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©2005 American Tapestry Alliance

          A Quarterly Review of Tapestry Art Today

Fall 2005 Vol 31 No 3

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Note: Tapestry Topics Online has been trimmed down in order to present color images with selected excerpts from the printed version, available to members by mail. For the full articles refer to the printed Fall 2005 issue.
Index of Content

Narrative Options

by Archie Brennan

– TT p.3-5

Each of these sophisticated and complex [“The Hunt of the Unicorn.”] tapestries is filled with incident, complete in itself, that presents one chapter of the story. The pictorial content is wonderfully organized with never a weak passage, but the great reward for me now are the seemingly endless minor details, each of small significance to the bigger picture, but giving so much. . .

Other options [than hatching] are most clearly expressed in the “Devonshire Hunting Tapestries” at the Victorian & Albert Museum in London. . . The illusion of textiles already woven moved me in the 1960’s to adapt this for imagery of clothing and fabric in my time. It is a graphic pursuit that is still undiminished, with new associations and questions that regularly surface in my head and my work. It is the ambiguity of the overall tapestry cloth also carrying illusions of varying surface materials, weaves and patterns that set up the curious and delightful contradictions between image, form, and flatness.

Archie Brennan, Shadow, 10"x10"

Most of the Harrania tapestries are woven from the front, and from bottom to top. I have adopted this approach in about nine out of ten tapestries I weave, reveling in the sequence of meeting incidents of imagery, particularly on a preferred format that is a vertical shape, more narrow in width than height. This is arguably the more awkward way, where the process exposes steps and slits, and it raises more questions in the making. But the open journey up the warp, with no pre-planned design, makes this approach a living, risky, unknown adventure that is so rewarding. . .

Tom Phillips, a London painter, collaborated with us at Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios. After a successful tapestry together we set out with a 2 feet width of warp; an indefinite warp length, and a title “Complete Colour Catalogue.” Throw a pair of dice to let chance decide choice and amount of each color and that was our design. It made a tapestry that was as revealing to me as any I have made since its completion in 1973.

Tom Phillips and Archie Brennan, Complete Color Catalogue, reproduced from Master Weavers, Tapestry from the Dovecot Studios, 1912-1980, Canongate Publishers, Edinburgh, p.29, 1980.

All this is leading to Susan Martin Maffei’s “Blessing of the Animals” . . . . This 1999 tapestry reaches a peak in her reconsideration of that earlier approach. First, without question, it is meant to hang, not only physically but visually. The pictorial content of this cloth accepts, echoes and exploits this characteristic, all quite in contrast to the even tension inherent in mural and flat canvas painting. . .

It uses the final top passages of weaving, which depict a host of angels above a horizontal musical score, to both fix the hanging edge and close off the narrative. Now look at how the varying height of each band of incidents, from the base where the weaving began on upwards, plays a role in acting visually as a weight to counter the fixed top edge. . . See how the story grows as the people and animals gather to move up the steps. There is interplay between each incident, each passage, and interplay in size, color, and diverse handling of detail. The illusions of spatial depth countered by the flatness of the Cathedral facade consistently accepts and establishes the picture plane -- in fact uses it, never denying its physical reality, a flat surface.

Susan Martin Maffei, Blessing of the Animals, 79" x 59", 1997, photo by Susan Martin Maffei

Finally, Susan wove the tapestry without any design preparation, no paper cartoon, so that each decision about content and narrative she made was stimulated and triggered by the completed weaving below. . . It is undeniably, an important tapestry.

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