Wissa Wassef Tapestry

Animals by the Watering Hole, tapestry, 'Ali Salim, 1985. Museum no. ME.1-2008

Animals by the Watering Hole, tapestry, ‘Ali Salim, 1985. Museum no. ME.1-2008

For many European tourists in Egypt a stop at the art centre in Harraniyyah is an essential part of their holiday experience. The centre, which was founded in 1952 by the architect Ramses Wissa Wassef, is now a prominent landmark on the cultural landscape of contemporary Egypt and its artistic products are popular with collectors, museums and galleries around the globe. This article highlights a Harraniyyah tapestry recently acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum and considers its distinctive history and design aesthetic.

Despite its established reputation today, the art centre evolved from a bold piece of 1950s experimentation. Its founders, Ramses Wissa Wassef, his wife Sophie and her father, the educator Habib Gorgi, held a passionate belief in the inherent creativity of children; a creativity which they considered to be easily stifled by overly-critical parenting and teaching styles. They were also dedicated to the revival of traditional Egyptian crafts techniques such as pottery and weaving which they felt to be under threat from expanding industrialisation. In 1952 the Wassefs and Gorgi purchased a small piece of land outside the village of Harraniyyah, near the pyramids of Gizah, where they built a small studio in a traditional Upper-Egyptian mud-brick style. They selected several local children and provided each with a loom and locally-grown wool. The children were given no training in design skills and were encouraged to visualise their designs rather than make preliminary drawings in order to preserve the ‘freshness’ of their aesthetic vision. For the same reason, the woven portion of a child’s work was kept rolled up so that the weaver wouldn’t be able to see the whole until the textile was complete.

Design inspiration came in the form of day trips, outings and picnics but the children were also encouraged to draw deeply on their imaginations. No criticism was made of their work as developing the children’s confidence was paramount. Slowly, a distinctive style emerged. The most common subjects were aspects of village life and the natural world. Fantastical, imaginary scenes and creatures also featured. These were depicted in bold colour, with wools dyed onsite using natural dyes according to the centre’s emphasis on self-sufficiency.

Most of the committed weavers were female but in 1959 a twelve-year-old boy asked to join the centre. ‘Ali Salim went on to become one of its best-known weavers. The tapestry recently acquired by the V&A was created by Salim. It is dated 1985 and includes the weaver’s signature at the bottom right alongside the initials ‘W.W’ (for Wissa Wassef). On a label on the back, the maker’s name is also given as ‘Korayem Silem’. Typically, the tapestry depicts a scene from the natural world, ‘Animals by the watering hole’, in which elephants wade, baboons play in a tree, lions hunt their quarry (a herd of gazelles) and birds rest in the trees above. Despite its naïve style, the lively animals and the blocks of colour used to depict the trees, plants and natural landscape give the tapestry an energy and dynamism. The weaving technique is characteristic of the art centre’s style which sought to produce ‘woven paintings’ rather than conventional tapestries. Instead of carrying the weft thread across the full width of the loom Salim has used the coloured wool only where it is needed. This has created an uneven tension across the tapestry and a slightly rippled surface.

The donor of the tapestry brought it from a Harraniyyah workshop the same year it was created. Given to the V&A in 2008, ‘Ali Salim’s piece offers a unique contemporary counterpoint to the Museum’s important and extensive collection of Ancient Egyptian woven textiles.

Why Tapestry?

 

‘Before Time” – ( 6 panels) – 80″ x 149″

Designed and hand-woven by Ulrika Leander

Before Time - progress 3

Before Time high res

 

Fine Art Tapestry

Swedish Landscape in Fine Art and Tapestry

Illustration: Helmer Jonas Osslund. Varafton Bakom Kiruna.
 
