Anthony Landreau, 79

Painter, Weaver Anthony Landreau Dies; Headed Textile Museum in 1970s

Anthony Landreau, in an undated photo, headed Washington's Textile Museum from 1971 to 1974.
Anthony Landreau, in an undated photo, headed Washington's Textile Museum from 1971 to 1974. (Family Photo)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 8, 2009; 12:00 AM

Anthony Landreau, 79, a painter, weaver and woven-rug expert who served as curator and then director of Washington's Textile Museum, died May 30 of lung cancer at Blossom House, an assisted living facility in Yakima, Wash.

Anthony Norman Landreau was born in the District on April 2, 1930. After graduating from St. Anselm's Abbey School, a Catholic school in the District, he served in the Navy in the Pacific for two years in the late 1940s. Then he headed to New York, drawn by the fervor and inventiveness of Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and other abstract expressionist painters.

Mr. Landreau considered himself an abstract expressionist painter as well, but he learned weaving after wangling a job with Dorothy Liebes, a weaver and textile designer who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Durrell Stone and other well-known architects.

In 1953, he left New York to become a student at Black Mountain College, a short-lived experimental educational community near Asheville, N.C., that attracted such notable talents as Buckminster Fuller, the architect, inventor and futurist, composer John Cage, poet Charles Olson, choreographer Merce Cunningham, artist Robert Rauschenberg and German avant-garde composer Stefan Wolpe, who arrived the same year Mr. Landreau did.

Martin Duberman, author of the definitive history of Black Mountain College, noted that Mr. Landreau "put to use some of the valuable hand-looms that still filled the basement of the Studies Building (and also put to use some of Stefan Wolpe's surplus energy by serving as the object of his wrath; Landreau, in Wolpe's opinion, was wayward and undisciplined; he typified freedom from commitment)." Mr. Landreau told Duberman in a phone interview that he agreed with Wolpe's estimation.

Mr. Landreau soon left the foothills of North Carolina for the sunny beaches of Southern California. He spent the remainder of the 1950s as a "beatnik painter" -- a son's description -- at Venice Beach. He returned to the Washington area in the early 1960s, rented a small studio near Dupont Circle and made his living as a restorer of oil paintings.

After working for a year with a weaver's cooperative in Bolivia, he returned to Washington to become a curator at the Textile Museum. In 1971, he became director of the museum, which owns a vast collection of fabrics, rugs and textiles from around the world. "The Textile Museum has been the sleepiest of Washington's museums," The Washington Post noted in 1971. "Landreau hopes to wake it up a bit."

With membership and fundraising drives, splashy openings, traveling exhibitions and what he called "show-and-tell rug appreciation mornings," he did energize the institution. Even though attendance increased during his tenure from 5,000 to an estimated 25,000 per year, he still lost his job. In 1974, the board of trustees voted to eliminate his position in what was termed an economy move.

He served briefly as curator of education at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh and then went into the rug business.

During his museum career, he made a number of trips to Turkey, Iran and other textile centers in the Middle East and became an expert on Turkish textiles and wrote several books and articles. He soon realized, however, that the business venture was a mistake.

"He could look at a rug and tell you where it was made, what village, but he had no idea how to sell rugs. He wasn't a businessman," said his son John Landreau.

Mr. Landreau's marriages, to Anita Fein Landreau and Anita Jester Landreau, ended in divorce.

Survivors include three sons, John Landreau of Philadelphia, Christopher Landreau of Yakima and Geoffrey Landreau of Oakland, Calif.; a brother; and five grandchildren.

After his rug business went bust, Mr. Landreau retired to a small island off the coast of Maine, where he helped his sister run an inn. At age 62, he enrolled in the graduate program in anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he supported himself on his monthly Social Security check and a graduate school stipend. He received his doctorate in 1995 at age 65.

He moved to Yakima in 1998 to be near his son and became a popular anthropology and sociology professor at Yakima Valley Community College. He also took up painting again.

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