100 years of Norwegian tapestry

100 years of Norwegian tapestry

At the World Fair in Paris in1900, two Norwegian artists were awarded gold medals for their tapestries. One was delighted, while the other was angry and disappointed. These differing responses give some insight into the manner tapestry as an art form would be regarded in the 20th century.

Frida Hansen (1855-1931) was elated at receiving the gold medal, which gave her international recognition. It followed that important museums and major collectors throughout Europe bought many of her tapestries. Gerhard Munthe (1849-1927) was the frustrated recipient. He considered himself a major artist, as a painter, he craved recognition for his painting and not for his”dabblings” with tapestry.

GERHARD MUNTHE. Daughters of the Northern Light (also called The Suitors), 1889.

Munthe was a capable if somewhat pedestrian landscape painter. Educated in Christiania (Oslo), Düsseldorf and Münich, it seems that he sensed a lacking in his naturalistic paintings. He confirms this by stating that he only found freedom to express his imaginative and exploratory skills in what he would term ”minor art forms” i.e. cartoons for tapestry, illustration, jewellery, medals and furniture. Ironically, it was for his”minor” works that he gained enormous public acclaim. These works were considered to express”the Norwegian Soul”, so greedily craved for by a nationalistic public who wanted independence from Sweden. Munthe himself was acutely aware of this and writes, ” When I first ventured into the realm of pattern and decoration, I heeded exactly the colours and forms that to me represented the very Norwegian identity”. His work struck the”spirit of the time” to establish a particular Norwegian identity. Today such a nationalist attitude and ideology would at best be found comic, at worst racist and dangerous.

Munthe’s involvement with tapestry was complicated. While enjoying fame and flattery, he was doubtful, even condescending, about the practice of translating and bastardising his”real art”, into soft woolly hangings. ”Oh, these weaving ladies” sighed Munthe,”they drown my Art in wool”. The dichotomy in Munthe’s thinking epitomises the difference between Fine Art and Applied Art that has had major influence on the development of Art & Design in the 20th century. This dichotomy begs the question”Is, what shall be deemed art, predetermined and prejudged by its media and material, rather than its visual strength and content?”

With a closer look at Munthe’s tapestries, they seem flat and lack rhythm in their contrived pseudo-mediaeval style. Their illustrative content represents a mixture of fairy tales, sagas, and folklore. In their time they were celebrations of a noble and heroic Norwegian past. Today they are interesting curiosities, yet uncomfortable mirrors of their time. They are monumental images that give a direct visual authenticity to the mentality and aspirations of Norway at the turn of the century.

FRIDA HANSEN. The Milky Way, 1898.

Unlike Munthe, Frida Hansen chose tapestry as the expressive media for her art. Her early life had been fraught by disappointment and tragedy. Hers is a story of riches to rags. She married young a wealthy businessman. They lived in grand style in a manor house. Her husband was declared bankrupt and lived abroad for some years. Being destitute and having to care for an extended family alone, Frida moved to a small house in Stavanger. Two of their three children died. In desperation, she started an embroidery shop in her own home. Occasionally old tapestries were brought for repair. These tattered old ”åkle” captured Frida’s interest in the art of tapestry. She received some basic instruction in the craft, had a loom made and began to make her own work. Within a short space of time she began to sell her tapestries, took students as assistants and had exhibitions in major cities. The years of hardship and tragedy had made her self-reliant and had given her an artistic resolve.

Frida Hansen was a self-taught artist. It appears that her knowledge and ability with colour, form and composition came from her gardening experience. The formal gardens she created at their manor house, Hillevåg, were so renowned that they were open to the public at certain times of the year. By the spring of 1895 she could afford to study Mediaeval Art in Cologne, followed by life drawing classes in Paris. Both these ventures are central to her development. The contemporary art of Europe changed the content and image of her art. It moved from a traditionalist and nationalist style to the international style of Symbolism and Art Nouveau. When asked where she got her ideas from, she replied”Ideas? Strangely enough craft and design don’t give me ideas; it is Art that gives me the most impulses”.

