Butterfly tapestry

In the middle of the winter it’s quite lovely to weave a tapestry reminding you about summertime. This tapestry is woven from the side using a very complex technique. The 4th image shows the design in the correct direction. Finished, the tapestry will measure about 48 ins high and 72 ins wide. I started the tapestry in November 2016 and I estimate that the weaving process will take me through late spring. The tapestry will be available for sale when completed.

Contemporary Tapestry Weaving – tapestry@goeaston.net

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Architecture and tapestry

Woven space: Architecture and tapestry

Click to enlarge

<i>Homage to CPE Bach</i>, 2003, designed by Jørn Utzon, woven by Cheryl Thornton, Pamela Joyce, Milena Paplinska, Chris Cochius, 2.67 x 14.02m, wool, cotton, Sydney Opera House

Homage to CPE Bach, 2003, designed by Jørn Utzon, woven by Cheryl Thornton, Pamela Joyce, Milena Paplinska, Chris Cochius, 2.67 x 14.02m, wool, cotton, Sydney Opera House Image: John Gollings

An upcoming design competition promises to reinvigorate the connection between architecture and textile art, and hence human experience and the built environment.

There is a long-standing historical connection between architectural space and textile art, and in particular, tapestry. Rare tapestry remnants have been found in Greece dating from the 3rd century BC and the tapestry-laden walls of European museums and palaces are very familiar to us. The longevity of this art form over the centuries makes my 15-year connection with it via the Australian Tapestry Workshop (ATW) pale into insignificance. Time is not the relevant metric, however, when measuring the alchemy that occurs in the creation of tapestry—this is timeless.

Significant wall hangings have been created around the world and used in a myriad of configurations for functional, decorative, celebratory and didactic purposes, with a clear knowing of their ‘other’ underlying capacity to modify thermal and acoustic conditions within interior built space. Tapestries have ranged from monumental formats in great public and private buildings down to small-scale intimate works for personal enjoyment. Often underpinned by great wealth, they have been traded and presented as gifts to leaders for hundreds of years across countries and societies. They show enormous scope, having been used for traditional designs employing historical and mythical themes, to being utilised as a preferred medium by avant-garde architects and artists at the beginnings of the modern movement in Europe.

From their earliest history to the full integration of textiles into the comprehensive design program of the Bauhaus in Germany under Walter Gropius (1919-28) and later under Mies van der Rohe (1930-33), tapestries have been linked intimately with built space and its creation. One only has to think of the great architect Le Corbusier and his integration of textiles with architecture, including his own masterfully self-designed epic tapestries, to understand the significance of placement in architectural space.

William Morris in the 19th century and the contemporary French artist Jean Lurcat paved a way for others to follow, including internationally influential artists such as Picasso, Calder, Leger and Miro, who used the mediums of tapestry and textile as key platforms for their work.


Homage to CPE Bach, 2003, designed by Jørn Utzon, woven by Cheryl Thornton, Pamela Joyce, Milena Paplinska, Chris Cochius, 2.67 x 14.02m, wool, cotton, Sydney Opera House Image:  John Gollings

A point to note is that the realisation of the two great tapestries for new Parliament House and the Sydney Opera House came via collaboration with the ATW. In fact, most of the ATW tapestries are designed with a specific location in mind, and architectural considerations often have a great effect on the designing artists and the weavers when they create a commissioned work. In our Australian context, the architect and enthusiastic champion of integrated art, Aldo Giurgola of Mitchell Giurgola Thorpe, included the monumental Arthur Boyd tapestry Untitled (Shoalhaven Landscape) in the new Parliament House in Canberra. Harry Seidler, European émigré and pioneer Australian modernist architect, included great tapestry works in his local buildings. Jørn Utzon, responsible for the world-acclaimed Sydney Opera House, designed his tapestry Homage to CPE Bach for the Utzon Room in that same building.

Ainsley Murray in her marvelous review of an installation by Sandra Selig at the MCA in 2004 (Artlink magazine vol. 25, #1) wrote perceptively and provocatively about architecture and intervention:

“Architecture has long since surrendered the tactile in favour of grander visions. Processes of digitisation, prefabrication and mechanisation have lead to the widespread abandonment of the human hand in architectural practice, and private eccentricities are now buried, smoothed over with flatter, more uniform design solutions. Recalcitrant fingerprints and other imperfections have dissolved from all but the vernacular and indigenous architecture of Australasia. The question is, how might we reconsider our relationship with built matter to restore a direct connection with human experience? I suspect the clues lie not in architecture, but in contemporary installation.”

