Lou Tate Bousman 1906-1979
Lou Tate Bousman, known professionally as Lou Tate, was born in Bowling
Green, Kentucky, on October 19, 1906. Her ancestors were settlers in
Virginia as early as 1790. Her father, J. H. Bousman, migrated as a
young man to Kentucky where he became a conductor on the old L&N
Railroad. In 1920, he was transferred to Louisville and the family
bought a house at 1725 South Third Street.
Lou Tate graduated from the Louisville Girls High School in 1924. She
spent one year at the University of Louisville before enrolling at Berea
College where she earned a B.A. degree, followed by a Master of Arts in
History from the University of Michigan.
Her interest in weaving began when she received five generations of
weaving patterns from an elderly weaver, Miss Nan Owen. From then on she
began her unique contribution as an American hand-weaving historian.
Collecting old patterns, called drafts, took her into the far reaches of
Kentucky – often on horseback. Her first local exhibitions of Kentucky
hand weavings were held at the J. B Speed Museum in Louisville in 1937.
During the depression, she worked at President Hoover’s Dark Hollow
School for mountain children deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of
Virginia. Her contacts with Mrs. Hoover led to the development of the
Lou Tate Table Loom (the Little Loom), first constructed by Dr. S. W.
Mather, a Louisville dentist. Mrs. Hoover had approached Tate for a
weaving project suitable for girl scouts, one of Mrs. Hoover’s main
interests. Her Little Loom was sold for over 20 years, both in this
country and abroad. Many of her looms are still in use today.
Later, Tate and her loom were given national exposure in Eleanor
Roosevelt’s syndicated column, My Day. In the early 1940’s, Mrs.
Roosevelt paid a visit to the Little Loomhouse and ordered a woven
luncheon set for the White House.
the 1940’s, Tate started an experimental weaving group, The Kentucky
Weavers Guild, and started publishing the Kentucky Weaver Magazine. She
also began collecting contemporary hand-woven textiles in addition to
her collection of traditional woven coverlets, which were exhibited both
nationally and internationally. Tate’s custom weaving business soon gave
way to her first love, teaching—particularly introducing young children
to this ancient form of folk art. Her own methods of teaching very young
children also stimulated interest in history. During World War II, Tate
extended her weaving skills to helping the hospitalized soldiers as a
good form of physical therapy. She published several booklets and
magazine articles on Kentucky weaving history, early coverlet patterns,
and weaving techniques.
Spinning was added in the 1970’s. She used the cabins for many open
houses, as well as formal classes and workshops. She also taught college
extension courses in the greater Louisville area and surrounding states.
Unfortunately, illnesses and lack of resources to maintain the cabins
plagued the last few years of her life. However, her contributions to
the revival of hand-weaving in Kentucky, the preservation of old
coverlets and their patterns, and encouragement of the contemporary
experimental weaving were a true legacy in this field of folk art.