Maine Innovators of Tension Fabric Structures

fabric innovationWhat do machine guns, toothpicks, and earmuffs all have in common? Seemingly nothing at first, however if you did a little digging you would find that all of these products were developed right here in Maine. And although this state has seen countless other paramount inventions, none comes close to the ingenious works of Charles William Moss and his Pop Tent which inspired and changed the world of fabric structures as we know them today.

Bill Moss was born in 1923 in Detroit, Michigan. Because of his creative nature, he chose to study art at the University of Michigan, the Layton School of Art, and the Cranbrook Academy of Art before getting a job as an artist  and illustrator for the Ford Times in 1949. A few years later in 1955, while still working for Ford, Bill Moss finished the design for his first Pop Tent model, forever altering peoples perception of camping and jumping into a future of fabric structures as a widely accepted industry. Throughout the following twenty years Moss would continue to improve his tent models, and even open his own design firm in Michigan, before moving to Maine with his wife at the time, Marylin, to found Moss Tent Works in 1975 as a retail manufacturing company. Although Moss retired from the company in 1983, leaving it in the hands of, by then ex-wife, Marylin, during his time in Maine he met and touched the lives of many, spreading his wisdom and guiding those who also wanted to dabble in the magnificence of fabric structures. Whether as a personal mentor or in spirit, his reputation brought visionaries from across Maine to the doorsteps of Moss Tent Works. One of these architectural pilgrims was Charles Duvall, who was hired at Moss Tent Works in 1984 and has been working with tensioned fabric ever since.

Charles DuvallBeginning as a camping tent designer at Moss Tent Works, Duvall was strongly influenced by plants and naturally resilient vegetation. His inspiration came from the idea that flowers, vines, weeds, and branches were all seemingly lightweight and delicate, yet strong and durable. This contradiction led Duvall to create some of the most exotic tent designs of his time, making them a world recognized commodity for their integrity, dependability, and charm. Duvall left Moss Tent Works in 1994 in order to start his own company, and in 1995 Duvall Designs was founded in Rockland, Maine. Moving in a more creative direction, Duvall Designs steps away from camping tents and focuses mainly on creative fabrications for architectural installations and exhibit spaces. His works can be seen in locations across the United States.

Cindy ThompsonAnother one of Moss’ most prominent disciples was Cindy Thompson, founder and president of Transformit, a company based out of Gorham, Maine that produces tensioned fabric sculptures. Thompson met Moss by the way of fate when he stumbled across her art at a gallery in Maine. Sharing an adoration for fabric elements in their creative work, Moss helped Thompson further her career by recommending her to Arizona State University, and upon her return to Maine in 1985, the two shared a studio together. Eventually they parted ways, and Transformit was founded in 1988. Since then the company has produced a number of prestigious exhibits, and even collaborated with Duvall Designs on a few projects.

Moss eventually moved to Arizona where he found luxury as a painter before his death in 1994 at the age of 72. But Bill Moss leaves behind an intangible legacy and tradition of fabric structures that is carried on by those who cherished and respected him. Companies like Moss Tent Works (eventually traded to REI and renamed Moss, Inc.), Duvall Designs, Transformit, and us here at Rubb, Inc. owe our thanks and appreciation to the ingenuity of the man known as the father of tension fabric – Charles William Moss.

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