Swedish tapestry design of the early twentieth century was known at the time as probably some of the best woven artwork being produced in Europe. Much of the narrative and compositional work was based on the landscape and tended to follow what was termed as typical of the Swedish natural environment. Many of the tapestry pieces produced by a range of fine and decorative artists contained the colors, tones and textures that were so much a part of the Swedish identity across so many disciplines, but particularly in textiles.
Fine art and tapestry during this period enjoyed a particularly close relationship. Swedish artists showed a creative interpretation, but also an innate understanding of color, tone and texture. The relationship between artist and color seemed so apparent to many outsiders that it was often seen as an integral part of the Swedish fine art and tapestry scene, so much so that it was often stated that Swedish artists placed ‘…great weight…on colors and their values.’
It seems fitting therefore to place two illustrations, one fine art and one tapestry, beside each other in the same article. They were not produced by the same artist; the painting is by Helmer Jonas Osslund and the tapestry by Henrik Krogh. However, it perhaps needs to be seen how close fine and tapestry art were considered to be during this period. Tapestry in particular was entering a rich new creative phase of its life in Sweden. Woven textiles had a long and traditional history in Sweden, but it was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century that weaving within the remit of tapestry, really began to be opened up as a contemporary art form.
Illustration: Henrik Krogh. The Spruce Coppice, c1913.
 
Both fine art and tapestry became linked with the search for idyllic ruralism and even a search for the untouched wilderness as portrayed by scenes of Sweden’s northern provinces. In some respects, both fine and tapestry art were influenced by the Swedish Arts and Crafts movement, which in its turn was initially influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement. With the late but rapid industrialization of Sweden and the urbanization of at least part of its population, the search for an idyllic rural life in the 1890s was just as important and illusive as the same search had been in England. However, although rural idylls and utopias always seemed to struggle with the realities and practicalities of industrial Europe, the ideal did fuel the creative arts. So much so that in many respects the Arts and Crafts movement which took place in many European states and regions, and for a variety of differing reasons, produced some of the best in hand produced decorative arts work.
To see fine art and tapestry in tandem with each other, sharing the same inspirational origins and with similar results, allows us to see how closely the two mediums could work together when inspired to do so. Osslund’s painting Varafton Bakom Kiruna could well have been commissioned as a tapestry work, and Krogh’s The Spruce Coppice could equally have been commissioned as an original fine art piece. Both are beautifully proportioned and use color and tone to its most dramatic effect. Texture is inbuilt and implied, taking on a creative naturalism that is easily identified with the landscape. Although one composition appears enclosed and insular and the other open and expansive, the color themes which range from the rich and deep earth tones to the series of greens and yellows that denote foliage, are in some ways so similar that they could be said to be part of the same sense of creative and observational characteristics and they certainly share a part of the Swedish environmental identity.
By showing these two pieces of work it is hoped that it gives some indication of the artistic creativity that came to fruition during the early part of the twentieth century in Sweden. That Sweden had a strong native tradition of creativity, one that is often considered to be perhaps one of the oldest unbroken craft systems in Europe, did not stop native Swedes from allowing a sense of contemporary and expansive creative freedom being added to the traditions of the past. It is this continuation of tradition through the contemporary that has made Swedish art, design and decoration so successful and such an essential part of the decorative and creative arts of our own time. It is perhaps an understanding that tradition does not necessarily entail intransigence and retreat, which should in its turn be seen as perhaps a lifesaving attitude to take when considering those same traditions in other parts of Europe that have and are struggling to survive as part of the contemporary world.

Caring for your tapestry

Wall tapestries require little maintenance after they have been set up in your home.

But there are some tips that will help you to make sure that your tapestries will maintain their superb beauty for a lifetime.

They will continue to exude their amazing beauty and charm for as long as you need, to continue to enchant you and your guests.

Where should I hang my tapestry?

You may place your tapestry in a location that’s not exposed to direct sunlight for the entire day, if you want to avoid fading of the tapestry.

Most walls in the home will now have this problem of excessive sunlight.

Just check that the wall where you’ll hang your tapestry is shaded for some or most of the day.

Also, choose a location that is neutral in terms of excessive heat or moisture.

Lounges, studies, halls and bedrooms are ideal locations for tapestries. Here, you and your guests tend to take more time to admire your art tapestries.

Kitchens and bathrooms on the other hand may cause moisture retention in the tapestry due to their heat and moisture levels.

