Glen Kaufman

Erin Dowding

Textile artist and educator Glen Kaufman (Fig. 1) came to Dorothy Liebes’s New York City studio through the recommendation of Marianne Strengell. [1] Kaufman studied under Strengell as a graduate student at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Following Strengell’s guidance, Kaufman applied for and was awarded a Fulbright grant in 1959 to study in the Textile Department at the State School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1960, while preparing to return to the United States, Kaufman followed Strengell’s advice once again. A letter from Strengell arrived as he was packing, informing him that Dorothy Liebes was looking for a designer. Following her directions that he “should stop off there and talk to her,” Kaufman was hired after that initial meeting and spent the next year working as a designer and weaver in Liebes’s vibrant Lexington Avenue studio. 

Joining the Liebes studio was a reunion of sorts for Kaufman. His Cranbrook classmate, painter Harry Soviak, already worked as a designer for Liebes, and the two became great friends working alongside one another. Kaufman and Soviak were kept busy working on exploratory designs for area rugs and carpets for Bigelow-Sanford, Inc., and on special commissions from designers and clients. In between these projects, one of the studio looms was set up to weave pillows (Fig. 2) that were sold at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and other boutique shops. Recalling that these pillows were woven in “wild colors,” Kaufman and Soviak “would try to out-Dorothy Dorothy Liebes,” making pillows using Liebes’s daring color combinations and metallic yarns. [2] 

The beginning of the 1960s was a time of dynamism for the Dorothy Liebes Studio. Fashion designer Bonnie Cashin would stop in, interior designer William Pahlmann frequented the place, and Jack Lenor Larson and Daren Pierce dropped by to see Liebes; all became known names and faces to Kaufman and his fellow studio employees, which added to the excitement of working in the studio and provided a look into the larger design world in which Liebes was so intricately involved. When clients visited the studio, everyone would pitch in to prepare for showings of the designs. Kaufman remembers it as dazzling: “So work would stop completely. And there was this huge table. We’d have to get out the most dramatic kind of things. . . . I mean, the whole studio was just filled with color, color, color.” [3] Kaufman recalled that Liebes “had this reputation of being the arbiter of interior taste. And she would put together things like red and pink and orange, which were absolutely out in left field, or even blue and green, she told us, were unheard-of kind of things.” [4] Later, after Kaufman had left the studio and was actively exhibiting his own work, Liebes exuberantly praised his pieces but expressed one point of regret. Writing to Kaufman in a 1967 letter, she states that while at a board of directors meeting at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, she “spent every minute I could spare from the session looking at your things, which I thought were wonderful. I missed color, though, and I’m sure you do too.” [5] 

Kaufman left the studio in 1961 to return to Cranbrook, replacing Strengell, at her request, as head of the Fiber Department. But he stayed in communication with Liebes and the network of designers he had met through her during the following years. Under his guidance, the department grew to encompass both Kaufman’s broader ideas in fiber and textiles and the desires of students in the program. One of these students, Mary Walker Phillips, a former Liebes studio weaver, developed her sculptural knitting and macramé forms while there. Kaufman would reach out to Liebes when talented students were looking for jobs or professional mentorship and planned to pass through New York, understanding her role as mentor and role model. This was the case for fiber artist Sherri Smith, as well as for others, who interviewed and went on to work with the Liebes studio because of a recommendation from Kaufman.  

Many of the letters Liebes wrote to Kaufman in the late 1960s expressed her excitement and satisfaction with working in mass production to create affordable high-quality products for larger audiences. The possibility of creating work that could be useful at this new scale must have been a draw for Kaufman. Five years later, Kaufman was offered the position of associate professor and set up the newly created fabric design program at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art. Liebes was one of the first people he contacted. Liebes’s influence showed as he told her of his big news, writing, “Want to work closely with the mills—there are so many in the state—to build a program that is really in tune with the times.” [6]  


[1] In Glen Kaufman’s oral history interview for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, he states that he applied to the Fulbright to Denmark because of Marianne Strengell’s encouragement. The two stayed in touch through airmail during Kaufman’s time in Europe, and he received a letter from Strengell when his Fulbright grant ended that said, in Kaufman’s words, “Dorothy Liebes in New York is looking for a designer, so I think you should stop off there and talk to her before wherever you’re going, coming back to Michigan or wherever.” Oral history interview with Glen Kaufman, January 22–February 23, 2008. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

[2] Oral history interview with Glen Kaufman, January 22–February 23, 2008. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Glen Kaufman, March 14, 1967. Series 2, Box 1, Folder 49, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

[6] Glen Kaufman, letter to Dorothy Liebes, June 8, 1967. Series 2, Box 1, Folder 49, Dorothy Liebes Papers.


A black-and-white photograph of a man sitting at a loom looking down to the right.

Fig. 1 Glen Kaufman at the loom, circa 1961; Courtesy American Craft Council Library and Archives

An image of sample weavings, woven blinds, and pillows in vibrant colors in the foreground. Behind these is a view of two looms in the studio in front of a wall of shelves with bright-colored spools of yarn.

Fig. 2 The Dorothy Liebes Studio, including the colorful and textured pillows they produced, New York City, as photographed for House Beautiful, October 1966; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Erin Dowding

Erin Dowding is a 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 the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.