curiosity guided him all over the world, and he drew influences from east and west into his designs. When he built LongHouse and decided to open it to the public, he wanted to share this mind-expanding worldview with everyone.

Larsen, an internationally known textile designer, author and collector, founded his company, Larsen Fabrics, in 1952, and since has earned acclaim around the world for his signature hand-woven fabrics. He is one of only four Americans to be honored with an exhibition in the Palais du Louvre.

“What I try to show people here is alternatives to convention,” said Larsen. “Modern doesn’t have to be a square white box. One can learn here alternatives to the norm, and it’s more in finding one’s own way instead of trying to reach out for a norm.”

Even as a weaver, Larsen had a different philosophy. In his book “LongHouse”, he points out that he consciously worked to get away from “the weaver’s scale”.

“I break the habit of the weaver’s scale,” he wrote, “to be 100 here, 300 there.”

Last year at LongHouse there were more than a million daffodils blooming. He explained that he was influenced by the English sculptor, Henry Moore, who said that the most exciting scale was the smallest and the largest.

“Both were equally intriguing,” said Larsen. “I’m looking beyond the norm.”

This philosophy doesn’t apply only to art, but in a way it turns everything in to art.

“According to Picasso,” said Larsen, “all things are art. When he was asked ‘What is art?’ He said ‘What is not?’ If we practice arranging, whether it’s flowers or fruit or whatever, it helps us to hone our vision of what we see and appreciate.”

To Larsen, a garden is not just a springtime celebration. It is a year-round work of art, and attention needs to be paid to how it will look in winter as much as to how it will look in full bloom.

“I’ve been to Japan 39 times,” he said, “and usually in winter. Their gardens are as good in winter as they are in summer. The way they prop the trees – it’s quite sculptural. Blossoms are so temporal but the forms of trees and shrubs of a landscape are all seasons, and for centuries.”

That is the legacy he hopes to leave at LongHouse. Throughout the seasons and centuries, the landscape will continue to grow and change. At 25 years old, it’s only the beginning.