Anna Kang

Erin Dowding

In 1957, Dorothy Liebes was hired by Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Co. Inc. to advise on the “styling, designing and coloring of carpet,” lending her name, connections, and influence to enhance the promotion of its products. Writing to Frank Mawby, head of Bigelow-Sanford, Liebes emphasized the skill and talent of her team: “When one hires me, they get a staff, and most of the people are much more able than I.” [1] Liebes’s letter introduces Mawby to the “crew of people who are willing and eager to be of assistance” to Bigelow-Sanford. [2] “There are four people who are available to your company at all times and I want to explain who they are. One is Anna Kang who has had great experience in weaving. She was head of the Textile Department at Cranbrook and is a very gifted person. She is available for color consultation particularly, anytime and you will find her most enthusiastic and eager to help.” [3]

Artist Anna Kang [Burgess] (born 1930) was born in Hawaii of Korean parentage and was raised on the Del Monte Pineapple Plantation (Fig. 1). After completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Hawaii, Kang enrolled in the Cranbrook Academy of Art, along with three fellow Asian American women from Hawaii—Alice Kagawa [Parrott], Ernestine Murai, and Toshiko Takaezu—earning her master’s degree in weaving and fiber arts in 1953 (Fig. 2). Kang returned to her home state for a job at the University of Hawaii at Hilo before returning to Cranbrook where she led instruction of the summer program while Marianne Strengell, director of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design, was traveling. During that summer of 1956, at the recommendation of Strengell, Kang interviewed with Liebes at a conference in Chicago. After securing an offer to join Liebes in New York City, Kang found a fifth story walk up apartment on the Upper East Side that was within walking distance of the studio.

In a letter to Gira Sarabhai, Liebes’s friend and the founder of the Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedabad, India, Liebes described how her studio might be considered as a design school, where a young artist could gain direct industry experience, and used Kang as her example, stating, “Anyone who enters our studio is carefully screened because we’re working on secret things for future use for all of these companies. But it occurs to me that this would be the best possible kind of training for a young and able designer and expert weaver. There are about fourteen people here and we have ten companies for whom we make designs and end products. Among the girls now is a young Korean girl, a graduate of the University of Hawaii and Cranbrook. In fact, she gave the courses at Cranbrook last year. Marianne Strengell, whom you know, was her supervisor but Marianne is on a trip around the world now and Anna Kang is with us.” [4]

Kang’s time at the studio came as Liebes began finding ways to bring her in-demand works to a wider audience at a more affordable price point. Working as a design and color consultant for companies like Bigelow-Sanford, Eagle-Ottawa Leather Co., Charles R. Gracie & Sons, Inc. wallpaper company, and DuPont. Kang worked on designing handloomed samples, along with weavers John Miller, Zoe Hanson, and Annalise Fisher, that would then be translated onto a power loom for easier and more economical production (Fig. 3). Liebes valued Kang’s skill at weaving flossa and pile rugs and Kang’s use of color and materials translated into Liebes’s vision for her collaboration with Bigelow-Sanford. Kang’s two years at Liebes’s studio gave her insights into the industry she had trained for while at Cranbrook while artistically exploring the playful and exuberant colors and textures of the Liebes Look.

Liebes’s mentorship of young weavers and designers extended beyond their experience in the studio. Aware that Kang was without family in New York City, Liebes invited her to Thanksgiving dinner in her home. On another occasion, when Kang was sick with the flu and alone in her apartment, Liebes walked up the five flights to bring her something to eat and then Liebes sent her doctor to check on Kang. [5] Liebes supported Kang’s teaching career by granting her time off during the summer to facilitate the weaving class at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Kang eventually left the Liebes studio in 1958 to teach there full time as the head of the fabric design and weaving department, working alongside her former classmate Toshiko Takaezu. After years in Michigan, Arizona, and California, Kang settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she continued to teach, offering summer weaving lessons at the Textile Workshops with weavers Alice Kagawa Parrott, Ed Rossbach, and Key Sekimachi, and classes at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Burgess was then hired to teach at the IAIA during the academic year.

Liebes’s continued pride and attention to Kang’s art practice is seen in pages of the scrapbooks she kept over the years. A full page of the 1958 scrapbook is given to the flyer and article on the Young Americans 1958 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York (Fig. 4). [6] Kang’s work was exhibited along with other Cranbrook alumni, including Glen Kaufman and Nancy Kenealy, who had previously worked in Liebes’s New York studio and Kang’s classmate, Alice Kagawa Parrott. Liebes, who served as a juror for the show, along with Margaret Craver, Wharton Esherick, Bartlett H. Hayes Jr., and Daniel Rhodes, selected work from twenty-two handweavers. Kang’s flossa rug was highlighted in the article for both its impressive size and her use of bold use of materials in colors including vibrant reds, pinks, orange, and purple over a chartreuse background. Liebes’s scrapbook from 1960 contains back-to-back pages that give mention to Kang (Figs. 5, 6). One item is an olive-green flyer for the Weaving and Textiles Exhibit on display at the Cleveland Institute of Art organized in part by Kang. Invited exhibitors with work on display included Anni Albers, Lenore Tawney, Mariska Karasz, Trude Guermonprez, Marianne Strengell, and Dorothy Liebes, as well as pieces by Kang. [7]