Hansen’s allegoric tapestries, elegant and rich in content and composition are ambitious in a renaissance sense. Not only does she speak in an international manner, she transgresses style and reveals personal, intimate aspects of her own life. Anniken Thue writes,” the meeting with French Art Nouveau meant that her beloved garden at Hillevåg was resurrected as pure poems in wool”.

The acclaim Frida Hansen received for her tapestry abroad was never quite equalled at home in Norway. She found herself in the difficult position of being a career woman at a time when women did not even have the vote. Her art was never considered Norwegian in the same idolatry manner that Munthe’s was. Nevertheless she must be regarded as one of the first Norwegian artists to have obtained international reputation.

From 1900 –1930 the art world experienced a fast moving revolution with an array of different movements, from Fauvism to Surrealism. Symbolism and Art Nouveau became passé and were frowned upon by the avant-garde and leaders of taste. At home in Norway, Frida Hansen ran a large studio and patented one of her innovations, called a ”transparente”. A woven hanging with an open warp, used as a ”portièr” or room divider, which allowed light to pass through. By 1920 her art was losing popularity and after her death in 1931 she was totally forgotten for 50 years. Had it not been for Anniken Thue’s resurrection of this artist, her art might still be erased from Norwegian Art History.

HANNAH RYGGEN. Grey Figure, 1961. ©BONO

After the first flourish of interest in tapestry in the early 20th century, very little seemed to happen. Both public interest and artistic impetus ground to a halt, except for one outstanding artist, Hannah Ryggen (1894-1970). She emerged as an artist in the Thirties and stamped her visions on the Norwegian conscience until her death. Born in Malmø, Sweden, she married Hans Ryggen, a painter, and they settled in Ørlandet, outside Trondheim. She started her adult life as a dissatisfied and frustrated schoolteacher. She said of herself that she was awkwardly shy and virtually mute for 20 years. A contrast to her mature years where she proved to be an eloquent and captivating speaker to large audiences, as demonstrated in a radio programme where with great delight she described the use of urine to make ”piss blue”. Hannah Ryggen had some early tuition from the Danish painter Fredrik Krebs in Lund. Tuition in tapestry was limited to using her eyes and asking questions as the course she wished to enrol in was full. Undaunted she bought a ”Flemish” loom and started to weave.

What is singularly special with Hannah Ryggen is that she shows an amazing ability to draw ”in the loom”. Indeed this is precisely what she did, never having a cartoon, drawings or even sketches, and never drawing guidelines on the warp. The whole tapestry was conceived in her head. She said,” the heart, the eye and the hands are the way of tapestry”. Inevitably she used the process of weaving, the structure of the material, and the function of the loom as governors of proportion and composition. Often her compositions are presented in geometric settings. Even more striking is the rhythmic repeat which measures exactly the length that is visible of the tapestry before it is wound down on to the roller. She obviously possessed an exceptional visual memory, coupled with an imaginative and intuitive use of the Golden Section. Her attitude towards tapestry was essentially traditional both technically and formally. She spun and dyed her own wool, using vegetable dyes. Much of her weaving technique and vision echo tapestries from the ”Golden Age” of Norwegian tapestry, 1550-1800.

The strength in her tapestries is its content rather than its technique. Her work was concerned with her close private life as well as great international political issues, and the fusion of the two themes. Intimate and public concerns conveyed with earnest directness. She says of herself ”I am not really a tapestry weaver, it just suited my temperament to express myself in the loom, I found my instrument”. Her ”instrument” played so loud and clear that it heralded many other artists who found tapestry to be their ”tune” In 1964 Hannah Ryggen was the first tapestry artist to be invited to show her work at the important annual exhibition of Norwegian contemporary art, the ”Statens Høstutstilling”. Yet, in the same year she represented Norway at the rather more prestigious Venice Bienniale.

SYNNØVE ANKER AURDAL. Portrait Bleu, 1986. ©BONO

It would take18 years before another tapestry artist would show at the Venice Biennale, Synnøve Anker Aurdal (1908 –1999). In her youth she learnt tapestry weaving in her hometown of Lillehammer, making copies of traditional Norwegian tapestries. She came from a cultured background and wished to be an artist. She applied to the Art & Craft School in Oslo but was refused. An event she remembered with disappointment as she often felt that she lacked the basic fundamentals of art that this school could have taught her. She became a student at the ”Kvinnelige Industriskole” and learnt drawing and flat-loom weaving. After this she started her own school and workshop with her friend Randi Holte.

