Guild Background


The guild is managed by a Dean and elected board.  Each board member has a specific area of responsibility and may have one or more assistants.  There are other assignments - such as Librarian - as well.  The work to maintain the guild is a 100% volunteer effort by members.  Click Bylaws to read the exact details of the guild structure and operation.*

The Weavers' Guild of Boston: 75 Extraordinary Years
by Martha Riley Pappas

The Weavers' guild of Boston marked its 75th anniversary at its annual meeting in May, 1997, with a grand and glorious celebration at the newly opened American Textile History Museum in Lowell, MA, with a gala fashion show, a review of its history, and a high tea followed by a tour of the museum. One and eighty members attended the fete.

How Our Guild Began

Like so many other crafts organizations, the Weavers' Guild of Boston was an outgrowth of the Arts and Crafts Movement initiated by John Ruskin and William Morris in Britain during the 1880's as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. This movement was an attempt to turn away from manufactured goods to handicrafts and to renew the repertoire of crafts skills and standards of workmanship as a moral force. In the Boston area, the movement found its first organizational expression through the Boston Arts and Crafts Society, founded in 1897.

At the instigation of Miss Ellen Webster, Mrs. Francis Stewart Kershaw (Justine), wife of the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, gathered ten women, all with an interest in weaving, around her tea table at 6 Bond Street in Cambridge, MA, on Saturday afternoon, May 13, 1922, and in a lively discussion "with something akin to spontaneous combustion," our guild was formed. The group decided that "the objects of the Guild are to stimulate interest in weaving, and to promote good work." Miss Myra L. Davis was chosen as the first Chairman and dues were set at twenty-five cents a year. It was determined that the best way to fulfill the Guild's purpose was to hold an annual exhibit and sale. Three members of the group were chosen as jurors to pass on the artistic as well as the technical quality of all work submitted. The meeting adjourned at five o'clock, and tea was served from a silver service.

1923-1928: The Period of Sales and Exhibits

In 1923 a constitution and by-laws were drawn up; officers were to be a Dean, an Associate Dean, a Secretary, and a Treasurer. Justine Kershaw was elected as our first Dean. The meetings would be held each year at Mrs. Kershaw's until a more central place could be found and plans were made for an exhibit at the Society of Arts and Crafts on Park Street in Boston. This exhibit received "rave" reviews in the local newspaper.

In the years that followed sales were held at Horticultural Hall sponsored by the Women's Industrial Union, at the Museum of Fine Arts, in various members' homes in Brookline, Cambridge, and Newton, Massachusetts, as well as at summer homes in New Jersey and on the coast of Maine. Sales were also arranged in Springfield, Providence, Poughkeepsie, Baltimore, the Art Center in New York and the Art institute in Chicago.

These busy ladies were most successful in their objectives of promoting weaving and its sale! A 1924 newspaper clipping about the Guild sale at the Arts and Crafts Society even predicted that through our Guild's efforts the loom would be restored to the American household. The writer foresaw

the coming of the time when as in Colonial days. . . the women of the community shall weave their own textiles for all sorts of domestic uses, discarding the machine-made product which for a generation or so has dominated the situation. . . .This, perhaps, is rather too much to expect immediately, but the coming of the loom, to take its place with the radio set, the vacuum cleaner and the electric oven, is a decided possibility. . . . A loom in every house would be an ideal of economy and thrift. . . .Rugs, of course, seem to give every weaver a delightful sense of cozy sentiment, as she recognizes her former party dress, her old bathrobe and her stockings in various portions of her rug. In this respect, she certainly follows the example of the early colonist, and is nothing if not thrifty.

Records from the years between 1922 and 1928 abound with upbeat plans for sales, exhibits, growth in membership, and the beginnings of a more formalized guild. By 1925 Guild membership has already increased to 75 members. This was a period of vigorous energy, stimulating activity, and unbounded optimism.

