Deriving from the old French word ‘tapis’ meaning ‘to carpet’, tapestry is the beautifully intricate art of creating a piece of thick textile fabric with pictures or designs – formed by weaving coloured weft threads or by embroidering on canvas.
The Australian Tapestry Workshop (ATW) enjoys an international reputation as a leader in contemporary tapestry production. Established as the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in 1976, it is the only workshop of its kind in Australia and one of only a handful remaining in the world for the production of hand-woven tapestries. ATW carries on the traditions of its sister workshop, the Manufacture des Gobelins located in Paris – best known as a royal factory supplying the court of the French monarchs since Louis XIV.
Using time-honoured techniques employed in Europe for centuries, ATW produces tapestries that are known universally for their vibrancy, technical accomplishment and inventive interpretation. In creative partnerships, contemporary artists and architects work in a broad scope of art forms, challenging ATW’s specialist tapestry weavers to experiment with interpretation, colour and technique – as well as working with specialist master dyer, Tony Stefanovski, to create new yarn tones. Each tapestry is uniquely hand-woven in the organisation’s South Melbourne studio. ATW hosts a broad range of public programs including talks, exhibitions, artists in residence as well as cultural and community activities in its beautiful heritage building.
Created by ATW, the majestic tapestries in the entrance to Sofitel Melbourne On Collins are two of Melbourne’s most significant public art works. Commissioned in 1978, Wattle and Pink Heath remain as some of the largest works to come out of the Workshop. In 1979 Robert Lym, one of the firm’s senior interior designers, became excited at the prospect of commissioning two tapestries for the hotel foyer – after reading about the Workshop in an in-flight magazine while flying to Australia. It was a bold idea at the time but a subsequent exhilarating visit to the Workshop with its teams of collaborative weavers weaving hundreds of beautiful, coloured threads into pictures and forms confirmed his desire to proceed with the commissions.
Lym considered a range of suitable motifs from Australia’s diverse array of flora but it was left to a workshop artist and weaver, Marie Cook, to finally paint designs that all agreed were the most visually interesting and most appropriate. The two designs would employ the bold yellow forms of Australia’s national flower, the yellow Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) and the flaming tubular pink clusters of the common Pink Heath (Epacris impressa), Victoria’s state floral emblem.
Pink Heath was woven first. Owing to the size of loom available the tapestry was woven on its side, limiting the numbers of weavers able to work at any time. When Wattle was woven a new eight-metre loom was purchased and it was woven horizontally to accommodate more weavers and speed up the job. The tapestries have interlaced an exciting mix of French elegance with Australian artistry, truly magnifique for Sofitel Melbourne On Collins.
Pink Heath 1979
Designed by Marie Cook and woven by Marie Cook, Andrea May, Sue Hick and Ian Young.
Wool, cotton, 3.56 x 6.09 m.
Designed by Marie Cook and woven by Marie Cook, Jan Nelson, Wendy Webb, Cheryl Thornton, Gordon Cameron, Irja West, Ilona Fornalski and Kathy Hope.
Wool, cotton, 3.66 x 6.09 m.
Visit the Australian Tapestry Workshop to see the weavers in action
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