Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 - New Year, New Tapestry Diary

This year will be my 5th tapestry diary. I started in 2010, then took 2011 off, and started up again in 2012. You can read more about my philosophy in earlier blog posts, all the links are on this entry.

It certainly makes New Years into an exciting holiday!

(Below: Dec 2014) 
The basic idea is to set up a plan, with rules, so that every day I can sit down and weave for 20-30 minutes, without having to make any major decisions. It is a small thing, but when you do it every day, then all the days add up to a year, which is not a small thing.

(Confession: in 2013 I decided to weave 5 days a week and take weekends off. That makes it much easier to catch up if I have to miss a week day because of travel)

This is the 2014 tapestry diary, just cut off 4 different looms, and still looking very messy. Since we were traveling for 4 months, I designed it to fit on a small wooden frame loom. Each of these is one month, and they are 3 inches wide. Sorry it's not a very good photo.

Since we knew we would be overseas for 3 months, I planned last year's diary to fit on a small wooden frame loom when necessary.

One big problem, since I hate the finishing so much, is that I now have TWELVE separate pieces to finish!!!! Luckily, I remembered to put in a row of knots at the beginning and end of each, so that saves one step. I might even leave the warps showing. I will probably frame them in groups.

The 2015 Tapestry Diary will be woven on this Archie Brennan style copper pipe loom. (Plans are available here for personal use only, not to sell. Or buy one already made). Mine sits on an aluminum artists easel.

For the weaving readers, I am using 8 epi of cotton seine twine. The 2014 diary used 16 epi of fine seine twine, but I mostly wove it at 8 epi using the warps doubled. It was very useful to make steeper diagonals and tighter verticals, but it is so much easier and more comfortable using the heavier warp. My fingers are not as nimble as they used to be.

(Above: the first 2 days of 2015)

The idea for this year's tapestry diary came to me in a flash, on November 11. That's the day our new grandson was born. We were in Switzerland for 3 months, and planning to fly home on November 20, his due date, but he arrived 9 days early, taking us by surprise.

I was in the gift shop at the Basel Historical Museum, selecting tapestry postcards, when my cell phone rang. It was my husband calling from the house (2 hours train ride away).

He had just arrived home from his mountain hike to find an email with the announcement. I stood there with tears of joy streaming down my cheeks, then shared the good news with the cashier, who congratulated me and shook my hand.

I had planned to visit the Basel Kunstmuseum (Art Museum) next, but for a moment I thought "What the hell am I doing here, so far from home and my grandbaby?" It was tempting to hop the next train back to Interlaken so I could at least see a picture of him.

Instead, I went ahead and visited the modern galleries at the museum. I was admiring some abstract expressionist paintings when the idea came to me: each month I will weave my tapestry diary using one painting for inspiration. I will only use paintings I have seen in person.

The following week I visited the Kunstmuseum in Bern to get more ideas.  I jotted down the names of some favorites and then last week I printed a bunch of them from photos online.

I am weaving a rectangle 2 1/2 inches wide and about 3/4 inch tall every day (5 days a week). For January I am using a painting by Sean Scully, called Grey Wolf. There is a short video about it here. (You can't tell, but it is really big). I created a template with transparent mylar, and I use it to find a section that is interesting. Then I use tracing paper and a pencil to make a very quick cartoon. I have a stack of these and will choose one each day, perhaps at random. I don't know if I will use the same approach in subsequent months.

I am undecided as to how many pieces will make up the year. I am thinking perhaps 4 pieces, but I will decide later when I have a better idea how the months will fit together.

So, here I go!

PS A great story about the Basel Kunstmuseum: it belongs to the city, and the people of Basel voted, in the 1960s, to spend tax money to buy a Picasso painting for their museum. Picasso was so moved by this that he donated some more paintings, and then at least one collector donated some, so now they own lots of Picassos!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thun- Tapestries in Surprising Places

I visited Thun castle in 2000, with my husband, in-laws and kids, but I don't remember seeing any tapestries there.

A few weeks ago my Swedish friend was visiting and we decided to take the lake cruise to Thun, stopping off at Schloss Oberhofen on the way. It's an adorable little castle right on the lake.

Arriving at the larger and more impressive Thun castle, we discovered that it has been modernized, with spiffy new galleries to exhibit various collections. Most of the time, I would rather just see old castle walls, but in this case, I was pleasantly surprised to find three different tapestries.

