Tapestries in Contemporary Culture
The developments of the 20th century paved the way for artists like Sheila Hicks, who had a large retrospective in 2011 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. She alternates between making free-form fiber sculptures and weaving tapestries at a loom. Hicks, who is based in Paris, is currently in the middle of a commission from the French government to create a tapestry in the famed Gobelins workshop, established in the 15th century as a decorative arts center with tapestry at its heart.
“They’re so labor-intensive,” says Hicks, who is devoting two years to this new project. “It’s so much more challenging to make one, but once it’s finished, there’s a great sense of accomplishment.” Her current 9x6-foot piece at Gobelins, an abstract composition that references landscapes, will be in wool. Her colors are evocative in and of themselves: gold, bronze, ochre, cadmium, and moss green, the last of which is a venerable tapestry tone because of its frequent use in woven Renaissance landscapes.
Hicks loves many things about this form, including its portability. “A tapestry is an old-fashioned thing that fits our nomadic existence,” she says. “You don’t just hang it on the wall and contemplate it. It’s an extension of your life. You can even wrap yourself in it.”
Shown above is a 20th-century French tapestry woven in the Aubusson workshop of Raymond Picaud and signed by French artist Marc Petit.