One of the things that I’ve discovered as I’ve been learning more and more about crochet designers from the 1970s is that there was a group of people at that time who truly supported each other’s work. I’ll find a reference to a designer, such as Frank Lincoln Viner, in one book (such as Creative Crochet) and then I’ll find references to the same designer in several other books from the same period. It’s fascinating. When you start to read all of the 1970s crochet books together, you can see that there was this terrific community of free form creative crocheters, based primarily in New York, who were just pushing the edges of what crochet could be in the art and wearable art world at that time.
Men in the 1970s Crochet Community
This 1970s crochet community, much like the crochet community of today, was made up primarily of women with a few key men playing their role in it. Frank Lincoln Viner was one of the crochet guys from that time. He was The Crochet Dude before there was a crochet dude, The Stitch Stud before there was a stitch stud. (Although arguably those titles could’ve been held by a few other men of his time, like Mark Dittrick).
I’m really fascinated by how gendered crochet is. Crochet is interesting because it is one of the few crafts that historically was started by women instead of men. Knitting and weaving are reported as trades that men did first out of necessity (creating clothing in the early days, for example). Crochet, in contrast, is something that women did and they did it out of pleasure, not necessity, according to the history books.
Crochet continues to be a craft done primarily by women. It is obviously a craft that can be done by anyone and there are definitely men who do it including teenage boys and prison inmates. But because it continues to be associated with women, it naturally brings up gender issues when guys do it, especially when they do it as part of an artistic exploration. In the 1970s there were brave women who were entering a men’s workforce and making their way in male-dominated industries. There were brave women who were reclaiming the value of domestic arts like crochet and owning them in the face of a changing gender perspective. And there were brave men who were entering women’s circles and doing women’s crafts, like Frank Lincoln Viner did with crochet.
So Who Was Frank Viner?
One of the 1970s crochet books I’ve recently fallen in love with is The Crocheter’s Art
by Del Pitt Feldman. This book includes a chapter highlighting the work of other crochet artists from that time (more of that great crochet community thing of that era!) and one of those folks is Frank Lincoln Viner. According to this book, Viner is a Massachusetts- born artist who received a BFA then went on to get an MFA from Yale.
Around 1962 he began developing an interest in playing around with art using a variety of different found objects. By 1964 he was exhibiting in galleries and starting to work with fabrics and wearable art. Shortly thereafter he started exploring the possibilities of crochet. Feldman describes his works of that time as showing “the conflicts of space, materials, and light inherent in the visual arts”. He also taught a Fabric course at a visual arts school at this time to share his knowledge of crochet, knitting, sewing and weaving.
Frank Viner in Creative Crochet
If you’ve been following my series on 1970s crocheters you know that what sparked all of this was my discovery of the terrific free form crochet book of that era, Creative Crochet. Indeed, Viner’s work is featured in that classic book.
We see in that book a coat that he crocheted for his daughter. It uses tapestry crochet techniques to create a very detailed layered piece within the basic shape of a traditional girls’ coat.
It’s a beautiful coat but it’s not my favorite piece of his that’s featured in Creative Crochet. My favorite piece is called the Great Coat, and is a piece that the book says is a wool tapestry stitch piece weighing 40 pounds that was inspired by a combination of a trip to Turkey and the design of Kabuki robes.
Frank Viner in The Crocheter’s Art
As I mentioned, Frank Lincoln Viner’s work is also highlighted in Del Pitt Feldman’s The Crocheter’s Art. Although part of a coat is shown in this book as well, the work that interests me most from this book is his sculptural work, mostly because it’s such a distinctly unique type of crochet art. Here’s an example:
Frank Lincoln Viner Today
As I’ve delved into my research of the 1970s crochet artists, what I’ve found is that many of them seemed to focus on crochet art for just a short period of time before ultimately pursuing other avenues of self-expression and other career paths in and out of the art world. A look at Viner’s website shows that he has had a rich, multi-faceted, fascinating art career although crochet art was only a small slice of it.
Viner has a long list of gallery shows and exhibitions to his name. From what is listed on his website, it looks like his last one man exhibition was in 1987 and his most recent participation in a group exhibit dates back to 1996. However, an ArtSlant profile indicates that he was part of a group show as recently as 2011. His Linked In profile indicates that he’s still working in New York as an indie arts and crafts pro. Although I’ve seen him listed as a sculptor in some spots online, my best guess is that he continues to work in mixed media.