In the 1940’s, during the German occupation, due to the shortage of weaving materials she made appliqués reminiscent of traditional Norwegian tapestries in their composition. It is with this collage method that we see the emergence of her style and authority. With a collage technique she found a compositional freedom. The elements in her cartoons had the possibility to be interpreted in an open manner in the loom. Synnøve Anker Aurdal is renowned for the experimentation she brought to tapestry. From early in her career she operated freely with the format, shape and proportion of her work in both 2 and 3 dimensions. She introduced untraditional materials, such as, beads, plastic, metal, and mirror, and experimented with surface and colour. In Synnøve Anker Aurdal one sees a thoroughly professional artist who pursued her art and career with discipline and energy. She is a good example of a modernist, her tapestries mirroring this in form and mood. Her work is not involved with narrative. Neither political statement nor feminine issues are subjects in her work. She deals in abstraction and aesthetics.

From her first exhibitions her work was well received. Her intimate acquaintance with the leading modernists of the time taught her much and amazingly didn’t hinder her career. It must be remembered that Modernism, or Abstract Art, was frowned upon in Norway until well into the late 50’s. Anything non-figurative, from Malevitch to Jackson Pollock, was regarded as without content and therefore a threat to Art itself. Synnøve Anker Aurdal’s work escaped this weird polemic only because it was tapestry. Tapestry was somehow outside the debate of real art.

The 20th century is often referred to as the Century of the Woman. Synnøve Anker Aurdal is the outstanding example in Norway of a woman who became a successful modernist with the peripheral media that tapestry is.

Hannah Ryggen and Synnøve Anker Aurdal are two tapestry makers who are involved with art and ideas primarily, and see technique, tradition and craft as a means to an end. Tapestry is often applauded more for its craft than for its visual idea. It is applauded because it is a slow craft that demands patience. Its technical skills can achieve the most virtuoso results. It is a craft that can interpret artists’ cartoons. It is a craftsman’s art, as well as an artist’s craft.

Else Halling (1899 – 1984), in contrast to Ryggen and Anker Aurdal, was primarily concerned with tapestry as a craft. In her view no tapestry could surpass the Norwegian traditional tapestries (1550-1800) in composition, technique or materials. She wished to conserve this traditional heritage. This led her to a thorough investigation into the spinning, dyeing, weaving techniques of these traditional tapestries in an effort to clarify how and why they look as they do. Her greatest discovery was that the old weavers used the hair and not the wool from a primitive breed of sheep called ”spælsau”. This hair was spun hard and gave a particular sheen to the surface. This material was easy to weave, took dye well, and was exceptionally strong and durable. She also found that these old tapestries were constructed using mostly dovetailing and interlocking threads, and believed, wrongly, that these techniques were uniquely Norwegian.

Else Halling ran a professional tapestry workshop, Norsk Billedvev A/S, from 1951 to 1968, where she produced, from artists’ cartoons, commissioned tapestries. These tapestries are to be found in many public buildings. She was also the head teacher in tapestry at the Kvinnelige Industriskole from 1941 to 1964, were she communicated with enthusiasm her knowledge and opinions. She was quite clear in her vision that one person created the cartoon and another with interpretative skills wove it. She didn’t think there was a schism between these two aspects. She didn’t see the point of her students and assistants making their own ideas. They were there to execute other artists’ visions, as indeed other professional workshops do the world over. She believed that she could not teach anyone to be an artist, but could teach technical skills. If these technical skills were not excellent then the tapestry was inferior. Else Halling had a passionate belief that the early Norwegian tapestries were the ultimate form for tapestry. However, younger artists had other opinions, aims and ideals.

