Friday, 23 February 2018

A Polish tapestry

Recently a Polish tapestry came up for sale on an auction site and I bought it as I have been interested in various former Soviet countries' tapestry cultures for a while now and have been gathering a few books on the tapestries of Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Russia. So finding a tapestry from 1975 or so seems to fit very well with my readings of that era.

You may ask what it is in these tapestries I like - I was introduced to tapestry weaving in Denmark as a teenager in the mid-1980s. This was a time when the aesthetic of the fibre arts movement had been disseminated for a while through various publications and books, mostly of a 'how to' nature and I went regularly to the local library to explore the latest in tapestry weaving books. Of course these books did not deal with Eastern bloc tapestry, but the aesthetic was hinted at in the use of natural fibres, natural colours or vegetable died yarn. I don't really remember what the iconography related to - probably themes such as butterflies, abstraction, or evocations of folk tapestry motifs - like in Sweden Danish folk textiles used a type of kelim type of design, and my mother has such a weaving from 1906 or so.

Whatever it was, I was hooked on tapestry and used homespun coarse wool, explored exposing the warp, used dog hair yarn and other experimental elements. And now, decades later, as I slowly re-engage with tapestry weaving, and with experimental art work, I find going to the Eastern European weavers as they were then, now Baltic, Polish, Hungarian and so on, there is much to learn from them. There is just a tiny hint of the innovations from the Polish art weavers of the 1960s who came from art colleges and the unique experimental tapestry culture they experienced there.

This may all sound a bit rambling, but I don't want to pursue a major exposition on the last 50 years of tapestry weaving, just to say that I think the 1960s and -70s fibrearts continue to be a great source of inspiration and freedom of thinking about the medium. Much focus on the tradition of tapestry and a purist frame of mind around the perfect surface and reproducibility can be useful in commercial work, but I prefer the freedom and openness to possibilities that the medium can also provide and which was proven so well by the fibre artists of the mid 20th century.

So here is the main body of the tapestry - there is no maker's mark, no label on the reverse:

When it was shown on the auction site it was very difficult to see the proper colouring, the details and full scale of the piece. It is around 99 x 124 cm large, a good size, and the weft is thick. There is a pale yellow border down the sides and the image is of flowers - not sure what they are meant to be, but you can see that the flowers are made up of small round details that either sit in a plant arrangement or are scattered on what might be the ground. in any case there is good use of colour, nice shadowing techniques and it deserves to be seen as a whole. I took a picture of it outside to show the colours better, but indoors I suspect it will have a warmer feel, those oranges, reds and brown will provide a warmish glow.

Details of the tapestry

A detail of the back of the tapestry that shows how thick the weft is. The warp is linen and a hem has been woven to enable the top and lower edges to be folded back. It looks as if the tapestry was glued(!) to something for hanging purposes which is not great, and I will be sewing on a strip of fabric to enable it to be hung with a pole.

Perhaps not the greatest work of art but still a decent and robust piece and I do like the flower details a lot. I am hoping that it will continue to spread a little inspiration as I walk past it or sit and mull over what to do next. In a way it would have been nice to know who the maker was, I do not think it was necessarily a hobbyist, but it could have been I suppose. A professional would have left their mark, or perhaps someone took off the label which would have told us more.


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