Friday, April 17, 2015

Contemporary Practice Nourished by Traditions

Monique Hakkennes, Netherlands
Monique submitted these two small (above and below) tapestries as part of her OHS Tapestry Unit, to obtain her Master Weaver Certification through the Ontario Handweavers and Spinners.

Evidence exists that indicate tapestries were being woven as early as 6000 BC in the Persian Empire. Around 5000 BC in South America,  tapestries were also being created, and certainly by 3000 BC,  Egyptian burial sights  such as in the tomb chambers of Beni-Hassan show tapestry weaving activity based on drawings and inscriptions  on walls of linen being spun and  the loom being prepared. 

There are accounts in the Old Testament of the Bible that the Hebrews also wove tapestries. The Old Testament talks about 3 kinds of weavers; the weavers of plain weaves, the weavers of colour, and the ‘art’ weavers. Eventually, the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Phoenicians and Greeks came under the domination of Imperial Rome. The Latin word for tapestry is derived from Greek and so it has been assumed that the Greeks taught the Romans how to weave tapestries. Stories in  Greek mythology illustrate also that tapestry weaving existed. The most comprehensive description of ancient tapestry is given around 43 BC by the poet Ovid in his Metamorphosis in which he describes the battle between Arachne and the goddess Minerva. From the earliest onset of the practice of tapestry weaving, tapestries were designed and woven by weavers and this was a standard practice until the start of the Renaissance, about 1400s onwards, where it became common for an artist to design the painting (cartoon or cartouche) to be translated into tapestry. It is not until the twentieth century that the weaver and the artist are the same person creating the tapestry once again. 
Janet Quilty, Victoria, Australia
Dear Line,
....Shortly after you sent me the shapes to weave, I heard that my husband’s cousin had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I have dedicated the weaving to her. Felicity Munn, from Montreal, Canada, has just lost her battle with cancer. She died a few days ago. I remember her as a warm, lively, slightly irreverent, funny and caring person. Flis’s initials, F M, have been woven into the pieces.
I do not have a website or blog.
Historically, the role of tapestry changes over the course of time, but for many centuries, the role of the great tapestries of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, were to tell a story, such as the Apocalypse tapestries in AngersFrance, or the grand victories of some great leader (usually royalty). The images also illustrated stories from mythology, and from the Bible.  In addition to illustrating the great political events, achievements and morality stories, they served as insulation for cold castle walls. The word tapestry in French is ‘tapisserie’, which is the word used today for wall paper! Tapestry became so prominent in its appeal that in France the concept of factory emerges to ‘manufacture’ tapestries to keep up with demands. So why exactly did tapestry’s popularity wane over time? With technical developments in pigments (for painting), painting superseded tapestry as pictorial ornament because of it being of lesser cost, and took less time.
Ruth McMullen , UK
When tapestries first started being made, the weaver was also the artist/designer. Many examples of tapestry found from between the earliest examples (2000 to 3000 BC) to before the Renaissance continued this practice. During the Renaissance Art Period, professionally trained artists were brought in to create the cartoons for the huge tapestries of the period. The weaver served only in the technical execution of the tapestry. Presently, both traditions continue. The latter being more prevalent in Europe and Australia. 

Ruth McMullen , UK
One place that tapestry still has a thriving practice is in the UK. There is West Dean in Chichester England, and you can study tapestry intensively as a summer short course and/or as part of your university studies. The have a tapestry studio affiliated with it which you can arrange to visit.

Ruth McMullen , UK
Another thriving tapestry institution is Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. "Established in 1912 by the 4th Marquess of Bute, Dovecot Studios’ founding weavers came from William Morris’ Merton Abbey Workshops in Wimbledon, London. The Studios were incorporated in to The Edinburgh Tapestry Company in 1946 although they also continued to be known as Dovecot. It is only a short journey back to those founding weavers who, with a succession of artistic designers, influenced the world of tapestry throughout the 20th Century." There are many more countries where tapestry thrives, and we'll get around to that in the upcoming blogs. 