The Depression Years: The Derby House Lease

Meetings of the guild and much of its activity in the years beginning in 1928 and continuing thoughout the Great Depression were dominated by what promised to be a spectacular venture, the leasing of the Derby House in Salem, Massachusetts, from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The Weaver's Guild was to have its headquarters in the historic Derby House, built by Elias Haskett Derby in 1762 and restored to its original condition by the Society, and the rum shop next door was to be the Sales Room and Weave Studio where weaving could be taught. The Guild expected that the buying public would be brought to the door by the sightseeing buses touring historic Salem.

It was hoped that each Member of the Guild could make a contribution, according to his or her ability, to raise $500 as a guarantee. According to the lease, no rent was charged, but money was needed for salaries for Miss Frances Darrah, Superintendent/hostess for the house, and Miss Charlotte Newing, Head Weaver responsible for the shop; for administration of the shop, gas, lights and water, and half the cost of coal for the boiler. In addition the Guild was responsible for fire insurance, liability insurance, advertising, cleaning, installing looms and other equipment, minor inside repairs of both building, and generally, to "keep entire house, shop, grounds, and sidewalk clean and well cared for." The society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities would pay half the cost of coal for heat, for fire insurance on the building and its own furniture only, and for any outside repairs. The superintendent and head weaver were both to reside in the house--"Others in reason. No children allowed to reside in the house.":

The Guild leased the Derby House for two years and incurred a debt of $817. The Derby House and Rum Shop opened June 15, 1928. Guild members submitted articles for sale and a 20% commission was charged. The house and shop were informally opened for a second season in 1929 with a tea given by a group of interested Salem ladies, all dressed in old-fashioned costumes.

Then came the depression of 1929 followed by a growing concern for the center. The buoyant enthusiasm of the opening year was dissipated. As time went on, the tone of records concerning the lease changed to frustration. The Guild acknowledged its debt and set about earning money to pay it off.

During the Depression Years sales of handwovens dropped off significantly, and the Guild moved toward selling things other than handweaving, primarily to pay off the debt incurred by leasing the Derby House in 1928-29. Energy that in earlier years had been put into developing weaving exhibits and sales was redirected toward a determination to pay off the Guild debt through a wide variety of activities. From 1930-32, in the deepest trough of the Depression, the Guild looked for a new direction in order to maintain its viability. On May 8, 1930, the Guild held its first purely social meeting to make money, a Bridge party at the Salada Tea Company at the corner of Stuart and Berkeley Streets "to help swell the Derby House fund." Tickets were $1.00 each. This was followed by a variety of approaches: rummage sales, luncheons, bridge parties, more sales in members' homes, plant and candy sales, the sale of Guild pencils, costume jewelry, and old stamps. Finally in May, 1936, the long-awaited report was given: "The Guild is entirely out of debt and has a cash balance of about $30 in its Treasury."

Redirected Goals: Weaving Education Through Guild Meetings

After weaving sales dropped during the Great Depression, the Guild found a new direction through the sociability and the exchange of ideas at Guild meetings. As a Result of "Hard Times" the Guild had to adapt to the shrunken purses of possible customers; the volume of handwovens sold was greatly reduced. By 1933 a few members had resigned from the Guild, "for various reasons, one being that the Guild does not sell their weavings." But meetings with other like-minded people with a common interest in handweaving were inspirational and member were urged not to resign but to attend meetings and share experiences with the membership. The Guild moved toward supporting educational programs at the Guild itself and also in the community through weavers' studios and at the university level.

By the summer of 1933, a note of optimism and a turn toward more interest in textiles was reported in the Summer Bulletin. Several requests for exhibits and sales were received from galleries and gift shops.

The Guild gradually came out from under The Depression, but only be changing its primary focus away from selling members' handwoven articles and toward greater sociability at meetings and the encouragement of educational programs. Although as a Guild we have held many very successful sales and exhibits since the Depression, we never again had this as our primary goal.