Will my tapestry fade with time?

Being a fabric art, tapestries may fade over time, though depending on the situation, this may take some time before this happens.

However, keep in mind that some people actually prefer a slightly faded appearance of a tapestry as it’s in keeping with their style and character.

So it’s not a big issue, and if you prefer to avoid fading, choose a location that has low levels of direct sunlight.

How do I remove a crease of curl or crease in the tapestry?

As tapestries may be folded or rolled in transit, a mild crease or curl may be present. These are usually resolved when you lay out the tapestry or when you hang it.

If you need to remove a crease or curl in your tapestry before hanging a tapestry, you can simply lie it flat and place some books or weights on it for a period of time..

When in doubt, use caution and do not do anything that may damage your tapestry or tapestry accessories.

How do I clean a tapestry?

To clean your tapestry, simply use a soft brush such as a dry, clean, soft paint brush on its surface.

A tapestry requires a little bit of care when setting up, and the occasional maintenance as needed.

By following these simple instructions, you’ll have a lifetime of enjoyment from your tapestries.

 DowntownMOD (2)

“Downtown” 58″ x 128″ by Ulrika Leander

In the collection of WilmerHale Law Offices, Boston, MD

Artwork to tapestry; what is contemporary tapestry?

John_Olsen_Tapestry

Top image: John Olsen, Lily Pond (detail), 1984. Commissioned for the Eva and Marc Bresson Collection. © The artist/Australian Tapestry Workshop

Artwork to tapestry: What is contemporary tapestry?

[PUBLISHED IN THE EXHIBITION PUBLICATION ARTWORK TO TAPESTRY, 2011. © TARRAWARRA MUSEUM OF ART/IAN WERE]

What is contemporary tapestry?
Well, it is . . . a coarse, vigorous organic fabric . . . It is heavy with matter and heavy with meaning. But it is more, it is heavy with intentions. It is this which secures its magnificence to man and therefore to the building.¹

So said French painter, Jean Lurçat, credited not only with championing tapestry as a significant architectural element but also with the renaissance of the French tapestry tradition. Soon after the end of World War II, Lurçat gathered a group of French artists at the Aubusson Tapestry Workshop to pursue a new approach to the age-old textile, arguing that tapestries were the ideal wall decoration to replace frescos.2  

The history of the art of Western tapestry, and of the famous European workshops associated with it, is integral to the history of painting and architecture. Tapestry has played a time-honored role in architecture, humanizing spaces in buildings both public and private through its natural charm and its softening effect, both texturally and acoustically. The revival of tapestry in the twentieth century claims inspiration from medieval times when workshops — which had been trying to imitate paintings and compete with each other for fidelity of reproduction — returned to the principles of weaving based on traditional methods, and artists began entrusting their designs to the skill and judgment of workshop weavers.

Since its inception in 1976, the Melbourne-based Australian Tapestry Workshop’s (ATW) philosophy has been to employ weavers that are trained artists to work closely with the artists who design the tapestries — to create unique works of art, rather than just reproduce a design in woven form. As founding director Sue Walker said, ‘each [tapestry] is an original work of art created through the dynamic interaction of the artist, the weaver . . . and the collector or client commissioning the work’.3 Over the last three and a half decades many notable Australian and international artists and architects have collaborated with the ATW’s artist-weavers.

A notable example was when Romaldo Giurgola, architect for Parliament House, Canberra, welcomed the collaboration that resulted in Arthur Boyd’s Great Hall Tapestry (1984−88), one of the largest tapestries in the world. ‘What is important to me’, he said, ‘is the Workshop’s potential for collaborative work, work which transcends the usual barriers between client and architect or between architect and artist or between built forms and works of art.4

The process of interpreting an artwork and creating a tapestry is a complex and fascinating one. The Workshop first selects a color palette based on the artwork from the ATW’s range of dyes — over 370 colors on wool and more than 200 colors on cotton, all hand-dyed — and then weaves interpretative samples. The upright loom is prepared for weaving by wrapping cotton warps (yarns placed lengthwise in the loom) around the bottom roller and then threading them through the reed (a series of parallel wires that separate the threads of the warp). The loom is now ready for the cartoon — traditionally a sketch based on the art work but, for the ATW, is usually a black and white photographic enlargement or a line drawing — which becomes the design for the tapestry. The weaving can now begin and collaboration between artist and weaver continues throughout. On completion the tapestry is rolled up on the top roller so that the image can be viewed before it is cut off.

