Aubusson was a wonderful stay and a great way to end the tapestry tour. I have several videos about this town including the one below. On the first day there we went to Felletin to see Pinton Manufactory and a few other things.
The video has some video and images of the visit to Fellatin, a surprise meeting of Michal Garcia (the master natural dyer Michal Garcia), and an atelier visit in Aubusson. It was interesting to see the different approach in this workshop versus what we saw in Paris and Beauvais. We have many interesting conversations with weavers about these differences and I talk about that a little bit in the video.
France Tapestry Tour 2019, Episode 8, Aubusson Day 1 - YouTube
In the middle of the tapestry tour, we drove south to Albi. This is an interesting town on a beautiful river with a massive cathedral. It also is home to the Talouse-Lautrec museum. We took a day trip from Albi to Soreze where we visited the Dom Robert Museum which was definitely a highlight of the trip. The video blog tells you more about it!
France Tapestry Tour 2019, Episode 7, Albi - YouTube
I enjoyed the Dom Robert Museum and will post more about these tapestries at a later date. They were woven mostly in the 1960s and are full of fun details about nature.
Dom Robert Museum, Soreze, France
I was interested to see the storage system at the Dom Robert Museum. There were several of these large climate-controlled cases full of rolled up tapestries and cartoons.
Tapestry and cartoon storage at the Dom Robert museum in Soreze, France
Travel weaving is one of my favorite activities. It does turn out that when you’re on a tour and you have a lot to see, the only time to weave is on the bus. We had a couple days with long bus rides and in that time I managed to finish one small tapestry diary piece.
The French countryside in late May was bursting with flowers. There were huge fields of red poppies along the roads, some with purple flowers mixed in. It is pretty hard to take a good photo from a moving bus, but one can certainly weave a tapestry of them which is exactly what I did. Of course one never quite has the colors one wants in such a situation, but it was a fun weaving anyway.
I brought my smallest pipe loom and warped it with a Fringeless warp. I really enjoyed the bus rides. We rode through beautiful countryside filled with flowers and farms. We saw sheep and cows and an occasional chateau. We drove past the Chartes Cathedral, saw goats cleaning the weeds along the roadways, and experienced the excellence of French truckstops. I had a difficult time deciding which fiber projects to bring on this trip. I would do it differently now, but I was happy to have a little weaving time on the bus.
Warping on the bus from Angers to Albi
Weaving poppy fields from a pencil sketch
The finished four selvedge tapestry. weaversbazaar fine wool yarn, cotton warp.
I love travel weaving and have written about it fairly often. It turns out that if you’re on a scheduled tour though, there isn’t much time for weaving. Next time I go to France I’ll sit still for a few days and weave something inspired by those wonderful buildings.
I did bring this Turkish spindle. I pulled it out fairly frequently while I waited for events and friends, but all in all, it must not have been much time because I only emptied the spindle once in all that time.
I’ve been posting video blogs of the trip to France. I’m home now, but have four or five left to post. After that I’ll do some writing about some of the tapestries I loved as well as the visits to various ateliers, Pinton, Gobelins, and Beauvais. The videos are on my YouTube channel HERE or you can find them in the blog in posts prior to this one.
Rebecca Mezoff, Poppies of France, travel diary weaving, 2 x 3 inches
While in Angers, we also went to the Musée Jean Lurçat. The museum houses his large tapestry cycle, Le Chant du Monde (Song of the World) which was his response to the Apocalypse Tapestry. Though I think anyone having a response to the Apocalypse tapestry is a bit ballsy, seeing these massive tapestries was fantastic.
Below is the 6th episode in my video blog. After that, some more thoughts about the Lurçat tapestries.
France Tapestry Tour 2019: Episode 6, Angers & Lurcat - YouTube
The cycle has 10 huge tapestries. Jean Lurçat lived from 1892 to 1966. The weaving began in 1957 in Aubusson and it took about 10 years to weave in three different workshops, being finished a few months after Lurçat died. In 1967 the city of Angers acquired the tapestries from Lurçat’s wife and they have been shown in this room in the Hopital Saint-Jean ever since.
Lurçat was a painter. He started working in tapestry in the 1930s (that is, he designed for tapestry, he did not weave them himself).
When he saw the Apocalypse in 1937, it was indeed a revelation from both aesthetic and technical points of view. He was impressed by the visual legibility of the work, the way it used only a limited number of colors and gros point technique. He became convinced that tapestry-making would recover its creative input by going back to medieval methods, casting aside all constraints that sought to impose painting as a model, a theory developed in the 18th century.
