Louisville’s Fiber Legend: The Life and Work of Alma Lesch

In honor of Women’s History Month, “Louisville’s Fiber Legend: The Life and Work of Alma Lesch,” is on display at the University of Louisville’s Bridwell Art Library. The exhibit consists of artifacts from the Alma Lesch manuscript collection. The papers in this collection include correspondence with galleries, museums and schools concerning exhibitions and workshops; articles in newspapers and magazines about Alma Lesch; exhibition catalogs which include Lesch’s work; supporting materials for workshops Lesch conducted; publications and newsletters from Shakertown; articles, newspaper clippings and ephemera on various art-related topics; lists of students and other documents from her tenure at UofL.

Alma Wallace Lesch (1917-1999) lived her whole life in Kentucky, and although her career as a working artist started in her 40s, she attained a width and breadth of textile arts that few can attain.

Earning a B.S./Education from Murray State (1941), and a Masters of Education from the University of Louisville (1962), Alma had her first career as a 3rd grade teacher, then taught at Louisville School of Art (1961-1978) and became an Adjunct Faculty at University of Louisville (1975-1982); while at UofL she founded the Textiles Program. She also taught at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and Arrowmont School of Crafts. By 1974, she was named a Master Craftsman by the American Crafts Council, was awarded The Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Arts in 1987.

Although Alma didn’t start her professional artistic career until the 1960s, her first quilt was started at age 5 and completed at age 12, while learning embroidery and sewing from her mother and grandmother.

Most noted for her innovative fabric portraits made by sewing vintage clothing while adding embellishments that helped describe the person, Alma also worked with quilts, embroidered art, macramé, jewelry made from beads or buttons, collaged textile sculptures, woodcuts, basketry, and glass mosaics.

Alma is also a leading authority on natural dyes, writing several books.

Her works are found in several museums including the Speed Art Museum, Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, the American Crafts Museum of New York, the Arrowmont School in Gatlinburg, and the Flint (Mich.) Institute of Art, as well as the Bridwell Art Library/UofL.

The Louisville Courtier Journal called her the “Undisputed Grande Dame of KY textiles and a pioneer in the National Crafts Movement.” A historical marker is found in her honor in Shepherdsville, KY.


2020 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon Postponed

We regret to announce our Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon event has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our top priority is the health and safety of our faculty, staff, students, and community. We will keep you informed once the event has been rescheduled.


First advanced mathematics textbook authored by a woman added to Rare Books Collection

Archives and Special Collections has acquired a new book for the William Marshall Bullitt Collection of Rare Astronomy. The Instituzioni Analitiche (Milan: Nella Regia-Ducal Corte, 1748) by Maria Gaetana Agnesi is considered the first advanced mathematics book authored by a woman and one of the earliest textbooks to offer a comprehensive introduction to geometry, algebra, differential and integral calculus. It is also first to present a formal system of calculus terminology in Italian.

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A native of Milan, Agnesi (1718–1799) was a prodigy in mathematics and natural philosophy and grew up in a household  that supported her interests, with many scientific works and instruments available. The Instituzioni Analitiche was completed after a decade of preparation and represented the culmination of her mathematical studies. Agnesi dedicated it to Empress Maria Theresa, whose reforms had recently aided the opening of Italian culture to Enlightenment ideas.

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“To produce the book, a printing press was installed in the family house so that Agnesi could supervise the typesetting—a challenge because of the mathematical symbols and equations. Agnesi’s special interest was the characteristics of plane curves, which are depicted on fifty-eight folding plates.” (p. 75) “A later mistranslation of the name of one of the cubic curves, which confused the correct ‘versiera’ with ‘versicra’ (meaning witch), led to one particular curve becoming known as the ‘Witch of Agnesi.’ Analytical Institutions enjoyed great popularity and was praised for its accessibility, particularly in presenting young scholars with more advanced material than that found in other contemporary European mathematics treatises. In recognition of this, in 1750 Agnesi was awarded the chair of Mathematics and Analytical Geometry at the University of Bologna by Pope Benedict XIV, making her the second woman ever to be granted professorship at a university.” (p. 68)

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Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement. Paulette Rose Smeltzer, Ronald K., Robert J. Ruben.

The purchase was funded in part by The William Marshall Bullitt Memorial Endowment established by Bullitt’s grandson Lowry Watkins, Jr. Nora Iasigi Bullitt, Lowry’s grandmother, gave the initial collection of nearly 300 volumes to the university after her husband’s death in 1957.

More information about the book:

Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventu’ Italiana. (Milan: Nella Regia-Ducal Corte, 1748)

Agnesi, Maria Gaetana

Two volumes, quarto (245 × 185 mm), pp. 1,020. Contemporary mottled calf, compartments elaborately tooled in gilt with floral and scrollwork motifs, raised bands tooled in gilt, marbled endpapers, edges red, green cloth book markers. Engraved vignette title pages, historiated headpieces and initials, decorative tailpieces. With 59 engraved folding plates, plus two folding tables to Vol. II.


Annual Kentucky Women’s Book Festival brings together readers, writers in Ekstrom Library

The 12th annual Kentucky Women’s Book Festival will feature authors from a wide variety of genres March 3 on University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus.

The festival’s opening speaker is UofL alumna Sheri Riley, author of “Exponential Living: Stop Spending 100% of Your Time on 10% of Who You Are (with a forward by Usher),” which has been featured on numerous national television shows and news outlets.

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Sallie Bingham, playwright, poet, founder of the Kentucky Foundation for Women and author of numerous books including an upcoming literary biography, “The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke,” will present the luncheon keynote.

Other speakers include Carolyn Furdek, author of “Locked-In: A Soldier & Civilian’s Struggle with Invisible Wounds,” and Aimee Zaring, author of “Flavors from Home: Refugees in Kentucky Share Their Stories and Comfort Foods.”

Women Who Write, a local women’s writers’ group, will present the workshop “So, You Want to Write: Let’s Get Started” facilitated by Selene Phillips, who is an assistant professor of communications at UofL.

The festival begins at 9:30 a.m. with coffee and conversation and the opening session begins at 10 a.m. in the Chao Auditorium of Ekstrom Library. Festival sessions and presentations are free but participants are asked to register here to guarantee their space.  An optional $10 lunch is available for purchase by calling the Women’s Center at 502-852-8976.

The Women’s Center and University Libraries host the event, which is part of the university’s observance of Women’s History Month.

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Women’s History Month: Library Resources

March marks Women’s History Month. As noted last week regarding African American History Month, the University of Louisville Libraries provides access to a host of sources for learning about women’s history, particularly from a local perspective.

Explore the Guide to Women’s Manuscript Collections in the University Archives & Records Center (UARC) to start researching women’s lives in Louisville through history. The Women’s and Gender Studies research guide links to primary and secondary sources on this topic.

Digital Collections includes images and oral histories relating to women, including The Kate Matthews Collection by a pioneering woman photographer from Pewee Valley, and Jean Thomas, The Traipsin’ Woman, Collection documenting Kentucky folk culture.

The University of Louisville’s Hite Institute of Art is now home to the International Honor Quilt. Watch this blog for upcoming news about this resource for women’s history, art, and craft.