Jan de Meyer, Belgium. 
Our most recent submission to the Fate, Destiny and Self Determination / le sort, le destin et l'auto-determination tapestry installation is from Jan de Meyer who writes: 
Dear Line, Please find ...three pieces I have woven for your international tapestry project. I chose to weave with plastic bags I cut into small ribbons. The bags I used are the one you get for free in the supermarket over her to put fruits and vegetables away you want to buy. I thought that fruit, vegetables and plastic are a disturbing comination. I consider the fact that plastic litters our planet in a huge way (specifically the oceans) and tried to put the SOS morse code into the weft (hard to see, I confess.) The large piece in the right hand corner is from this series. Then I changed and cut white tyvek into even smaller ribbons and started again. This endup up in what now number 2 and 3. The SOS is still hidden in the weft (very hidden!). It all looks pretty white as I saw no white pieces in the pictures of the show at Galerie Trames at the Centre Conemporain Textiles de Montreal and I wanted to add something different. I had a lot of fun in doing the pieces and Maria (herself a very distinguished professional tapestry weaver) was a great help for the finishing touch in each of them, so this is a bit of a joined venture. I hope my small contribution will be useful for your wonderful artistic endeavour." 
If you would like to see how this project has evolved go to its Facebook page: 

The installation continues to accept contributions. Your name will be included in upcoming exhibitions of the installation. The next exhibit is in Denver, Colorado at Regis University, August 1-31 2015. Please contact me if you would like to be a part of it, at

Below is an explanation of the project for those who do not know about it:
Fate, Destiny and Self-Determination/Le Sort, Destin and l’Auto-determination is a tapestry installation generously funded by the Ontario Arts Council and co-created by people all over the world. Composed of three sections, it was designed and managed by Line Dufour, who wove the first panel  measuring 5’ x 3’ and exemplifies the  contemporary practice of tapestry weaving, where artist and weaver are one and the same. The second panel, measuring 5’ x 18” was woven by visiting participants ranging from the inexperienced and amateur to the professional. This referenced traditional tapestry  conventions in that many weavers worked on the tapestry at the same time or at various stages and neither did they  create the tapestry designs. I documented those who wove this section both in pictures and video and as the project progressed, I kept participants updated via Facebook and emails. This audio visual component is exhibited with the tapestry installation.

The final section is composed of irregular shapes positioned with pins at varying heights, between the 2 main panels, floating freely in space, as though the tapestry is pulling apart or coming together.  As each shape arrives, Dufour photographs/documents it, posts it to her Tapestry blog, as well to as to the Facebook page for the project She also includes information about the participants such as their website if they have one, and other comments they have made about the project or about their work. Furthermore, the entire project has been documented on its Facebook page. Thus far, 230 completed shapes have been received from 18 countries, and a total of about 160 people have participated in the entire project thus far. The installation continues to expand and build community as it accepts woven shapes on an ongoing basis and will do so indefinitely. Part of the exhibition is the list of all participant names shown below.

Each time Fate, Destiny and Self-Determination is installed the shapes are never placed in the same positions, making it highly interactive and spontaneous. This invites the curator to be part of its creation. Conversely, the curator could also invite the gallery guest to position shapes on the wall between the two panels, having them re-create the installation.  

The first exhibition of the project was at Craft Ontario in Toronto, Ontario Canada in September 2014, followed by one  is in Montreal at the Montreal Centre for Contemporary Textiles in January 2015. After Denver, Colorado in August 2015, another exhibtion has been confirmed for the Craft Council of British Columbia in March 2016. Others are being organized internationally.

Craft Ontario is asking emerging fibre artists/craftspeople to submit their work for an upcoming exhibition. Get your tapestries and wall hangings out there! (Juried). Deadline is May 24 2015.

The American Tapestry Alliance has a scholarship opportunity for studying tapestry:

Are you interested in talking a workshop with one of these tapestry artists? Please google them to find out more about them and let me know at
Sarah Swett
Kathe Todd Hooker