— from the English version of the guide to the tapestries
Jean Lurçat’s Le Chant du Monde in Angers, France
The subject of the tapestries begins with the atomic bomb. Lurçat lived through both world wars and was designing these pieces during the Cold War.
I started with the atomic bomb because the danger forms the basis of everything; it is from it that our world is organized and becomes clear.
— Jean Lurçat
The tapestry subjects move through the atomic bomb, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, a charnal house and in the fourth piece, a great black expanse where everything has disappeared called La fin de tout. From there things become less horrifying. My favorite of the tapestries was Champagne which was beautiful.
Jean Lurçat, Le Chant du Monde, Champagne, 1959, 4.40 x 7.02 m, Atelier Tabard, Aubusson
The next tapestry is about Sputnik and the rest of the cycle seems to focus on astrological subjects.
The first title of this “Chant du Monde” was “La Joie de Vivre” (The joy of living). It has not taken me long to be convinced that life for one who tries to live correctly is sweet and salted, mild and bitter, convulsive and serene.
— Jean Lurçat, 1964
The piece is fascinating to study. In the gallery below are some details from Le Chant du Monde.
The trip as a whole was phenomenal. I got home late last night. One of the highlights for me was seeing the Apocalypse tapestry. I will write a whole post about it soon, but for now, this video blog gives you some idea of our first full day in Angers. We followed the Apocalypse with Lurcat’s Chant du Monde which was quite fitting since he was creating a response to the Apocalypse (which in itself is incredibly ballsy, don’t you think?). I’ll show you that one in the next episode.
A few brief notes before you watch the video:
The Apocalypse is now housed in a building built for it in the mid 20th century and renovated in 1996 which is inside the Chateau of Angers
created between 1373 and 1377
commissioned by Louis I of Anjou
140 meters long and an astounding 850 meters square.
France Tapestry Tour 2019: Episode 5, Angers' Apocalypse - YouTube
We had a fun day as we left Paris. We had a couple stops along the way on our way to Angers. We stopped in Chateaudun but were unable to see the tapestries we went to see. We also stopped on the way into Angers at the studio of Anne Zerna. She is a tapestry weaver who also makes large felt pieces. She is also a printmaker. her studio was delightful.
The video blog has more details.
France Tapestry Tour 2019: Episode 4, leaving Paris - YouTube
The tapestry tour has been such a fantastic experience. The attached video blog is about our visit to the Gobelins while still in Paris. I have a lot of thoughts about this visit, but will wait until I get home and have time to digest it a little more. For now, here is the basic structure of these workshops.
There are three state-supported weaving workshops.
They are the Manufactures Nationales
Gobelin Beauvais Savonnerie
Savonnerie makes pile rugs and we did not visit this workshop.
The mission of the Mobelier Nationale which runs these workshops as well as a conservation studio for tapestries, rugs, and furniture and a lace-making studio is first to furnish official buildings in France. So most of the work the tapestry workshops are doing go into a catalog and ministers of France can choose them for their offices or embassys. Occasionally they do commissions as well.
The potential of tapestry seems endless. It is not an art of replication but the transition from one language to another, with much of the creativity coming from the talent of the weaver. Going from the model to the woven piece you change format, you change material. It is an interpretation, in the musical sense of the term, a recreation. And this is a process that interests artists from all kinds of backgrounds, as much now as in the past.
— From Mobilier National publication: Manufactures Nationales Gobelins, Beauvais, Savonnerie
In the tapestry studios, artists create the cartoon to be woven. They used to be created only by painters, but now they are interpreting in tapestry many different art forms. Many of the cartoons we saw were digitally created. In the United States, tapestry weaving is now primarily done by artist/weavers so seeing these big workshops (Gobelins and Beauvais) where the imagery is created by someone else and the weavers interpret it into tapestry is interesting. My sense is that the tapestry weavers are highly trained and that they do have a lot of leeway in translation. They study for four years before they take an exam to see if they can get a job as a weaver. Their study includes things like art history which is important to the interpretation of the work. Each of these large workshops produces only a handful of tapestries in a year and it seemed to me like each tapestry took well over a year. One we saw was just started and the three weavers thought they might spend seven years weaving it due to the size and complexity.
I have further thoughts on the tapestry workshops in Beauvais and Paris and will put them down in a more comprehensive blog post at some point in the future. The video below is the third episode of the video blog.
France Tapestry Tour 2019: Episode 3 Gobelin - YouTube
We took a bus about 100 km from Paris to Beauvais to see the National Tapestry Workshop there. It was an incredible day. There are three workshops supported by the state (Manufactures Nationales): Beauvais, Gobelin, and Savonnerie.
