Indigo, Cochineal Bugs, Onion Skins, and Pokeberries: The Legacy of Alma Lesch

Bridwell Art Library staff member Kathy Moore reflects on the legacy of renowned fiber artist Alma Lesch and fondly recalls taking her class during her sophomore year at UofL.

Alma Lesch’s connection to UofL is long and storied; during her first stint as a teacher, she joined the Louisville School of Art in 1961, and after that was absorbed by UofL, she became an Adjunct Faculty in the Hite Fine Arts Department (where she founded the Textiles program) until retiring in 1982.  Alma’s second and more famous career took off while she was in her 40s, when she developed fabric collage portraits that were adorned with personal objects, which earned her accolades of Master Craftsman by the American Crafts Council (1974), and The Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Arts (1987).

Southern Gothic

1973 “Southern Gothic,” 27.5″ x 39″, fabric collage portrait; shown in first World Craft Exhibition, Toronto, Canada 1974, currently on display at Bridwell Art Library, UofL.

Alma Lesch

Alma Lesch workshop “Vegetable Dyeing,” 2nd Southeast Region Workshop, Memphis Academy of Arts, June 9-11, 1967.

My small connection to Alma was in 1976, when I was a sophomore here at UofL. Although my major was Biology, my work-study job was at the Bridwell Art Library, which worked out well since I loved historic costumes and crafts. When I saw a class on Natural Dyes I jumped at it. Held in the 1900 brick building now known as the Honors Overseers House, and taught by Alma, I didn’t know she was already famous, both for her textile arts but as the author of the book we used in class: ‘Vegetable Dyeing: 151 Color Recipes’ (1970). Huge pots full of different plants, mosses, barks and insects boiled on table-top gas burners, while we hand-twisted hanks of yarns into skeins that took on the whole range of colors in the rainbow. Indigo (blue), cochineal bugs (scarlet), onion skins (orange) and pokeberries (pink) all were tried with varying results. It was magic! Alma was patient with our mistakes, but her total focus on the craft and no-nonsense work ethic imbued in all of us a respect for the old timey traditions that were relevant once again, and that sticks with me still.

Vegetable Dyeing

Vegetable Dyeing; 151 color recipes for dyeing yarns and fabrics with natural materials” by Alma Lesch. New York, Watson-Guptill Publications [1970], ISBN: 9780823056002, Art Library Book Stacks  TP 919 .L47.



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