Over the last 35 years the ATW’s skilled weavers have produced an extraordinary collection of tapestries for a wide range of purposes. Monumental tapestries have been commissioned as part of the design of iconic buildings and notable suites of tapestries and significant examples of public art have been created. Commissions within Australia and internationally have resulted in an array of tapestries for private, public and corporate art collections.

Two of the nine artists in this exhibition are John Coburn and John Olsen, both of whom were among the first to collaborate with the ATW. More than any other Australian artist, Coburn displayed a true affinity with the tapestry medium, designing almost 100 tapestries over the four decades of his life. Coburn’s love of tapestry was triggered by seeing the 1956 exhibition of contemporary French tapestries at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which inspired him to live and work in France for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He produced a number of tapestries with the Aubusson Tapestry Workshop including the acclaimed Sydney Opera House curtains, but, the establishment of the ATW in 1976, allowed him to shift production from France to collaboration at home.

Garden_of_life-_Coburn

Coburn’s bold graphic forms and vibrant colors were an ideal match for tapestry translation. His deceptively simple curvilinear forms were a challenge for weaving, with competence in producing a ‘Coburn curve’ the benchmark of a highly skilled weaver.5 In this exhibition his Garden of Life (2000), which provided great scope for the weavers to develop rich textures, is no exception.

John Olsen was the first Australian artist to design for tapestry, working with workshops in France and Portugal in the 1960s before commencing collaboration with the ATW in 1981. One major tapestry, Rising suns over Australia Felix (1997), was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its monumental scale conjures the vastness of the Australian continent. In Olsen’s vibrant tapestry Lily Pond (in this exhibition) — commissioned for the collection of Eva and Marc Besen in 1984 — the weavers have effectively translated the lyrical lines that are a hallmark of Olsen’s painting.

The other seven works in Artwork to Tapestry represent the versatility of the medium and its ability to interpret a range of original artworks — from paintings of various styles to two large-scale prints to a lively gouache to a modest-sized photograph. In this exhibition are three diverse painters: Gareth Sansom, Angela Brennan and Song Ling.

4.0.1

Sansom’s expressionistic paintings combine iconoclastic and sexually explicit imagery with rebellious humor. His Family trust (1990) brims with contorted faces with disembodied eyes, all writhing in a patch-worked pattern. Unlike most other artists commissioned by the Workshop, Sansom did not desire active collaboration during the development of his tapestry. However, he confessed that his curiosity had so piqued that, while the work was in progress, he prowled around the Workshop at night, trying to catch a glimpse of it on the loom.6

The enigmatic title of Angela Brennan’s tapestry, It was not I that looked (2006), is taken from twentieth-century modernist painter Paul Klee who wrote in a journal, ‘It was not I who looked at the trees, the trees were looking at me’. Brennan, intrigued by the translation of the painting into tapestry, visited the Workshop several times to see the preliminary drawings and color samples. For her, the developing tapestry took on a new life. ‘I was fascinated’ she notes, ‘to see the work . . . emerging independently from its original source’.7

SLKF08-_Completed_tapestry_cropped

Song Ling’s art work for the tapestry, Kong fu – our dream 1 (2009) — inspired by Japanese animation and manga comics — has a bold, graphic style. But, he said: ‘The colors I use are often found in Chinese folk art and embroidery. Old technique versus new technique, traditional versus modern; color versus colour.’8 Ling was also curious to see how his painting would translate to a tapestry, and a visit to the Workshop enabled him to discuss the weavers’ interpretation and the nuances of color.

