_inside by wanghonghx


									     Over the years I have heard about the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, but have never before
     taken the time to visit the weavers in situ. Those who have talk about the institution in
     hushed tones, in awe of the prodigiously talented artists who work their magic with loom
     and thread. With the appointment of a new and dynamic director, it seems the perfect time
     to make the journey and talk to Antonia Syme about current projects and her vision for the
     future, and to meet some of the very special craftspeople who interpret all manner of art
     through the medium of tapestry.

     text Jan Henderson
     photography Agnese Sanvito


50        (inside)                www.australiandesignreview.com/feature   bespoke Victorian   Tapestry Workshop
                                         E    stablished in 1976 by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, the
                                              Victorian Tapestry Workshop is located in the inner city Melbourne
                                         suburb of South Melbourne.
                                             Supported by the Victorian Government and Arts Victoria, the
                                         Workshop is overseen by an independent board of directors with Dame
                                         Elisabeth still serving as beloved patron. There have been more than 400
                                         tapestries commissioned over the 33 years and many of them grace public
                                         spaces throughout Australia: The Reception Hall Tapestry in Parliament
                                         House, Canberra, the second largest tapestry in the world; the Federation
                                         Tapestry, the 43-metre monumental work at the Melbourne Museum;
                                         the Kemp Suite of six pieces in the Great Hall at the National Gallery of
                                         Victoria; and Homage to Carl Philippe Emmanuel Bach in the Sydney
                                         Opera House; to name but a few.
                                             The Workshop’s premises comprise three large shopfronts with
                                         immense windows that afford a panoramic view of the street. Passers-by
                                         can peer into the front rooms where bobbins of coloured thread,
                                         finished tapestry works and paintings are showcased in the large
                                         white areas. They seldom, however, see the heart of the Workshop – a
                                         light bright space where some 10 weavers work throughout the day
                                         re-interpreting the paintings and photographs of some of Australia’s
                                         foremost artists, to create exquisitely detailed hand-woven masterpieces.
                                         There is no trace of the musty workrooms of Mediaeval England, just a
                                         contemporary space going about the business of executing 21st century
                                         cutting edge design.
                                             Along with the multitude of wools and bobbins, workbenches and
                                         dividers, the looms are placed at regular intervals in the middle of the
                                         space. Some measure several metres in width and height; others are
                                         smaller to accommodate just one worker. At any one time there can
                                         be several commissions in progress and these works take months, even
                                         years, to complete. The most remarkable feature of the workroom is
                                         the lack of computers. Certainly the administration staff who share
                                         the floor have the technological trappings, but the processes that
                                         translate the chosen artwork into tapestry are achieved solely by the
                                         eye and the skill of the weaver.
                                             Talking to Syme about the Workshop is a passionate affair. Her
                                         admiration for the artisans and her determination to showcase their work
                                         on a world stage are infectious. Explaining the commissioning process,
                                         Syme comments that projects can occur in a variety of ways. “Sometimes
                                         there’s a predominance of federal or state government commissions. For
                                         example, during the bicentennial year, there was a very large commission
                                         for the Museum of Victoria from federation funding, but there’s also a
                                         large amount of private commissions such as that for the Royal Children’s
                                         Hospital,” she explains.
                                             Regarding subject or context, Syme says, “Some clients come with a
                                         selected artist and design in mind. At other times the client may want a
                                         range of artists suggested to them, and we’ll work through that process of
                                         finding which artist might best suit their requirements, then work with
                                         the artist from an existing design or create a new design for the project.”
                                             Once the actual artwork is decided on, the weaving process commences.
                                         The leader of the commission has complete control; however, weaving is
                                         a collaborative concern and the strengths and experience of co-workers
                                         often prove to be invaluable. A cartoon is drawn to size, hung behind the
                                         loom and the warp is marked with the main outline. A storyboard is then
                                         prepared by weaving ‘spot tests’ of representative areas of the image. At
                                         this stage the artist is invited back to the Workroom to discuss difficulties
                                         or interpretative changes and the intricacies of colour matching are
                                         explored. Of course colour is integral and the skill of the weaver is brought
                                         to the fore when blending the many shades of wool to achieve the depth
                                         and subtleties required.

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52        (inside)   www.australiandesignreview.com/feature   bespoke Victorian   Tapestry Workshop
                                                                        01.                                          04.
                                                                        Elizabeth Marks McNamara’s Creek Bed         Sue Batten and John Dicks.
                                                                        is a work in progress at the Victorian
                                                                        Tapestry Workshop.                           05.
                                                                                                                     Amy Cornall.
                                                                        Trevor Nickolls’ Kimberley Under the Stars   06.
                                                                        will hang in the Australian Embassy in       Pamela Joyce.