JAN GROTH. Sign, 1994. ©BONO

Jan Groth (1938 – ) was one such young artist. While Hannah Ryggen, Synnøve Anker Aurdal or Else Hallings workshop never achieved a true international reputation and recognition, Jan Groth has. Known for his elegant non-figurative white motifs on black grounds, his work gives breadth to the nature of tapestry by incorporating vibrant contemporary western ideas with an understanding of eastern calm. His visual language finds expression in many media, drawing, fine prints, sculpture and tapestry. His ex-wife, Benedikte, in Copenhagen, weaves his tapestries while he has lived most of the time in New York and Oslo. In New York he taught, not tapestry, but the development of students ideas in many differing media. He works in a post-modern global situation, and this is reflected in his work. While some term him a minimalist, he says he is not, though his work is refined and sparse.

1968 saw the student uprisings in Paris and elsewhere. A call for change, political, cultural, social and educational was heralded. 1970 saw this revolution take place amongst Norwegians artists. Their Union campaigned, demonstrated and won the right to negotiate directly with the government and not through middlemen. This was an incredible achievement, which gave political and social benefits to Norwegian artists, and foreign artists living in Norway that was unheard of elsewhere in the world, with the exception of Holland who achieved similar rights with their government. The benefits that befell the artists included a guideline for qualification to the professional artists union, more grants and stipends, a guaranteed minimum wage for qualified artists over 40, and that 2% of the building cost of all state buildings would be allocated to the commissioning of art. These measures created a vast expansion of artistic activity, particularly in the field of public art where tapestry was very popular with architects. Art and artists were to be incorporated into the fabric of society. The term “artist” referred to all individuals involved in the Arts, writers, actors, musicians, etc. Norway had a long tradition of being a social democrat state, and with this background it is easy to understand how artists became political animals once the starting pistol had been fired in Paris. The impetus and energy of this movement enabled the creation of more chapters within the various Artist Unions. The Norwegian Textile Artists Association was founded, having a predominance of artists who worked with tapestry. The majority of people involved with flat weaving, fabric printing, embroidery, knitting etc. were organised in the Crafts Union.

Generally tapestry is regarded as a craft, an applied art, and not a fine art. With these political and social changes for artists something quite unique had been accepted. Tapestry was accepted as a fine art, which gave the status of artist and not craftsman to tapestry weavers. This meant that they could compete with other artists for stipends, exhibitions etc. They gained their own jury in the annual state exhibition (Statens Høstutstilling), which brought public interest and critical acclaim.

Through this political activity the work of many talented artists was given prominence in the 70’s and 80’s. As stated, tapestry became a significant partner with architecture in many state, county and private institutions. Tapestries for the first time were purchased by the National Museum for Contemporary Art. Many of the artists responsible for this breakthrough are still active today and their names and work, together with younger artists, can be found on http://www.absolutetapestry.com

Today tapestry no longer fights for its right to be an art medium. It is just one of the many vehicles available to artists for the expression of their ideas. Yet, in contrast to the electronic media that is fast, cool and fashionable, tapestry is an anachronism. It’s slow, tactile and sensual and appeals to different judgements and sensations. The contemporary attitude that it’s the idea that is paramount and the medium is of secondary importance is also applicable to tapestry, as can be seen in the work of many young artists.

Contemporary Norwegian tapestry is well represented in international exhibitions and certainly echo’s the sentiments of the jury for the Artapestry exhibition of 2005 who wrote: ”Today we actively seek a new form, directions, purpose, even justification for woven tapestry”, which highlights the search for a new dynamic for tapestry in the 21st century.

During the 20th century the terms art and craft, fine art and applied art and the status of art have had differing interpretations. Likewise artists’ attitudes, ideals and practise have also changed. The public, critics and historians have also found differing criteria for what is acceptable as art and art practise. Art itself is an organic organism that is constantly changing form, direction, content and meaning. Its nature and function are increasingly difficult to understand. Art is an on-going debate and knowledge of its past gives creative fuel for argument. Of the artists discussed here there are differing aspects worthy of examination. Hannah Ryggen was the most traditionally based artist in terms of her practise. She did all the work herself and could not have assistants as she wove directly from her ”heart”. Many lay people would call her a true artist because everything was hand-made by her own hands. However, Munthe, Hansen, Anker Aurdal, and Groth could never have achieved what they have produced without assistance. Does this make them lesser artists? Is their technique better because they didn’t weave the tapestries themselves? What is most important, who had the idea or who wove the piece? But it is quite clear it is the artist who gets the status and renown, not the craftsperson. It is quite curious that while it was, and is acceptable that Gerhard Munthe had ”ladies” to make his tapestries, it would never have been acceptable that others made his paintings. Why was this the case when it is recorded that Titian, Rubens etc. all had assistants who did the donkey work.