The World War II Years: 1941-1945

The minutes and Bulletins from 1941-1945 reflect an amazing normalcy and calm considering the total involvement of our country in the war effort. All of the regular meetings were held as usual and with the usual agenda of a business meeting followed by a speaker, Only here and there in the minutes were there any indications that the country was involved in a major war: In 1942 a note from Miss Josephine Estes said that she had given up her weaving for the duration and entered war work; the Guild discussed whether to buy a war bond; another member stressed the need for us to create and experiment with substitute materials. At the 1944 Annual Meeting, Mrs. Munroe told the Guild how Miss Myra Davis had woven herself some lovely white woolen material for a coat, but had instead cut it up into six baby blankets and sent them to Dutch war babies.

From Guild records during World War II, it would seem, that the Guild served an unstated purpose of diversion from thoughts of war.

Post-War Revival

The Guild and related craft organizations quickly bounced back into full swing after the war ended. In 1947 many Guild members contributed to an exhibit that the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts placed in 35 windows of their store. This exhibit was followed with over 600 inquiries made at the State House in Boston for craft instruction. By 1950 the Guild membership had returned to 156, and it continued to rise to 518 in 1972 and to 838 in 1985, our peak membership year. Our membership today stands at 566.

Threads From the Past into the Present

Weaving education and excellence in technique and design have played a major role in our guild through out its history. In 1925 the minutes noted that the Guild was especially interested in the study of form and color to produce original designs. In 1927 our first outside guest speaker came from the Society of Arts and Crafts to talk about weaving for sales. In 1939 we began out formal Speakers Program at our regular meetings; over the years, the Guild has had many renowned lecturers. As early as 1937 the Guild held its first Workshop, a series of six talks by the Assistant Director of the Vesper George School of Art on the principles of design. In 1960 the first Special Workshop was held with Malin Selander teaching the Guild for 5 days in the Fall.

The most ambitious auxiliary activity included as part of the regular Guild meeting with speaker was the addition of Morning Workshops in 1950, with each workshops running for six sessions during the year. To encourage the study of handweaving outside our meetings and workshops, our Guild proposed its first Scholarship in 1956: "With the unusual financial gain at the Flower Show Sale, Miss Potter proposed that the Guild consider granting a scholarship for the course of study." Our Guild still offers several scholarships each year.

Although excellence in technique and design has been emphasized since the inception of our Guild, the Ratings Program was not instituted until 1952, with three levels --Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. Our first Master Weaver was Mrs. George Gregory in 1955. In 1969 the Guild initiated the Distinguished Achievement Award honoring guild members who have achieved the Master Weaver rating and who have made a major contribution in the fiber field on the national level. We are very proud of our seven recipients since then: Mrs. Charles (Dorothy) Burton, Mrs. Linwood (Hazel) chase, Mrs. Roswell (Constance) Gallagher--the first recipient, Mrs. Claude (Betty) Shannon, Mrs. Lloyd (Dorothy Mirth) Young, Ms. Norma Smayda, Mrs. Antonia Kormos. In every case, these women have dedicated much of their lives to weaving education and to supporting and promoting excellence in handweaving.

Beyond educational programs, scholarships and awards, the Guild maintains a wide variety of support functions: A Guild Library was started in 1926; a Guild librarian was added to our list of officers in 1944. Our Guild Bulletin, intended to inform members who are unable to attend regular meetings about our various activities, goes back to the earliest years when three issues were sent each year rather than the four we now have. Printed Yearbooks have been issued since 1939, and have included printed Membership Numbers, a system started in 1923 with that year's numbers assigned alphabetically although all numbers thereafter have been assigned according to date of membership. Earliest mention of Loom Rentals and Sales within the Guild was in the 1935 Bulletin. In 1956, a new Bulletin Board was purchased specifically for the loom sales to be posted, though it has had many other uses since then. That same year a Yarn Exchange, now known as the Yarn Table was instituted so that members could bring yarn for sale at regular meetings with the Guild retaining a commission of 10%.

Our meeting places have moved many times since our first afternoon over tea at Justine Kershaw's home in Cambridge. We've enjoyed the food company of other weavers through our educational programs, exhibits and sales, fashion shows, field trips, picnics, pot luck lunches, and, once again, high tea.

Now, on to our Weavers' Guild of Boston's 100th Anniversary, May 13, 2022!!

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