Beauvais is divided between the town of Beauvais and another site in Paris. This is because Beauvais was heavily bombed in WWII. When a new building was built decades later, weavers were able to volunteer to relocate to Beauvais so about half of them are at the workshop there and the other half are at the Gobelin in Paris.
Beauvais weavers weave on basse-lisse (low-warp) looms. Gobelin weavers weave on high-warp looms. The third workshop, the Savonnerie, makes pile rugs and we were not able to see them. They are also located in Paris. I will have more to say about the tapestry workshops at a later date, but the video blog below is a start! You can see all the episodes on my YouTube channel HERE. Make sure to click subscribe so you see my channel in your subscription list and get notifications if you choose.
I am currently on a tapestry tour of France with Cresside Collette of Australia. Cresside has run similar tours of France and the UK over the last decade. She is the perfect person to guide us in our enjoyment of tapestries made from about the 15th century to today. She was a weaver at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop (now Australian Tapestry Workshop) for 15 years and has had a successful career as an independent artist. Take a look at her website for more information and her portfolio.
We are leaving Paris tomorrow for Angers. While in Paris we have seen The Lady and the Unicorn, had a trip to Beauvais to see the tapestry manufactory there and today we went to the Gobelin and saw both the Beauvais workshop and Gobelin workshop in Paris. I will talk more about these workshops and the trip to the Cluny in future posts.
I thought I might try my had at video blogging. In the hiking world this is called vlogging. I’m actually not that good at taking video on the run, so this is a mash-up of still photos, video, and narration. It is done quickly because there is much to see and do here! But I hope you enjoy a little look at my trip to France. I’ll be doing more of these though I can’t guarantee how soon I’ll finish the videos.
France Tapestry Tour 2019: Episode 1 - YouTube
I am excited to be in France. For those of you who said I would not be able to eat anything here, this photo is for you.
I have celiac disease and can’t eat any gluten. NoGlu is a GF cafe/bakery in Paris and I went there this morning. It was fantastic.
The first time I went to Europe it was 1997. I was young and my partner at the time was busy at some herpetological conference all day for a week. So I explored Prague for a few days with the wife of another conference attendee. She was a friend of sorts back home but after what I’m about to tell you, wasn’t so keen about my company any more. I suppose I can’t blame her.
I knew nothing about travel in Europe. But once I figured out the subway, I thought I was pretty invincible. I convinced my friend to visit Prague Castle with me. After marveling at the guards and the size of the thing, we wandered down a small alley. I thought the stone walls and cobblestones were wonderful and definitely there would have been a gate or something if we were going the wrong way, right? There was the most adorable iron door in one of the walls, just taller than me with a round top to it. And it was standing ajar. I peeked through and there was a huge, somewhat overgrown garden on the other side. What the heck. I convinced my friend somehow to follow me through the gate though in her defense I still remember her protests twenty-two years later. We wandered uphill through the trees and overgrown paths and not one time did it occur to me that we shouldn’t be there.
Until we turned a corner and saw the huge double-wide gate across a cobblestone street capped by a huge stone archway. I realized I had seen that gate just a few hours before. From the other side. Standing on either side of it with their backs to us were uniformed guards and it didn’t take long before they spotted the two blond twenty-somethings on the wrong side of the iron. I remember some shouting and a kerfuffle and that I didn’t understand one single thing they were saying… which isn’t surprising considering my Czech vocabulary consisted of about 20 words, mostly nouns related to food. They unlocked the huge gates and motioned us through. We got an escort of eight armed guards through the center of the castle. I still remember them marching in step in a quadrant with myself and my very frightened friend walking in the middle.
We were brought to the guard house and motioned toward some chairs. Some time later a supervisor who spoke English approached us, asked for our passports which quickly disappeared, and asked what we were doing there. We told him the story of the gate and the garden and with a flurry of Czech, a young guard was dispatched to check our story. He returned ten minutes later nodding. We were warned that our passports had been noted, given them back, and dismissed. I must say that though I still love a bit of adventure, if I were faced with a suspiciously private-looking gate in the back part of a very large castle which is used for state business, I would walk on by.
I’m headed to France this weekend and the thought of exploring more castles in the name of tapestry reminds me of this story. I’m going on a tapestry tour led by Cresside Collette and we’ll see a lot of tapestries, both old and contemporary. I’m looking forward to seeing things like The Apocalypse of Angers, La Dame å la Licorne, and Lurçat’s Song of the World. We’ll also get to see some contemporary studios and workshops. I’ve taken a little time to do some study including reading the English translation of Lurçat’s book, Designing Tapestry, and a little poking through the stacks of old books in my office about European tapestry.