                                                                        The completed tapestry The Games
                                                                        Children Play by Robert Ingpen is ready
                                                                        to be trimmed from the loom and sent to
                                                                        be hung in the Royal Children’s Hospital
                                                                        in Melbourne.

04                                                                            05                                           06


JoHn DickS                                                              Sue BATTen
John Dicks came to weaving late in life. Formerly an actor and          Sue Batten is one of the senior weavers having worked at the
theatre director in England, Dicks arrived in Australia in the late     Tapestry Workshop periodically since 1977. Initially trained as a
1990s. His interest in weaving was sparked when he received a           fibre artist in her teens she learned her trade as an apprentice with
book on tapestry for his 50th birthday. He decided to follow this       the Workshop and subsequently worked on many commissions,
new passion and enrolled in tapestry classes at the CAE, then           leaving to establish her own studio and finally returning some years
moved onto RMIT to study textile production and design. He              later. She is generous with her knowledge and sees weaving as a
subsequently accepted a position with the Victorian Tapestry            collaborative art and a continual learning experience. She was the
Workshop and is now a full-time member of the staff. He was lead        lead weaver for Robert Ingpen’s, The Games Children Play tapestry
weaver on the Trevor Nickolls’ tapestry Kimberley Under the Stars       for the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne and has worked on
soon to be sent to the Australian Embassy in Washington and             many of the major tapestries that have passed through the premises
worked with Sue Batten on the Robert Ingpen tapestry, The Games         over the years.
Children Play.
                                                                        PAmelA Joyce
Amy cornAll                                                             Another member of the senior weaving staff, Pamela discovered her
This is the first full-time position that Amy Cornall has held,         love of textiles as a child. She completed an arts course majoring in
arriving at the Workshop by a circuitous route. Always interested       textiles and then commenced weaving with the Workshop in 1980.
in tapestry as a child, she investigated other potential careers, at    Back at the loom after taking a break to raise her family, her passion
one stage contemplating a career as an acrobat, before joining the      for her craft is palpable. Even the physical demands of weaving
Workshop in 2004. She was lead weaver on the contemporary Song          for seven hours daily do not dim her artistic spirit. Her love of
Ling tapestry Kong Fu – Our Dream 1, bound for Deakin University,       Indigenous art is now satisfied as she is currently the lead weaver
Melbourne and is currently completing the tapestry cum electronic       on the Elizabeth Marks McNamara tapestry Creek Bed, which is
musical instrument, the theremin, for the international singing         destined for the Australian Embassy in Paris.
group Chicks on Speed.

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54        (inside)   www.australiandesignreview.com/feature   bespoke Victorian   Tapestry Workshop

Unlike other tapestry institutions around the
world Australia is unfettered by custom or                                    Storyboard for the contemporary Song
                                                                              Ling tapestry, Kong Fu – Our Dream 1
tradition and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop                                 that will be hung in Deakin University,

is renowned for the contemporary nature of                                    08.
                                                                              The hands of Amy Cornall work
its commissions.                                                              dexterously to complete the tapestry
                                                                              cum musical instrument or theremin for
                                                                              Chicks on Speed.

For example in the Trevor Nickolls tapestry, Kimberley Under the Stars,       people that view the tapestries are transported to another world by the
black is definitely not just black. Initially the background was woven        intensity and drama of the works.
purely with black wool; however, after discussion with the artist this was        The Victorian Tapestry Workshop is young and vibrant, always
thought to look ‘too flat’. The solution was to introduce blue and green      reaching out to broaden its artistic horizon. A Craft Victoria project for
threads to inject life and texture into the solid colour.                     Chicks on Speed, an avant-garde singing group, is a case in point. This
    Unlike other tapestry institutions around the world Australia is          is a tapestry interwoven with gingham fabric strips and interspersed
unfettered by custom or tradition and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop         with pieces of gauze ribbon. Copper wire has been threaded through the
is renowned for the contemporary nature of its commissions. It is             tapestry and on completion these wires will be attached to a computer
this that distinguishes it from its peers. From the many projects that        and the work will be transformed into an electronic musical instrument
have passed through its doors one genre stands centre stage, that             or theremin. It takes an adventurous weaver, a supportive board and an
of Indigenous art. Interpreting the complex nature of the works is            enthusiastic director to stretch the boundaries like this.
a perfect foil for the talented weavers. Many of the works are of an              The Victorian Tapestry Workshop just happens to be located in
immense size and all involve the translation of intricate brush strokes       Melbourne, but it is truly a national institution. The works that are
and a particular clarity of bold and dynamic colours. The weavers love        produced here are not only world-class, but in a class of their own. Visit
the projects, the artists are amazed at the skill of the exposition and       them and see for yourself. (inside)

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