The original artworks for the four remaining tapestries were two prints (GW Bot and Geoffrey Ricardo), a gouache (John Wolseley) and a photograph (Yvonne Todd). GW Bot’s tapestry, Glyphs, was conceived as a large-scale relief print on tapa cloth in 2005. The cloth, made from bark and sourced from Tonga, is used as both swaddling for new-born infants and as funerary shrouds. According to the artist, the glyphs are ‘a form of shorthand calligraphy dealing with the Australian landscape . . . symbolically and metaphorically’.9 The colors, translated in woven form, are in rusty reds and browns, broken up by black jagged forms echoing natural objects such as fallen branches, burnt tree trunks or termite mounds.

Geoffrey Ricardo’s art often employs a figurative-based narrative tinged with humor and, sometimes, a sense of the absurd. Since 1993 Ricardo has closely collaborated with the ATW on four tapestries, large-scale and smaller, including the one in this exhibition. Emblem (1999), based on an aquatint and dry-point print of an ambiguous human−kangaroo figure, was the result of a particularly intense working partnership with an ATW weaver, resulting in this strange and compelling tapestry.

Wolseley_Tapestry

For his tapestry, Fire and water-moths, swamps and lava flows of the Hamilton region (2010), John Wolseley was commissioned to create an original design, consequently spending a week in the wilds of the Hamilton region in Victoria, painting and recording. The enchanting gouache study on paper is full of observations — the moths, lava flows and volcanic sinkholes that characterize the area — scribbled on the page margins. Wolseley then enlarged the study on a color photocopier, reassembled it, and painted back onto the copy, creating a new art work. In realizing their interpretation in wool and cotton, the weavers have used both the original and revised versions.

In 2006, with sponsorship from Tim and Gina Fairfax, the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) commissioned an ATW tapestry for its collection, Alice Bayke (2008), working closely with photographer Yvonne Todd. ‘It was the involvement with the . . . Workshop . . . that was exciting and rewarding’, said the Fairfaxes.10 As QAG Curator Maud Page finds, Alice Bayke conveys a palpable sense of psychological unease: ‘The key to Todd’s portraits is the deadpan expressions on her protagonists, carefully constructed through conflicting facial elements: mournful eyes, slightly wet lips. The Alice Bayke tapestry does all of that and more’.11

With its rich colors, strong images, hand-made tactile surfaces, and range of scale from palm-size to monumental, tapestry today enjoys a renewed vigor as part of the contemporary art world. The richness of woven color, derived from the mixing of multiple strands of vibrant, specially-dyed yarns, is a technique that is one of the hallmarks of the Australian Tapestry Workshop. As this exhibition vividly demonstrates, tapestry — ideally suited to large spaces — complements the varied surfaces and materials of modern architecture creating an atmosphere of warmth and color.

Progress photo of ongoing tapestry commission for a private home in Laguna Beach, CA, “Serenity” – 83″ x 55″

Dick 1 (2)

 

Ctw-tapestry.com

Tapestry art

Aside

Tapestry is different from all other forms of patterned weaving in that no weft threads are taken the full width of the fabric web. Each unit of the pattern is woven with a weft, or thread, of the required colour, that is carried back and forth only over the section where that particular colour appears in the design or cartoon. Like in the weaving of ordinary cloth, the weft threads pass over and under the warp threads alternately, and on the return go under where before it was over and vice versa. Each passage is called a pick, and when finished the wefts are pushed tightly together by a variety of methods or devices (all, read, batten, comb, serated finger nails).

The thickness of the warp determines the thickness of the tapestry fabric. In Medieval Europe, the thickness of the wool tapestry fabric in works like the 14th century ‘Angers Apocalypse’ tapestry was roughly 10 to 12 threads to the inch (5 to the cm). By the 16th century the tapestry grain had become finer as tapestry began to imitate painting. In the 17th century, the Royal Gobelins Tapestry factory in Paris used 15 to 18 threads per inch and 18 to 20 in the 18th century. The other royal tapestry workshop at Beauvais had as many as 25 or even 40 threads per inch in the 19th century. These exceptionally fine grains make the fabric very flat, like the surface of a painting. In comparison, the grain of 20th century tapestry approximates to that used in 14th and 15th century tapestry. The Gobelins factory for instance now uses 12 or 15 threads per inch. The grain of silk, of course, is much finer than those made of wool. Some Chinese silk tapestries have as many as 60 warp threads per inch.

