Both long time Guild members and very experienced teachers of colour design and tapestry weaving, Yvonne and Marie are also involved in a trans-Tasman tapestry group which holds a themed exhibition each year – the AuNZ Tapestry Group Project.
Before telling us about the Project, Marie gave us a brief history of tapestry.
Woven tapestry has been around for at least 3,000 years. Fragments of tapestries from many centuries ago have been found all over Europe, in North Africa and in South America. A variety of ancient pieces of weaving have been discovered in Egypt where the hot, dry environment mean the fibres have been well preserved.
Although looms work on the same principal there are variations in different parts of the world. Low warp looms are generally used with the back of the woven piece on view while high warp looms show the front face of the work to the weaver. Different styles of weaving and different patterns often help to determine a tapestry’s age and origin, for example when particular fashions are depicted in a pictorial tapestry it can help to determine when the tapestry was woven. Like most crafts particular styles and designs go in and out of fashion in tapestry weaving and works can be dated by following these clues.
The Middle Ages in Europe were a particularly fruitful time for the making of tapestries. As large, expensive additions to a household they were seen as status symbols by the rich and powerful and also a convenient way to display one’s piety by depicting scenes from the Bible. They were mainly used as a decorative way to warm the large stone buildings in which they were hung but their use as a means of “showing off” should not be underestimated.
After some years of decline the art of tapestry weaving was revived and arguably raised to its highest practice by William Morris and his associates in the late 1800’s. Artists such as Edward Burne Jones designed some of the most breathtaking tapestries ever woven and their influence in many areas of art and design are still felt in the 21st century.
From the early 20th century modern abstract tapestries began to appear and artists such as Raoul Dufy, Jean Lurcat, Alexander Calder and Le Corbusier helped to once again bring tapestry into the public view. Their stunning large scale designs were particularly suited to the minimalist architecture which was so popular in the first half of the 20th century. In much the same way as tapestries warmed the chilly stone buildings of the Middle Ages, their bright, startling designs helped to relieve the often brutal lines of modern architecture.
Major tapestry workshops still exist in many countries, the most well known centers being in France, Scotland, Scandinavia and of course at the Australian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne.
The Project 2006-2011
Born from the realisation that many people don’t continue weaving once they have finished a course or have done a workshop, the AuNZ Tapestry Group was set up by Yvonne, Marie and New Zealand weaver Heather Adlam to encourage people to keep making tapestries.
They decided upon a yearly project with a set theme to help people get over what is often their biggest obstacle -what to weave? Each year a different subject or idea is chosen and people can interpret this in any way they wish. A maximum size for the finished work is set to make transporting and exhibiting the works easier and there is no judging or prize giving so people of all levels of experience are free to join in.
The themes so far have been; Memories of Childhood, Music, Gardens, Tapestry Blues, Is This Me? and the topic for 2011 was the poem The Owl and The Pussycat.
Each year between 16-40 weavers have joined in and there is always a large array of designs and ideas shown. Anyone is welcome to take part and indeed everyone is encouraged to make use of that tapestry loom gathering dust in a corner or to take up tapestry for the very first time.
Entries for the 2011 project were on display after they had travelled around New Zealand and Australia, having being exhibited in several cities as they are each year.