2007 was my first time here in this city. I was 19 and I barely knew anything about art. I would go to the Louvre and see all those tapestry and say to my self “What beautiful carpets they have here!” Yes, I said that to myself. I was naive and didn’t know about culture. But now that I know better, let me share a thing or two about tapestry from our cultural visit in Les Gobelins.
Les Gobelins used to be a large community where artisans worked. The artisans basically lived in the world of tapestry. They had everything they need in the area such as residence, shops, etc. As the times changed, Les Gobelins became a manufacturing complex and museum as it is today. Our class was privileged enough to have access to the actual workshop but photos were not allowed inside.
Tapestry in its most technical description is weaving coloured weft threads using a vertical loom. It starts out as a concept that is rendered in to a small artwork. This is then projected that will be used as a guide for the artisans to weave the colors accordingly. They basically work on the wrongside of the tapestry. You’ll see spools of colored threads hanging from the huge roll of warp that acts as the background or like a canvas to a painter. As they weave the threads, they use a mirror to see their progress if the colors blend well and if the original concept is followed.
Threads they use are either naturally or synthetically colored. At Les Gobelins, they have a separate building to dye their own threads. They use different dyes both natural and synthetic. From a collection of thousands of colors, they still continuously add new ones as needed.
The whole process takes at least two (2) to as much as six (6) years to complete; from concept, to dyeing and to the actual weaving. It requires a keen attention to detail, hard work, and patience.
The final products that you see in museums usually look like these. These were used by the royalties to decorate their chateaux and like any other form of luxury, to manifest their authority. They commissioned artists to create tapestry and thus the industry flourished.
Today, they continue creating tapestry primarily to preserve the workmanship or savoir-faire. The creations are not the usual ones you see in the museums. What they create now are, but not limited to, contemporary art, graphic images, and recreation of classics. What’s interesting is that artisans will have a different output even if the design is basically the same. So they may have different versions of Monet’s Waterlilies like this is one below.
Few of my favorites are these because they are definitely products of pure hardwork and excellent craftsmanship.
This one below would be my favorite. It does not look like tapestry at all. The artisan was able to capture the characteristics of a brush stroke with different color intensity and blending. If you can see the small splash marks on the lower right, those used at least 10 colors just to have a natural effect. The technique in the spacing and application it is just pure genius. I just fell in love with it.
I don’t think I will ever be in this industry but its very interesting to be exposed to this kind of craftsmanship. And almost always, craft-making provides a life lesson. There are things in life that we can rush such as Instagram. The very title is to instantly record something. Get an existing photo, crop, filter and VOILA! For some, it’s already art. However more often than not, the things we treasure the most are those that we have worked hard for. As they say, there are no shortcuts to success, in the same way that masterpieces like these are not realized in 5 seconds. You just got to let yourself and time take its time because in the end you’ll know it is definitely worth it.
Disclaimer: All photos are used solely for my personal interpretation and reflection and are not to be reproduced or reused.