Ellen Ramsey
Contemporary Tapestry

Tapestry at the World of Threads Festival

I recently traveled to Oakville, Ontario for the exhibition opening of the 2018 World of Threads Festival. I’m not exactly sure when I first became aware of World of Threads, but only fairly recently. This was my first time entering, but I’m sure it will not be my last. 

The festival has been going on, in various incarnations, since 1998, but first became the ambitious biennial international exhibition it is today in 2009. The 2018 edition of the Festival features 303 works by 65 artists from Canada, Denmark, England, Ireland, Hungary, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, and the USA. 

There are numerous different “exhibitions” organized thematically or as solo shows of multiple works. Because these mini-exhibitions are all in one venue and spread throughout a single building – a suburban cultural center that was once a high school – the displays flow from one to the next without boundaries. The centerpiece is the main gallery space and corridor displays roll out in every direction from this central core. The main gallery show closes at the end of November, but the Corridor displays remain on view until January 1.

A partial view of the “Botanical Realm” display at WOT. From left to right, Ragnhild Monsen, Butterfly Days  (tapestry), Sue Moran, Incantation (surface design), and Ellen Ramsey, Satori (tapestry)

There was so much to see and I came away very inspired and energized. I will blog here about the work I found most inspiring divided by categories. I will start with my own area of expertise: tapestry. 

One of my favorite tapestries in the Festival was by Ragnhild Monsen of Norway. It was actually two monumental tapestries titled Defragmentation White and Defragmentation Black.  This work anchored the main gallery, which was organized around the theme of “Flow.” 

Ragnhild Monsen, Defragmentaion White and Defragmentation Black

Ragnhild traveled to opening with her husband and sister. She has a studio in Oslo where she weaves on an upright loom with the warps tied to heavy weights to maintain the tension. Like so many tapestry weavers, she was warm and generous and we forged an instant connection. She told me that her two tapestries were submitted separately and she had never thought to exhibit them as a pair. She was really pleased by their impact as a dichotomy. I was too!  The label did not indicate the dimensions, but I would guess that they were each 3 meters square. 

Defragmentation Black, detail

Her imagery here is biomorphic and reads equally as tidal, cellular, and cosmic.  She combines contrasting materials to create deep absorbing blacks with flecks of shiny fiber that catch the light.  It is deceptively colorful and really fun to examine up close. The setts she uses are approximately 2 epi and 4 epi.  

As a person, Ragnhild is at once both serious and intellectually deep, and happy and fun to talk to. Funny how that describes her tapestries as well. She was wearing a wildly colored jacket and she gave many of us a catalog that depicts her flying upside down on a swing on the cover. 

Ragnhild Monsen, Butterfly Days

Ragnhild also had a piece in the Botanical Realm show called Butterfly Days.  Like her other work, the surface very textural and features many color changes. This playful piece features three setts (2,4,8 epi) with 4 epi being the primary. 

Butterfly Days, detail

Another tapestry weaver I had the pleasure of meeting in Oakville was Lisa Korsgren from Sweden.  Lisa exhibited one tapestry entitled Morning Haze.

Lisa Korsgren, Morning Haze

I had seen this one before in print, so it was a rare treat to see it in the wool and get to meet Lisa. She learned from Helena Hernmark in her studio in Sweden and continues to be mentored by her. The soft atmospheric qualities of Lisa’s tapestry are really mesmerizing.  Like her work, Lisa is soft spoken, kind spirited, and kind of glows from within. She has 6 children - she must have truly been the calm within the storm at her house when they were small!

Morning Haze, detail

Last, but certainly not least in the category of amazing tapestry, is the work of Ixchel Suarez. I have followed Ixchel’s work for many years, and it is because of her promotion of past editions of World of Threads on Facebook that I came to know of the Festival’s existence. Ixchel is a native of Mexico, but she has lived in Oakville Ontario for many years.  I believe she has shown in every iteration of the World of Threads Festival, and she has served on the organizing committee in the past. To be honest, I traveled across a continent to the opening because I felt that I needed to meet her. 

Ixchel Suarez, Erosion

Ixchel’s piece, Erosion, is based on an aerial photo of the African savanna.  In the source imagery there is not much color and one can see the patterns of the eroding landscape.  In her tapestry, this African landscape gets “Ixchelisized” into a riot of saturated purples, greens, and electric blue (think Frida Kahlo, whom I believe she channels). She adds texture with acid green coils, fuzzy loofas, sari silk ends, and beads from Ghana. Ixchel is all about bling! It is a small piece (for Ixchel) measuring maybe 18” x 30” – again just a guestimate – but it is bold and reads larger.

Erosion, detail

If you don’t already know, Ixchel is one of the most generous people you will ever meet.  The day after the festival opening she hosted myself and Lisa Korsgren at her art studio business, the Canada Tapestry and Texture Center.  There are so many colors and layers to this creative lady that to do justice to all that I experienced in my day with her, I will need to write about it in a separate blog post. Stay tuned! I will return to the topic of Ixchel and the CTTC when I am done blogging about the Festival exhibitions.

There were not a lot of tapestries in World of Threads, but viewers clearly love them.  If you weave, I encourage you to enter WOT 2020! In addition to the three artists in this post and my own there were just two additional tapestry artists accepted, both Canadians.  I’ve included images of their work below.

Another very inspiring artist weaver represented in the show, although not a tapestry weaver per se, was Elise Vazelakis (USA).  There were four very large and impressive steel wire weavings by Elise in the main gallery that incorporated discontinuous threads, paint, and mixed metals. I loved the shapes and their presence on the wall. As installations, they were exceptionally successful.

Next post I will share my favorite stitched and embroidered work featured in the World of Threads Festival.  There was a LOT of it. You are in for a treat!

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