The first was a part of the spoils of the 1476 battle of Grandson, where the Swiss defeated Charles the Bold (also known as Charles the Rash), the last Duke of Burgundy.

Charles carried treasures of gold, jewelry and tapestries with him to the battle, and the so called "Burgundian Booty," was divided up among various museums in Switzerland.

The most famous are the tapestries at the Historical Museum in Bern, woven in Tournai. I have tried to see them twice, but always seem to arrive when the gallery is closed. (I'll try again soon) You can read more about them on a previous blog post here.

NOTE: click on the images to see them larger.

The tapestry at Thun castle is a very large fragmented piece which is mostly heraldic. I did not find it all that interesting.

One thing I love about tapestries in Switzerland, they always seem to be framed under glass, so I can get as close as I like without any alarms going off!

Photographing through the glass is a bit tricky though, and flash is not allowed, so please forgive the quality of the images.

The second tapestry at Thun Castle is the "Medallion Tapestry," woven in Switzerland in the early 14th Century. Like many Swiss tapestries of the period, it was used on the front of an altar.

The central figure is St Maurice, the patron saint of Thun. Around him are medallions of symbolic animals (including those that represent the saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)

This medallion is a combination of dragon and horse, with a lion's tail.

At first I thought it was a griffin, but when I looked it up, I couldn't find any imaginary animal with these attributes.

The third and most fascinating tapestry at Thun Castle is the "Crescent Moon Madonna." Woven in Basel, 1425-1440, it represents the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, standing on the crescent moon in front of the sun.

This tapestry was donated to the Scherzligen Church in 1450, by Anna von Velschen, the wealthiest woman in Bern, in memory of her husband, who had been mayor of Thun before dying at an early age.

Apparently the gift would guarantee him eternal salvation.

I assume that it is his face we see sticking out from under the Virgin Mary's dress?

I find the weaving style to be charming, the facial expressions, the way the hair and textiles are woven, the lack of perspective (particularly in St Maurice's feet, which look like they are on the wrong legs!)

St Maurice in full armour, next to the Van Velschen coat of arms.

St Anthony, the hermit, with his staff and little bell.

Mary Magdalene, on the left, with angels lifting her up. It is common for medieval representations of Mary Magdalene to show her naked but covered in long hair. According to legends, she was sustained in the desert by angels who lifted her up and fed her manna from heaven.

On the right is St Catherine with her crown, sword and martyr's wheel.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Abegg Stiftung - A Hidden Gem

The first time I came to Switzerland to stay for a while, I asked some experts where I should go to look at tapestry, and they all said "Abegg!"

Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations for 2 years. This time my luck has changed and it is reopened, with a gorgeous museum, and an amazing permanent exhibition.

Although it’s not very far away from where we are staying, it took 2 trains and 2 busses to get to this elegant museum on a green hill in Riggisberg, in the canton of Bern.

Swiss born Werner Abegg began collecting early: goldsmithing, sculpture, painting, ceramics and intaglio, as well as antique Egyptian tapestries, medieval silk fabrics and 18th Century “bizarre” silks.  He and his American wife, Margaret, spent part of each year in NY, and later collected Pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles. The Abeggs donated their collections to the foundation in the early 1960s.

Since Werner's death in 1984, the foundation has continued to add textiles to the collection. The foundation is primarily a research institute, which publishes scholarly treatises, and has a textile conservation workshop, which offers a degree course in Textile Conservation and Restoration.  

Because photography is prohibited, I purchased a number of postcards, and a very informative book:
Treasures of the Abegg-Stiftung, Catherine Depeirraz  ISBN 3-905014-22-X

The first item in the book, and the oldest, is a double-headed Hacilar vessel from what is now southwestern Turkey, from the 6th millennium BC.  

I also loved a small bronze statue of Horus the falcon, from Egypt. Being familiar with a larger one at the MFA in Boston, it was like running into an old friend. I was charmed with the manner of his display, as he was standing there looking wistfully out the unusual stance in a museum, but so appropriate for a bird who was considered the God of the Sky.

A piece that many textile people would "ooh" and "aah" over is the 3D Cross-knit looped decorative trim from Peru, 1st-3rd Century AD. The colors are still bright, and the hummingbirds and flowers intact.