Kang continues to work today, focusing on creating mixed media artwork and pieces in ink. Kang’s work has been widely exhibited, including shows at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Her fiber sculpture, Nomad, was acquired by Robert Pfannebecker for his collection and her hanging construction made from wool, fur, metal, and carved wood was included in the touring exhibition and catalog Objects: USA organized by Lee Nordness and Paul J. Smith and is part of the Johnson Wax Collection. Additionally, her work is included in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, the Albuquerque Museum, and the Hawaii State Collection, and most recently in the Minnesota Museum of Modern Art exhibition The Good Making of Good Things: Craft Horizons Magazine 1941–1979 in 2019 and a two-person show at the Arts Club in Washington, DC in 2021.


[1] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Frank Mawby (of Bigelow-Sanford), February 28, 1958. Series 5, Box 6, Folder 1, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Gira Sarabhai, November 26, 1957. Series 5, Box 11, Folder 18, Dorothy Liebes Papers.

[5] These two memories were shared by Anna Kang Burgess in an interview with Susan Brown, Erin Dowding, Alexa Griffith Winton, and Charlotte von Hardenburgh on May 1, 2023, held over Zoom.

[6] The scrapbook page (Fig. 3) features a clipped magazine profile on the exhibition from Handweaver & Craftsman, Fall 1958 pasted next to the exhibition flyer promoting the show. Series 8, Box 32, Folder 2, Dorothy Liebes Papers.

[7] A page from Liebes’s 1960 scrapbook (Fig. 6) includes a news clipping dated February 21, 1960, from Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. The article, “Institute Spotlights Unique Textile Craft” by Paul G. Metzler, discusses the handloomed and power-loomed work was on display, reporting “Anna Kang, then textile instructor, organized this display last spring and invited the exhibitors to send their best contemporary work” to recognize and celebrate the art form. He later writes, “Anna Kang, now of Flint, Mich., is a star performer. She shows Japanese tie-dye hangings and a pile or flossa rug that has many attributes of an abstract painting in mauve, blue and rose. Another hanging in pink, orange and red shows feathers ‘laid-in’ an open weave to give a shimmering surface appearance.” Series 8, Box 33, Folder1, Dorothy Liebes Papers.

A woman standing in front of a large tool used to wind yarn into warps for a weaving loom.

Fig. 1 Anna Kang at the warping drum in Dorothy Liebes’s New York studio; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Black and white photograph with six college students posed for a candid portrait taken in the early 1950s. They are in the lawn of the college they are attending, Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Fig. 2 From Hawaii to Michigan. Alice Kagawa [Parrott], Anna Kang, Ernestine Murai, and Toshiko Takaezu with classmates Louis Gournet and Ed Traynor at Cranbrook Academy of Art; Photo courtesy of Anna Kang Burgess

A page of a magazine with text in a column on the left side and three photos of weavers in the Dorothy Liebes weaving studio in a column on the right. The top picture is of a woman, Anna Kang Burgess, who is standing, holding a drapery sample against a weaving drum for display.

Fig. 3 Anna Kang during her time at Dorothy Liebes’s New York studio in a photograph featured in the Fall 1958 issue of Handweaver & Craftsman magazine; Dorothy Liebes Papers

A page from a scrapbook. The majority of the page is a clipping from a magazine article showing text and three carpets. To the right is a rectangular flyer for an exhibition.

Fig. 4 A page from Dorothy Liebe’s 1958 scrapbook featuring the Young Americans 1958 exhibition shown at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City; Dorothy Liebes Papers

A page from a scrapbook with a yellowing newspaper article featuring Dorothy Liebes on the top of the page with an olive-green exhibition flyer below this with an image of a weaving in navy and sky blue with text in sky blue besides it giving the information for the exhibition including a list of the weavers whose work is included.

Fig. 5 A page from Dorothy Liebes’s 1960 scrapbook with a flyer for the Weaving and Textile Exhibit at the Cleveland Institute of Art at the bottom of the page. Both Anna Kang and Dorothy Liebes had pieces included in this show co-organized by Kang; Dorothy Liebes Papers

A page from a scrapbook with the article, “Institute Spotlights Unique Textile Craft,” at the top describing textiles by Anna Kang.

Fig. 6 A page in Dorothy Liebes’s 1960 scrapbook with the article, “Institute Spotlights Unique Textile Craft,” by Paul G. Metzler that ran in the February 21, 1960, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. The article highlights Anna Kang’s textiles that were included in the Weaving and Textile Exhibit at the Cleveland Institute of Art; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Erin Dowding

Erin Dowding is an MA candidate in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program at Parsons School of Design. She is a curatorial capstone and research fellow in the Textiles Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.