The History of Tapestry Weaving in New Zealand

Esther Archdall
Matrix of Light, 1984
26 in x23 in. Cotton warp wool weft. 8epi.
Collection of The Christchurch Art Gallery

ATA is excited to share Marilyn Rea-Menzies’ take on the history of tapestry in New Zealand. Travel to a continent that does not boast the extensive history of Western tapestry practice that might be found in other parts of Europe. Marilyn Rea-Menzies provides viewers with an incredible array of images that will be sure to inspire future tapestry weavers. To read the complete essay by Rea-Menzies, please go here.

Tapestry weaving in New Zealand has a fairly short history compared with other countries around the world. However, tapestry weaving is alive and well in this country, but because it is a European tradition and not part of our art heritage the average New Zealander does not understand what tapestry is. Most believe it is needlepoint and embroidery and there is little comprehension of the history of tapestry, its standing in the art world overseas, or the demands placed on the artist/weaver in terms of skill, time, and commitment. When it is understood that it is in fact, weaving, it is looked on as a cottage industry or women’s work with no art value as such. This is slowly changing with the onset of craft disciplines such as fiber art, the use of alternative materials in conceptual art, and being more widely accepted within art schools and galleries as another viable art form. In the 1980s, architects were more open to including tapestries within their buildings, but that does not seem to be the case anymore. 

The Millennium Tapestry, 1999-2000
197 in x 118 in
Cotton warp, wool weft, 7epi.

Commissioned by the Christchurch City Council in 1999, The Millennium Tapestry was designed by Philip Trusttum a major New Zealand artist, and woven in Marilyn’s studio as a Community Arts Project for the Millennium.  Almost 3,000 people sat down to weave a small section of this tapestry and it is now hanging in the Christchurch City Council Building.

About Marilyn Rea-Menzies

Marilyn has been drawing and painting since the age of 12. Originally trained as a teacher, she discovered, very young in life, that her greatest passion lies in art.

Marilyn believes that drawing is the basis of all good work. A devoted artist since the 1970’s Marilyn is now working from her studio/gallery in her hometown of Westport, New Zealand.  She has exhibited many times in both group and solo exhibitions in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Her most recent exhibition ‘Extinction is Forever’ features tapestries, paintings, and drawings and has traveled around the country.  Marilyn’s tapestries adorn many public spaces and private homes both in New Zealand and overseas.  Her lively tapestry portraits have won the hearts, as well as the tears of many. Her latest public tapestry commission was the double-sided ‘Kowhai Tapestry Screen’ at Government House in Wellington. Marilyn also paints and draws and has produced a large amount of work in mixed-medium, including photography.