I am familiar with small Coptic tapestries that were woven as decorative details for garments, and we saw some excellent examples, but I had never seen or heard of large tapestry wall hangings from Egypt like the ones at Abegg.

Dionysus, (Egypt, 4th C, linen and wool) is 210 cm high and 700 cm wide (after reconstruction: the fragments are stitched to a background fabric).  It shows 8 figures standing under decorated arches, including Dionysus and his love, Ariadne.

It is very finely woven, and most of the colors are still bright. It was found buried in sand in the Egyptian desert. You can see an image of it, from a distance, in this excellent article from Hali (along with a detail of the next item).

(LEFT: Dionysus detail)

I was surprised and delighted by a large tapestry of winged horses, (Egypt, 4th-5th C) because of its still vibrant red wool warp, which matched the background weft.  Parts of this tapestry are a bright white, which made me wonder if those areas could be cotton. Bright white wool is very hard to come by, and often yellows with time....but wouldn't cotton have rotted? A mystery...

There is a case with 8 exquisite small tapestry fragments, from clothing. One fragment from a neckline trim (Egypt, 3rd-4th century), is only 20 cm high, by 31 cm wide, yet it includes images of hunters with weapons, flowers, lions. This piece has lost all of the red wool background weft, possibly due to substances in the red dye, but the delicacy of the images is still evident.

Spring and Summer,” (Egypt, 3rd-4th C, about 10x10” each, wool) is two pieces from a set of 4 small tapestries of the seasons, very finely woven. Click on the link for a photo.

(LEFT: Elijah, detail)

A large hanging titled Elijah (linen and wool, Egypt, 4th - 6th C, 309 x 344 cm) is like nothing I have seen before. It shows scenes from the Old Testament, all rendered in brightly colored, coarse wool, looped pile on a natural linen background.

(RIGHT: Central Asian Skirt fragment, detail)

This large fragment of a skirt (Central Asia, 3rd-1st century BC, Wool, 51cm x 102.5 cm) is bright red fabric top and bottom, with a tapestry border of stylized animals between. The catalog says that it “ appears to originate from a small independent pastoral culture that can be only very loosely associated with other known Eurasian steppe cultures.” 

In addition to the impressive collection, the way it is displayed could not be better. The obvious attention to detail in every aspect of this museum is astonishing. It may be inconvenient, but it should be on all your lists of places you hope to visit someday.

NOTE: Click on an image to see it larger

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Finally the show was hung, and the reception was held, during Convergence. The gallery director said that 500 people attended!!! It was mobbed. Gallery Night Providence provided 2 "Textile Tour Busses," and each was full. My feet were so tired after standing for over 4 hours, but it was absolutely a blast, getting to see so many friends, old and new.

There is still time to see it, until August 8, at the URI Feinstein Providence Campus Gallery, 80 Washington St, Providence, RI.

So now I have edited my photos, and here they are. Bad news, there will be no video - it turns out that I am a TERRIBLE videographer, and you would all be seasick if you watched it. For those who were not able to visit the gallery in person, I hope this gives you an idea of what the exhibit looks like.

The tapestries are wired onto black foam core panels, of which there are 39. Then the panels are screwed onto the carpet walls. I think the brown walls and black panels are very flattering to the tapestries, which stand out from the dark background like jewels.

(NOTE: Click on the photos to see them in a larger size)

Below: View from the stairs

The gallery has 2 entrances, so we put a title on the first wall at each side, as well as wall text describing the exhibit itself, and its sponsor, the American Tapestry Alliance. The gallery is in the main hallway of a very busy urban university. The building itself is historic, it was the Shepard's Department Store. On the walls around our exhibit you can see tapestries that are part of the TWiNE 2014 exhibit, which includes 61 tapestries, and extends from the hallway, up the stairs, into the upstairs hallway and gallery.

Below: Damascus Fiber Arts School, "Bugs: All Dressed Up" 
About half of the 219 entries are in one of  the 10 group challenges, and there is a description of each group hanging on or next to their panel. Unfortunately you may not be able to read the descriptions in these photos, so if you want to know more, I recommend purchasing the catalog.

Left: Wall 2: Christina Rasmussen's tapestry "Learning to Fly"

Tough choice, so many wonderful entries; this tapestry and its title seemed right to go with the description, as for many artists, this is the first show they have entered.