An upcoming design competition promoted by the ATW will reinvigorate this connection between architectural built-form and textile art. It will help to build an awareness of tapestry as a relevant medium that sits comfortably within the materiality of contemporary architectural thinking, providing another tool that architects can draw on in response to this increasingly complex and challenging world.

As Ainsley Murray concluded in her article: “Perhaps the handmade in architecture is nothing to do with the physical character of buildings, but entirely to do with how we engage with them in our enlivened and repetitious gestures. Not only is architecture rethought, but the relationship between being and building reconsidered.”

Hear, hear.

The Glory Days of Tapestries

The Glory Days of Tapestries

Last week I attended really interesting lecture at the Bard Graduate Center by Tristan Weddigen. The talk was entitled “The Warp and Weft of History: Raphael and Le Brun Reflecting on the Textile Medium” and explored the ways tapestries from early modern Europe expressed and reflected the early modern artists intentions, in the same way that painting and sculpture did.

The starting point of the talk was the fact that tapestries were amongst the most expensive and valued works of art on Europe during Renaissance, but that importance isn’t reflected in art theory, either from that time or today. Several examples of tapestries with cartoons from Raphael and Charles LeBrun were discussed, highlighting how tapestries were start mimicking reality, in such a detailed way as paintings. The first examples of a tapestry depicting water reflections, and perspective, and facial expressions come from the 16th century and it is really mesmerizing to think how that result was achieved by weaving with colorful threads.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, part of the 10 tapestries series commissioned by     Leo X for the Sistine Chapel, cartoons by Raphael, 1519

However, what really got my attention was learning that it was around this time too that tapestries started depicting textiles, and clothing, and other tapestries in extreme detail. Take a look, for instance, in this tapestry commissioned by Louis XIV and made at Gobelins, following a cartoon of Charles LeBrun. This tapestry depicts Louis XIV visiting the Gobelins workshop in Paris, and you can see represented another tapestry in the background, draped brocade textiles and voluptuous clothing.

Louis XIV visiting the Gobelins Factory, cartoon by Charles LeBrun, 1673

Imagine the work involved on the creation of these tapestries and it’s not hard to understand why their were so valuable. Also, the fact that a tapestry workshop and the work-in-progress was represented in a tapestry (and the fact the Louis XIV commissioned this work and is represented in it) only reinforces how important tapestries were in the society.  Another good example are the early mentioned Sistine Chapel tapestries, commissioned by Leo X (with cartoons by Raphael), which costed at least 16,000 ducats, and that amount was around five times what Michelangelo was paid for the work in the ceiling. (More on the process of creating a tapestry from the cartoon in this video about the Raphael’s Sistine Tapestries)

What happened since then though? At what moment did we stop acknowledging the creativity, the mastership and all the work involved on the creation of fiber art? What made fiber art lose its status as art, and be sent to the complicated-to-define craft concept?

This lecture made me feel overwhelmed with knowledge (I didn’t even attempt to make a summary of it, knowing that I probably missed great part of the art theory discussion about tapestries and their role in the society and art at that time), but also made me feel that I need to study more, much more.

Fiber Art

Katz is a crafts designer and writer. By RUTH J. KATZ

”IN 1951, when we started weaving, nobody even knew what a tapestry was” – Marianne Yoors, a weaver and the widow of Jan Yoors, a designer of contemporary tapestries. Mrs. Yoors has spent 30 years weaving her husband’s abstract designs.

” ‘A tapestry?’ That’s what people said to me nine years ago when I began weaving. Today, I no longer have to ‘sell the concept.’ ” – Bruce Bierman, a designer and tapestry weaver who employs traditional methods in often unconventional forms.

”I have a gallery in Denver practically screaming at me for work. These days I cannot produce it fast enough.” – Michelle Lester, an artist who has been weaving for 20 years and whose work includes 300 tapestries for the bulkheads of Pan American World Airways planes.

”The problem isn’t selling the tapestries, it’s getting them.” – Bill Weber, director of Modern Master Tapestries, a gallery that sells designs by well-known artists, translated into either pile or flat tapestry, for prices up to $20,000.

These comments underscore the changes in the decorative textile market, a field that includes contemporary fiber arts, ethnic fabrics, display garments and traditional tapestry.

Strictly speaking, a tapestry is a fabric in which the warp, or support, yarns are totally covered by the filling yarns to create the design. Traditional tapestries have a plain, flat weave and are marked by an even surface, achieved by flowing, rhythmic, skilled weaving.

