Je Suis un Lissier

I trace my tapestry “lineage” to the French tradition through Mary Lane via Ruth Scheuer via Jean Pierre Larochette and the San Francisco Tapestry Workshop, active 1977-1988. How Jean Pierre ended up in the USA in the first place is a fascinating story. To learn about this historical period, I highly recommend Jean Pierre’s and Yael Lurie’s recently published memoir “A Tree of Lives.”* (There is also an educational article written by Linda Rees here https://americantapestryalliance.org/tapestry-education/educational-articles-on-tapestry-weaving/the-emergence-of-contemporary-tapestry-an-overview/)

There are two centers for tapestry production in France. Both were once “royal manufacturies” that supplied the aristocracy and the church with tapestries: Paris (Les Manufacture Gobelin) and Aubusson, a rural town in the Creuse region. As an art form patronized by the monarchy, tapestry fell out of favor and declined rapidly after the French Revolution.  However, after WWII the artist Jean Lurçat and others were able to revive and popularize the production of “modern” tapestry in Aubusson. A global interest was sparked that led to the establishment of many tapestry workshops outside of Europe.  Jean Pierre’s father, Armand Larochette, left Aubusson to establish a workshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina (where Jean Pierre was born), and later helped to establish a workshop in Nazareth Israel under the patronage of Lurçat (where Jean Pierre met Yael). 

 

Jean Pierre and Yael first came to the Bay Area in the early 1970s. They found work teaching tapestry in the textile department at San Francisco State University. In 1976 the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco hosted the exhibition Five Centuries of Tapestry. Curator Anna Bennett hired Jean Pierre and nine of his students to weave a Mark Adams tapestry design in the gallery as a public demonstration. From this experience came the founding of the San Francisco Tapestry Workshop.

One of Jean Pierre’s most serious students in San Francisco was Ruth Tanenbaum Scheuer (now Rudi Dundas). She was a founding member of the SFTW with Larochette in 1977.  She went on from there to apprentice at Les Manufacture Gobelin in Paris (I’ve heard she was one of the first Americans to do so), before returning to the USA to establish her own tapestry atelier, the Scheuer Tapestry Studio, in NYC in 1982.  While in the process of setting up her workshop, Ruth Scheuer taught a tapestry course at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts. Mary Lane was a student in this class and when Scheuer opened her tapestry workshop in New York, Mary was among her original apprentices.


The Scheuer Tapestry Studio was active from 1982 to 1989. They wove numerous large corporate and private commissions.  A gifted teacher, it became Mary’s job to teach the Gobelin techniques to subsequent apprentices at the workshop. Mary and her husband eventually settled in Olympia Washington. She continued to weave commissions and teach tapestry in her studio, and occasionally, in Seattle.

Over 300 artists were trained at the SFTW, so a lot of west coast weavers trace their tapestry ancestry back to France via Jean Pierre.  I am honored to be one of them, albeit three “generations” removed. Jean Pierre Larochette still teaches tapestry in the US and in Mexico. 

What is your tapestry ancestry?

*http://www.lurie-larochettetapestries.com/publications.html


How an Iowa Girl found her Tapestry Groove

I think it is only fitting to start this blog adventure at the beginning and tell my story: what attracted me to textiles in the first place, and how in the heck did I get into tapestry weaving?  It is a good question. 

I grew up in Iowa. Like just about every fiber artist of my generation (I’m a Boomer), my mother and grandmother were avid makers and unmistakable influences. Sewing, needlepoint, knitting, ceramics, rug hooking: I learned and practiced all these crafts as a girl. They were both into quilting, but not weaving.  Hence I knew about Amish quilt traditions but I was totally unaware of Norwegian tapestry traditions that are practiced on the Iowa/Minnesota border.  So unlike many tapestry weavers that I know, I did not come to the practice through other forms of weaving. In fact, to this day, I don’t know a thing about floor loom weaving.

In high school, I was fortunate to participate in a study abroad program in Europe.  I’m sure my parents thought it quite indulgent to allow me to go, but I can honestly say that trip
changed the course of my life. I had never even been to Chicago and suddenly I was learning about art and culture in Rome, Florence, and Paris! I saw many impressive historical tapestries on this trip. I’m sure my fiber hobbies predisposed me notice them – REALLY notice them. I became a little obsessed with the medium of tapestry.

Influenced by this European experience, I went on to study art and art history at the University of Iowa. Unfortunately, there was no textiles department at UI. However, the bookstore carried FiberArts Magazine, and through that publication I discovered that a contemporary tapestry movement was flourishing in the ‘80’s. I vowed I would find a way to learn to learn the craft someday. Had the internet existed, I’m sure my path would have been very different, but as it was I did not have the time or the mobility required to find instruction for many years.

Fast forward a decade to the late 90s and, via a convoluted path, I am living in Seattle, Washington. I’m still pouring over every issue of FiberArts and dreaming of weaving tapestries. I had just put my high paying (hahaha) career in the museum field on hold to raise my young  children when I found out that master weaver Mary Lane lived in the area and she taught tapestry. (Sky opens and angels sing) My time had come! Thereafter, I was incredibly fortunate to be able to study traditional French (“Gobelin”) tapestry technique with Mary one day per week for three years. When my youngest started kindergarten I bought a 4’ Shannock tapestry loom and was off to the races. Twenty years later, I’m still at it.  (Mary, if you are reading this – THANK YOU!!)

But there is more to this story – learning French tapestry technique in Seattle? 
How the heck did THAT happen? Stay tuned.

Can you relate to my story?  If you are interested in reading how other weavers came to discover tapestry, the American Tapestry Alliance has compiled a collection of such stories here:  https://americantapestryalliance.org/resources/share-your-story-2/how-did-you-discover-tapestry/


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