Below: Central Virginia Tapestry Group, "Virginia Blues." (top left) As Catarinas, "Monogram." (bottom left) Spanish Peaks Tapestry Group, "Reflections of John Mendoza" (right)

Below: Las Aranas and Las Tejedoras Tapestry Groups, "Alphabet Soup"

Below: Wednesday Group, "Pear Project" (left) 
Tapestry Artists of Puget Sound (TAPS), "unTAPped" (right)

Left: Seaside Weavers Tapestry Group, "What's My Line?"

What happens when you draw one line, and it divides the tapestry into a white half and a black half?

Left: Individual tapestries. The vertical panels are for the smaller tapestries, and fit on the smaller walls.

So many lovely shades of blue and green, very fitting for the Ocean State: that's the nickname for Rhode Island - actually the complete name is "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations!"

Right: Individual tapestries, including lots of pink and purple, and a variety of textures.

(Remember you can click on the photo to see it larger)

Below: Individual tapestries with handspun/hand-dyed yarns, and other interesting materials.

Left: Small tapestries in lovely earth tones. 

The tapestry on the bottom right, "Still Life with Fruit #2," by Beverly Muir, is a shaped tapestry mounted on a black frame.

Below: Weavers Guild of Greater Baltimore, "Titled/Unjuried."

This tapestries are inspired by book titles. I wonder if you can guess any of them?

Below: TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England), "All Over New England"
Below: Individual Entries. The panel on the bottom left includes silkworm cocoons and a plastic Barbie doll leg.
Below: Individual Entries. Linda Whiting's "Crayon Sheep" in the middle of the top panel sets the tone for the vibrant colors on this wall. Pamela Palma's "Enaray" in the lower middle of the right panel includes shredded currency ($100 bills?) and strips of plastic Target shopping bags.

Left: Individual entries, some quite small. There is now a DO NOT TOUCH sign on the left, but I forgot to stick it on until after I took the photo.

Below: Individual entries. This is the end wall at the other entrance to the building. I love how these earthy reds all go together, and set off the neutral black/gray/white below. The little bits of green add a nice accent to the whole grouping.
Below: a photo showing the layout of the walls. This is only half of the gallery, and you can't see all the walls as some are behind others. There are a total of 14 walls. Behind these free standing carpet walls are very tall windows, so there is beautiful natural light. Don't worry, no direct sun, as the street outside is very narrow.

Below: the other half of the gallery

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Convergence Exhibits

So many shows to participate in, I couldn't resist. So I have pieces in four shows that are up during Convergence.

UNTITLED/UNJURIED: small format tapestry 2014
URI Feinstein Providence Campus Gallery
80 Washington St, Providence, RI
Through August 8th. Reception Thursday, July 17, 5-9pm

(below) My tapestry "Over Block Island"

I am the exhibit chair for the 10th iteration of this wonderful exhibit, sponsored by the American Tapestry Alliance. We have 219 tapestries from 13 countries and 31 US states. You can read more about it on my previous blog post, and see some sample tapestries. Full color catalogs are available on the ATA website.

(above) Damascus Fiber Arts School, group entry "Bugs, All Dressed Up"

TWiNE 2014: a juried exhibition
URI Feinstein Providence Campus Gallery
80 Washington St, Providence, RI
Through August 8, reception July 17, 5-9.

This show, juried by renowned weaver Barbara Herbster, includes work by 18 members of Tapestry Weavers in New England. I have 5 pieces in the show. Two are from the Chaos series, which can be seen here. The other three are a triptych called "Red and Green Apples." (photo left)
Small Expressions
Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, MA
Through October 5, reception August 3, 1-4

An annual exhibit of fiber art, 15 inches or less, sponsored by Handweavers Guild of America. This year the juror was Gerhardt Knodel.  I am honored to have my small tapestry included. "Mini-Chaos"(photo left)

Weaving Traditions of the Ocean State  
Slater Mill Historic Site, 67 Roosevelt Ave,  Pawtucket, RI
Through July 20

An exhibition by the Weavers Guild of RI, in Slater Mill’s Sylvanus Brown house.  Celibrates the heritage of hand weaving in RI  10-4 daily, part of the tour, or exhibit only admission of $5.  

(above) "Brushneck Cove"