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An article by Thomas Cronenberg
printed in Textileforum 2/2010 June

It has been 20 years since Textileforum devoted an issue to tapestry. The last time the magazine wrote about tapestry in similar depth, in 1990, there was a bit of a buzz surrounding the art form: The impetus of the Melbourne conference of 1988 was still fresh, ITNET Newsletter had just begun publishing, the first online itnet tapestry exhibition organized by Helga Berry had appeared, and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop was busy. In North America there was energy coming from an enclave of weavers in the San Francisco Bay Area, American Tapestry Alliance was gaining momentum, and the Americans had held a tapestry forum of their own in Portland, Oregon.

Here and there, individual weavers enjoyed mainstream recognition. Commercial institutions still had money to spend on high-profile commissions, including tapestry commissions. In Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of a devided Europe heralded a new era and new opportunities on both sides of the Continent.

Fast forward 20 years, and tapestry ia in a very different place. Though art markets have boomed and possibilities for artists have blossomed, tapestry weavers again face an uphill battle, only exacerbated by the financial crisis. There is also an education problem: fascinated by digital imagery, few young people hold a serious interest in tapestry or its laborious process. As a result, formal opportunities for tapestry education are dwindling.

The art form suffers from a unique blend of disadvantages: Difficult to master, the technique is very timeconsuming, making output low and the product expensive. As a result, few weavers gain the name recognition needed to convince buyers to invest in or collect their work. Admist emty public coffers, commissions are rare. Many artists are forced to make money elsewhere, slowing down their output even more.

Though crafts have made a comeback recently, the zeitgeist seems against tapestry. Poised somewhere between craft and art, at least in the popular estimation, tapestry has a few champions among art critics or museum curators. Whith the Lausanne Biennial firmly behind us, and the influence of the international Tapestry Triennial in Poland waning, weavers have few established international showcases for their work.

But this editorial - and this special issue - are not ment to amount to tapestry's swan song. On the contrary: tapestry weaving is alive and well, albeit in niches, thanks to the tenacity of tapestry weavers and their admirers. Far from wringling their hands and resting on their laurels, tapestry weavers have responded to their situation with admirable chutzpah, imagination and determination, and quietly set about building their own networks for information and inspiration; training and education; and their own exhibition platforms.

In this special edition, with the help of Textileforum's Beatrijs Sterk and a number of commissioned authors, I have chosen to highlight a number of notable tapestry artists and the initiatives they have founded and nurtured to ensure a future for tapestry in the 21st century. These include professional groups like American Tapestry Alliance and European Tapestry Forum and their juried bi- and triennial shows as well as Norway's ARAKNE group and the British Tapestry Group which all help alert the public and critics to the possibilities of tapestry as a current, contemporary fine art medium. I believe these initiatives are doing much to once again raise the profile of tapestry. Perhaps not the room-sized murals of old. But tapestry-as-art is adapting to new formats, with a number of artists making tapestry installations and sculptural pieces but not heading toward the 'hairy monsters' of earlier episodes of tapestry innovation.

The commercial studios, including Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne, whose work we feature on the cover, and West Dean in Sussex/UK are doing much to show the range of possibilities offered by contemporary tapestry makers. Archie Brennan has done much for tapestry, starting as an apprentice weaver at the Dovecot Studio in Edinburgh and taking tapestry around the world. He sets a fine example for weavers: he has simply kept working, year in, year out. He contributed images from his U.S. show with Susan Martin-Maffei.

See also the link to an online show at

As usual, this years Tapestry Triennial in Poland has stunning examples of contemporary tapestry (admist the fiber art), images of which we are fortunate to have received before the official opening and which we show here. I held an e-mail discussion on tapestry today with Triennial director Norbert Zawisza, a digest of which is reproduced here. Another former East European expert, Budapest art historian and curator Edit András offers her unique view on where tapestry came from in Hungary post - 1989 - and where it is going in 2010.

As a tapestry weaver and journalist who has written extensively on tapestry and textile art, I have long wanted to do a special magazine issue devoted to this art form, which I firmly beleive has a future. I have Beatrijs Sterk and Dietmar Laue to thank for giving me this opportunity in Textileforum, and the artists and workshops for their input an images.

We all agree that tapestry once again is fighting for survival, but that the situation is far from hopeless. In this special issue, we show some outstanding work that I hope will do its part to help renew the art form and win over skeptics, critics and potential buyers.



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