I am looking forward to seeing some of the huge tapestry cycles in person. I think the scale of these monumental tapestries can’t be appreciated from photographs. I’ve been thinking about Lurçat’s contention that tapestry is a monumental art and that it became this through its connection with architecture. And the architecture of the 14th through 17th centuries in Europe was certainly monumental. I’m also interested to see some of the very French techniques, especially hachure. My rudimentary understanding of this technique isn’t something I could ever really get past without concerted study in France, but I think looking for its uses in extant tapestries will be a start.
I expect to see a fair amount of tapestries like this early 16th century Flemish work I saw being restored at the Denver Art Museum. (I show more images of old tapestries being restored from the Denver Art Museum in THIS and THIS post.)
Tapestry being restored at the Denver Art Museum, 2015
I expect to see a lot of work like this in France. But I also expect to come away with more insight into the shift from reproductive monumental tapestry prominent in the middle ages to the shifts in the mid 20th century spearheaded by Jean Lurçat. Perhaps if I ask the right questions I’ll even get a clearer picture of where tapestry is today.
Birth of the Prince of Peace, detail, early 16th century Flemish tapestry being restored at the Denver Art Museum, 2015
Back in the day I was into scrapbooking. And I made a lengthy one about the trip to Prague, thus the photo below of Prague Castle, scene of my adventurous misstep.
Image of Prague Castle from my 1997 scrapbook. The garden gate is not in this image.
A literary aside…
In my combing of tapestry books over the last year, a fascinating passage in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Antiquary, came to my attention. The scene of finding the tapestries filling the chamber, the description of the figures, and the story of his dreams in which one of the characters approaches him, transforms, and attempts to communicate something from a book he is holding is wonderful. Sir Walter Scott was Scottish and lived from 1771 to 1832. If you love the language of a great writer, read on. If not, spend just a moment imagining the dark room, dying fire, and a bed hung all around with handwoven tapestry covered with figures. Note: Arras is another word for tapestry.
The guest, thus separated from the living world, took up the candle and surveyed the apartment. The fire blazed cheerfully. Mrs. Grizel’s attention had left some fresh wood, should he choose to continue it, and the apartment had a comfortable, though not a lively appearance. It was hung with tapestry, which the looms of Arras had produced in the sixteenth century, and which the learned typographer, so often mentioned, had brought with him as a sample of the arts of the Continent. The subject was a hunting-piece; and as the leafy boughs of the forest-trees, branching tapestry, formed the predominant colour, the apartment had thence acquired its name of the Green Chamber. Grim figures in the old Flemish dress, with slashed doublets covered with ribbands, short cloaks, and trunk-hose, were engaged in holding grey-hounds, or stag-hounds, in the leash, or cheering them upon the objects of their game. Others, with boar-spears, swords, and old-fashioned guns, were attacking stags or boars whom they had brought to bay. the branches of the woven forest were crowded with fowls of various kinds, each depicted with its proper plumage. . . . ”I have heard,” muttered Lovel, as he took a cursory view of the room and its furniture, “that ghosts often chose the best room in the mansion to which they attached themselves. . . .” It is seldom that sleep, after such violet agitation, is either sound or refreshing. Lovel’s was disturbed by a thousand baseless and confused visions. . . . He was, then, or imagined himself, broad awake in the Green Chamber, gazing upon the flickering and occasional flame which the unconsumed remnants of the faggots sent forth. . . . Insensibly the legend of Aldobrand Oldenbuck, and his mysterious visits to the inmates of the chamber, awoke in his mind, and with it, as we often feel in dreams, an anxious and fearful expectation, which seldom fails instantly to summon up before our mind’s eye the object of our fear. Brighter sparkles of light flashed from the chimney, with such intense brilliancy as to enlighten all the room. The tapestry waved wildly on the wall, till its dusky forms seemed to become animated. The hunters blew their horns—the stag seemed to fly, the boar to resist, and the hounds to assail the one and pursue the other; the cry of deer, mangled by throttling dogs—the shouts of men, and the clatter of horses hoofs, seemed at once to surround him—while every group pursued, with all the fury of the chase, the employment in which the artist had represented them as engaged. Lovel looked on this strange scene devoid of wonder (which seldom intrudes itself upon the sleeping fancy), but with an anxious sensation of awful fear. At length an individual figure among the tissued huntsmen, as he gazed up on them more fixedly, seemed to leave the arras and to approach the bed of the slumberer. As he drew near, his figure appeared to alter. . . . As the metamorphosis took place, the hubbub among the other personages in the arras disappeared from the imagination of the dreamer, which was now exclusively bent on the single figure before him...
— Sir Walter Scott, The Antiquary, 1816
Castles. This post is about castles.