Where did Andy Warhol get his idea for ”the Factory”? It is Andy Warhol’s signature that creates his work, not the physical labour, as it was Frida Hansen’s style that gave her work its particular personality. But did Frida Hansen regard herself as an artist or a craftsman, or both. Were her ideas art, but her tapestries craft? Did the artists who produced cartoons for Else Halling consider the tapestries she made to be art, or just an applied art? Would Jan Groth’s art be better if he concentrated on weaving his tapestries himself? At different times during the last century these questions would solicit very different answers and opinions. Today the answers might be more similar. In the post-modern era new media has created new art forms. What was once seen as not art is art today. Photography is very much art today, yet fine prints are not acceptable if they are mechanically produced. They still must show the direct touch of the hand of the artist / craftsman. Ordinary mass produced objects become art by a change of context. Electronic media and performance has opened up new horizons. Artists are their own art as with Gilbert & George. Art can and is made of anything. Nothing is sacred. Plagiarism has become appropriation. Salvador Dali’s last great anarchistic gesture was to sign and sell blank sheets of paper for others to fill with the kind of (Dali-esque or not) art they liked.

Theories abound and none are correct. Questions are more correct than answers. Is art a part of the entertainment business? Are artists’ personalities more important than their art? Where would art be without its ability to shock, it’s craving for publicity, and the financial investment that is placed in it? In a fragmented society with a rich heritage the artists’ stands free to select whatever ideas, media, methods and content they wish

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

Wall tapestries

Wall tapestries: A popular choice for home décor

Home décor made beautiful!

For millennia people have used wall tapestries and textiles to decorate their homes, from castles to condos. Tapestry wall hangings are one of the most accomplished textile-based art forms and come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds giving them a great diversity of styles.

Some wall tapestries originate from museums and others from artists are licensing their artwork to be made into tapestries. Any subject matter from nature and landscapes to impressionist and modern art can be used to create a tapestry. These add an entirely unique dimension to this traditional form of art.

Traditional materials with a modern twist

Traditional tapestries, particularly Medieval era tapestries, were made from wool. This provided a strong basis for adding dyes and pigments and had the added benefit of being hardwearing and easily available. Over time other yarns have been added to the mix, but the basic principle of natural materials has remained with tapestry weaving, using traditional materials and weaving techniques. Wool tapestries when mixed with synthetic polymers have the distinct advantage of preserving the traditional warmth of wool tapestries, but add a long-lasting robustness that would have made them the envy of medieval weavers.

The very best quality modern wall tapestries make the most of this blend of old and new, using new improved fibers to reproduce classical art and famous tapestry art from the past. With the improvements made to pigments and dyes in the last century we can now easily buy faithful reproductions of centuries-old tapestry designs; unseen in such vibrant colors since the time they were originally designed.

Solve decorating challenges

Like any form of high quality art tapestries can open a window to the past, expand living space both emotionally and visually, create the basis for a theme, add color and give your living space individuality, personality and charm. Decorating with tapestries adds beauty, warmth and character.

Choosing a horizontal tapestry will help add length to a room or try opening a space by choosing a tapestry with doorways and windows. These types of tapestries give an illusion of added space by leading the eye of the viewer outward. If your room is large and cold, scale it down by hanging a series of smaller tapestries together. This creates the illusion of a smaller space and can bring a large, blank wall down in size. Hanging small tapestries together will also add warmth to your room.

Wall tapestries – rich in history

Wall tapestries, often rich in history, can transport us to another time and place. They encourage reflective and tranquil moments, enlighten the human spirit and are great subjects of conversation. They also add charm and coziness to our homes and are balm for the soul. All of these qualities have made wall tapestries a popular choice amongst art lovers for centuries. Today with modern textiles and fabrics and centuries of tradition, art and design behind them many are finding wall tapestries as charming, versatile and beautiful as ever.

Swift Silvertails Passing

FRAMES OF REFERENCE

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.