European tapestry is woven on either a vertical loom (high-warp, or haute-lisse) or a horizontal loom (low-warp, or basse-lisse). Of the two methods, low warp is more commonly used. Among the great European tapestry factories, only the Gobelins has traditionally used high warp looms. Several weavers can weave simultaneously on either kind of loom. According to the complexity of the design and the grain or thickness of the tapestry, a weaver at the Gobelins can produce 32 to 75 square feet of woven textile a year.

Tapestry Designs & Cartoons

In European tapestry-making the Medieval cartoon, or prepartory drawing, was usually traced and coloured by a painter on a canvas roughly the size of the tapestry to be woven. By 1500, the weaver usually wove directly from a model, such as a painting, and therefore copied not a diagramatic pattern but the original finished work of the painter. By the start of the 17th century there was a clear distinction between the model and the cartoon: the model was the original reference on which the cartoon was based. Cartoons were freely used and often copied.

More than one tapestry can be woven from a cartoon. At the Parisian Gobelins factory, for example, the famous 17th century ‘Indies Tapestry’ set was woven 8 times, re-made, and slightly changed by the baroque painter Francois Desportes (1661-1743).

The border of a cartoon was frequently redesigned each time it was commissioned, as each customer would have a different personal preference for ornamental motifs. Often, borders were designed by a different artist from the one who designed the cartoon. As an element of design, however, borders or frames were important only from the 16th to the 19th century. Tapestries from the Middle Ages and the 20th century rarely used a border, as the latter merely serves to make the tapestry resemble a painting.

Because a fully painted cartoon is very time-consuming, 20th century designers have adopted a range of alternative methods. The cartoon is sometimes a photographic enlargement of a fully painted model, or merely a numbered drawing. The latter type, conceived by the famous French tapestry designer Jean Lurcat (1892-1966) during the Second World War, is a numbered system where each number corresponds to a precise colour and each cartoonist has his own range of colours. The weaver refers to a small colour model provided by the painter, and then makes a selection of wool samples.

Where a high warp is used, the weaver has the full size cartoon hanging beside or behind him. While the low warp weaver places the cartoon under the warps, so he can follow it from above. In both cases, the main outlines of the design are laid out with ink on the warps after they have been attached, to the loom.

Materials

Wool is the most widely used material for making the warp, or the parallel series of threads that run length-wise in the fabric of the tapestry. The width-running weft, or filling threads, are also most commonly made of wool. The advantages of wool are wide-ranging. It is more available, more workable and more durable than other materials, and in addition can be easily dyed. Wool has often been used in combination with linen, silk or cotton threads for the weft. This mixture of material is ideal for detail weaving and for the creation of delicate effects. Light coloured silks were often employed to create pictorial effects of tonal gradation and spacial recession. The glow of silk thread was often useful for highlights or to create a luminous effect when contrasted to the duller woollen threads. Silk was increasingly used during the 18th century, especially at the Beavais factory in France, in order to achieve subtle tonal effects. The majority of Chinese and Japanese tapestries have both warp and weft threads of silk. Pure silk tapestries were also made during medieval times at Byzantium (Constantinople) and in parts of the Middle East. Pure linen tapestries were woven in ancient Egypt, while Egyptian Christians and Medieval Europeans sometimes used linen for the warp. Both cotton and wool were used in Pre-Columbian art to make Peruvian tapestries as well as some Islamic tapestries during the Middle Ages. Since the 14th century, along with wool and silk, European weavers have also used gold and silver weft threads to produce a sumptuous effect.

Tapestry Dyes

Dyes commonly used in Europe included: (1) Woad, a plant similar to indigo, which yields a good range of blues. (2) Madder, a root from which reds, oranges and pinks could be obtained. (3) Weld, an English plant whose leaves produce yellow. (4) A mixture of weld (yellow) and indigo (blue) was used to concoct green. For more about colour, see: Colour Pigments.