small vase with reflection (4 1/2 ” x 6″)

Sometimes I think I must like being contrary.

Was it just a couple of months ago that I saw the exhibit, Nomadic Murals showing some of the most important tapestries of the 20 and 21st century?

And what were the common themes?

Huge tapestries- some over 14′ long and wide.

Around 90% designed by men with none of the tapestries woven by hand, by the artist.

Meticulously woven by teams of professional tapestry weavers or woven on state -of -the- art Jacquard weaving looms.

in contrast…

Here is one of my tapestries- weighing in at 4 1/2″ wide and 6″ long.

It was hand woven on a frame made out of canvas stretchers. The warp is cotton twine, the filling in the weft is woven with a mixture of knitting yarns picked up from thrift stores, old projects and donations from friends. It was woven with very small bamboo cocktail forks- ( 75 forks for under a $1!) which were used as shuttles. Since then, I’ve found it easier to use my fingers or sewing needles.

Am I trying to make a statement?

Not deliberately!

I remember visiting a Museum of Art in Dresden, with my sisters and my father. The paintings were from the Renaissance up to beginning of the 20th century. My father, who liked to play the devil’s advocate, said to me-  “How can you say women are artists , when you never see any great paintings by women?” He waved his hand at the paintings on the walls, which were all painted by men. Of course, we know now, in the 21st century ( or do we?) that there were many, many reasons why there were no paintings in the museums by women and that this did not mean that women were not creative or artistic. Another thing to remember is that – the dominant fine art style in Western art- (for hundreds of years) was to create huge, technically superior art pieces to glorify and commemorate important events/important people  which were sponsored and paid for by the churches and rich clients. In my opinion, the tapestry exhibition, Nomadic Murals in Charlotte, is a direct descendant of those two great historic Western art  traditions.  A worthy exhibition indeed and it showcases those traditions admirably.

However, this is only one aspect of the tapestry tradition.

There are other tapestry traditions with an equally important artistic lineage

Fiber art encompases tapestry as well as many other textile forms. Right now, in 2019, there are many excellent practising tapestry weavers where creating the image and weaving by hand is an integral part of the process of creation and discovery. Many of these tapestries are not woven as representations of paintings, drawings or photographs, although they can be.  In many contemporary tapestries, the woven fibers and textures are the focus, not the translation of a design or drawing into woven cloth. When you study and incorporate the theories, traditions, skills and techniques of textiles from all over the world, and combine that with a western sensibility in the tapestry tradition,  you create pieces with a completely different mind set and motivation from the fine art Western approach. That sounds obvious, but what is not obvious is how this different approach is not always recognized as an equal or valid viewpoint.

Maybe I am ( making a statement)

Looking at my little tapestry, I know I have chosen to use canvas stretchers because they are affordable, easy to put together and I can quickly make a loom of a size I need. It’s small because in a world where there is no time, and tapestry weaving is very slow – I  know I can finish a small piece, even a tapestry. And still have time to work on non-art projects that will give me an income. A small size means I can put the loom in a bag with yarns and take the loom with me as it’s lightweight and portable. I can weave anywhere. I can work in different spaces.  It does n’t matter if the colors of the yarns are not from the same dye lot-  I don’t need a lot of yardage.  I am working with the everyday and recycled materials that surround me, in a scale that does n’t involve teams of experts with expensive and high tech. equipment.  Like many of the textile arts from Africa (and the rest of the world) my art is made from the everyday materials of life and is created in the midst of living, not as a separate activity. This is how I participate in creating my own version of the world.

 

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