Art professor of 35 years wins Governor’s Individual Artist’s Award


Janice Lessman-Moss, Textile Professor in the School of Art at Kent State, sits at her loom from Norway while discussing the coming Textile Art Open House on Friday, March 4, 2016. Lessman-Moss was recently named an “individual artist” category winner for the 2016 Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio.

Holly Disch

A Kent State art professor dedicated her work to textiles for the past 20 years, which paved the way for winning the Governor’s Individual Artists Award.

At the start of her college career, Janice Lessman-Moss studied interior design at Endicott College in Massachusetts.

“I had been to the Carnegie Museum of Art to admire art, but never really thought of it as a career option,” Lessman-Moss said.

Lessman-Moss faced the decision to continue in interior design, go back to school for a bachelor’s degree or choose a new direction in life. She decided to go home to Pittsburgh.

“I got a job — just very serendipitously — working for a contemporary art gallery called King Pitcher Gallery for Contemporary Art,” Lessman-Moss said.

She took classes as a part-time student at the University of Pittsburgh while working at the art museum.

“I loved working with the art, I loved working with the artists and I loved seeing the art,” Lessman-Moss said. “ It was quite wonderful and it just opened up a whole new world.”

She started taking classes at Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

“I took a textile class by chance,” Lessman-Moss said. “Again, my life has been lot of wonderful, serendipitous (and) unexpected opportunities.”

She saw a textile course listed and didn’t know much about textile art. She thought the classes sounded interesting, thinking only that textiles are something a person can wear.

“I took the course and fell in love,” Lessman-Moss said. “And that was that.”

After the Tyler School of Art, she continued her education at the University of Michigan’s graduate school. After graduation in 1981, she came here to Kent State.

Recently, Lessman-Moss was nominated for the Governor’s Individual Artist’s Award. The Governor’s Award began in 1971 as the Ohio Arts Council’s Governor’s Awards for the Arts ceremony and Ohio Arts Day.

Today, it is known as the Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Ohio and Arts Day Luncheon. Three individuals from the Ohio Arts Council choose the winners. The winners are presented with an original work of art from an Ohio artist.

The nomination began with Lessman-Moss’ colleague, Kathryn Browne. Although there are a variety of governor’s awards to receive, Browne nominated her for the Individual Artist’s award. There was a requirement for other people to support the nomination as well.

One supporter in particular included the Director of the School of Art, Christine Havice, who wrote her a letter of recommendation.

Lessman-Moss expressed her gratitude towards Browne for the nomination.  

“I worked closely with Browne, I am really grateful for her to have taken initiative to nominate me,” Lessman-Moss said. “ She believed in me and had confidence in my work.”

Lauren Mangeri, both an undergraduate and graduate student of Lessman-Moss’ for over the last eight years, is one of her other many supporters of the nomination.

“From my perspective her enthusiasm and knowledge of textile art inspires her teaching,” Mangeri said. “Janice has constantly supported and guided me both as an artist and instructor since I have known her.”

As Lessman-Moss continues to teach and run the textile program, she works on her art. Currently, she has three pieces in the NEO Geo exhibition in the Akron Art Museum, running through April 24.

Theresa Bembnister, an associate curator at the Akron Art Museum, hand-picked the pieces that went into NEO Geo.

“I was interested in the combination of physical and intellectual labor,” Bembnister explained.

This refers to the digital and physical processes Lessman-Moss uses in her medium. Her pieces are digitally designed and eventually sent to a mill to be woven with an industrial jacquard loom. She then creates a felt surround that involves a strenuous process to fuse the dye and felt together.

“It was a pleasure working with Janice on NEO Geo,” Bembnister said. “I believe that since she works in a medium that has traditionally been considered a craft, her work has not received the attention it deserves.”

Lessman-Moss’ work is gaining notoriety through the Individual Artists award. She is recognized for her textile accomplishments as both a professor and artist.

She added that she is grateful to Kent State for the support she has received over the years in her art and in the textile program.

“I love making my art, it brings me great satisfaction,” Lessman-Moss said. “I like sharing that art, so other people can see it and hopefully enjoy it as well.”

Contact Holly Disch at [email protected].