The most legendary of the French tapestry studios were the Aubusson and Gobelin workshops, which produced the type of fabric most people associate with the word tapestry – pictorial works like the famous seven-piece series ”The Hunt of the Unicorn” in the Cloisters collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. European tapestries of this genre span the period from the late 14th century to the mid-16th century.

Today, there are tapestry ateliers throughout the world that work in this traditional fashion. But contemporary weavers/artists do not necessarily adhere to the ”weaving rules” established by those workshops. Craftsmen have developed their own styles and methods and the results may more readily be classified in the broader category of textile art. This term embraces almost all forms of decorative fabrics: carpets, lace cloths, folk art samplers, Indonesian batiks, Oriental robes, needlepoint, American Indian blankets, Kashmir shawls and contemporary crocheted wall hangings.

Sotheby Parke Bernet reports an increase in the sale of diverse fabric pieces as well in the number of private clients – not dealers – buying them. ”We have many more private clients today than when we opened,” said John Gregg of the 18-month-old John C. Edelmann Galleries, an auction house specializing in rare rugs, tapestries and textiles. ”The public has become aware of and sensitive to textiles and fabrics. We’re constantly expanding our offerings. Now we include shawls, garments, block prints, kimonos and such at our auctions.”

Sales figures at the prestigious Northeast Craft Fair in Rhinebeck, N.Y., sponsored by the American Craft Council, underline this trend. In 1979, fiber sales were up 30 percent over the previous year and in 1980 they were 50 percent higher than in 1979. Kay Eddy, director of The Elements gallery, a Madison Avenue showcase of contemporary American crafts, said the gallery had started a program to coordinate sales of fiber art for what is already an established market – special commission work for architects, designers, decorators and space planners.

The new interest in textile design is due, in part, to architects and designers, who have made us more at ease with fabric on walls. We have always been on familiar terms with fabrics -on our furniture, windows, tables and bodies – but in recent years we’ve become accustomed to it hanging in the large public spaces of skyscrapers. Just as cold stone castles and churches were once draped with warm fibers, so too are our modern office towers.

”Fiber humanizes modern architecture,” said Phyllis Linn, former curator of the art collection of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company and now an independent art consultant. ”It softens all the hard edges and makes an atmosphere cozy. Moreover, it provides mystery and magic.”

Fiber is often selected to adorn these vast walls because of sheer size; a fiber hanging is more easily moved and stored than a canvas. It is also easier to find large-size textile art. Cost is, however, one of the most significant factors. The fee for a commissioned, oversized tapestry hanging may start as low as $40 a square foot, although the average range is nearer $150 to $200 and modern Aubusson tapestries can go up to more than $350 a square foot. (Antiques, of course, bring much higher prices; it would not be unusual for a medieval piece to cost more than $100,000.)

These may seem like high prices, but they compare favorably with paintings of similar size by the artists on whose designs the tapestries are based.

Homeowners are motivated by many of the same reasons that cause architects to choose fiber for public spaces. ”The sterile environments of new apartments beg for the richness provided by fiber,” explained Paul Smith, director of the American Craft Museum. ”Hangings are used for both decorative and functional purposes -to divide rooms, to absorb sound. The turmoil of the 60’s has helped a new esthetic to blossom and the appreciation of fiber is part of that.”

Textiles of all types are more readily available, not only to the knowledgeable collector but also to the noncollector who just happens to fancy a fiber work in a gallery window. ”Decorative textiles are financially accessible to many people today – young working people who may never even have thought of collecting,” said Gail Martin, one of the owners of the Martin and Ullman Artweave Textile Gallery at 24 East 84th Street. ”Lovely pieces are out there for under $2,000.” Her gallery specializes in Pre-Columbian, Oriental, Central Asian and Coptic textiles.

If it is traditional pictorial tapestries that you love, but cannot afford, Old World Weavers, at 136 East 57th Street, has Europeaninspired, small-scale works for $500 to $2,000. These tapestries are machine-made, not hand-woven, but are processed so that all the colors of the yarn appear aged. For an overview of traditonal tapestry, E.P. Thomson’s new book, ”Tapestry, Mirror of History” (Crown, $14.95), is excellent.

If you are curious about all types of modern fiber art, the editors of Fiberarts Magazine have compiled ”The Fiberarts Designs Book” (Hastings House, $24.95), with 500 photographs of work by contemporary designers. The book will open doors for the many people who, as the editors say, ”associate fiber art with all those macrame plant hangers that the neighbor’s kid keeps making.”