The Eighteenth Week

Marie-Renée Otis, artist in residence in Paris, 

Fellow of the Council of Arts and Letters of Quebec 

The Exhibition Gold and Embroidery

When I journeyed a beautiful week in Puy-en-Velay, I had the opportunity to visit the exhibition Ors et broderies, trésors à la cathédrale (Golds and Embroideries, Treasures at the Cathedral). Magnificent! Even the exhibition room was beautiful, a cloister’s extension, and this cloister itself being an extension of the Cathedral Notre-Dame of Puy-en-Velay, in short, unbelievable surroundings.

For over 1000 years pilgrims have walked from Puy-en-Velay (in France) to St-Jacques-de-Compostelle (in Spain). Nowadays, they still do! That road (one of the 4 main roads leading to St-Jacques-de-Compostelle), in addition of piety allowed extensive intellectual, artistic, cultural and trading exchanges.

All those years, the pilgrims were easily identifiable with their walking sticks and the seashell they were wearing. This is why, on many locations in the narrow streets of Puy-en-Velay, one can notice the seashell symbol encrusted into the sidewalks, in the purpose of guiding the pilgrims. The town of Puy-en-Velay is located on an extinguished volcano. The Cathedral is erected at the summit of a big rock. A rectangular cloister joined the Cathedral. 

The Ors et broderies exhibition gathers an exceptional collection of liturgical pieces and embroidered paintings from the 15th century till the 20th century. This is the 30 year long accomplishment of private collectors, the couple Cougard-Fruman. 

In the background, you may notice the Cathedral Notre-Dame of Puy-en-Velay
Seashell symbol into the sidewalk

The exhibition room in the cloister

A masterpiece embroidered in gold and silk
Another masterpiece embroidered in gold and sil

Open House at my Apartment

Recently at Cité international des arts, 30 artists participated at a general Open House, I was one of them. I think that was a success. There were many visitors into my flat on the 2 evenings that I opened my door. I had some logistic problems to solve for organizing the event. How to exhkibit the embroidery pieces stitched during my stay in France? They were not framed and I couldn’t pin or stick them on the walls. The solution was to pin them instead on foam boards. And I cooped to hang up those boards with strings on the furniture or I used my chairs and armchairs as painting stands. At the end I was satisfied with the result. The foam core boards allowed me to write the specific embroidery technique used for each of piece: military embroidery, Indian embroidery with a hook, Indian embroidery Shikankari, Indian embroidery Kantha, French Gold Work, French Pinceauté. A total of 30 pieces were showed.

On my desk I displayed my usual embroidery tools. On my dining table there was a little snack (candies, pretzels, and fruits). Among the visitors there were neighbors artists of Cité international des arts, the director of Délégation du Québec à Paris and some friends. The public was of a large array, there were even children among visitors. I performed many guided tours, my visitors were in need of explanations. I must say, I am happy with the experience and the visitors’ comments. But I had forgotten how demanding it is to host many guests at a time and to talk and talk all evening long. 

My open house exhibition

The Botanical Garden of Paris (Jardin des plantes)

Sunday, I am on leave. What do young girls do on Sunday in Paris? Many of them go visit the zoo at Jardin de plantes. This is an ancient and impressive zoo, founded in 1794: 2000 animals, 50 different mammal species, 80 bird species, 10 amphibian species and lots of insects and spiders. This zoo is located in the middle of the city, allowing urban citizens to stare in the eye with big snakes behind a thick showcase; to follow slow giant turtles; to admire pink flamingos, almost orange flamingos; and a yak strangely clothed with a Hawaiian skirt, its molting wool falling apart from his body. Not only the animals are a wonder in this zoo, their lodging also. The buildings of Jardin des plantes are classified historical monuments. In itself this is an exploit in a city that counts so many beautiful old buildings. An agreeable Sunday in the company of young children, who are so impressed in front of leopards, monkeys and goats that they would like so much to hug them... 

The botanical garden of Paris in 18th century 
A dweller of Jardin des plantes

The Exhibition Decorum

The visit of the exhibition Decorum made me feel good. It motivated me to rush back home for stitching. It was a real gift for myself to admire tapestries weaved by William Morris, Dom Robert and Jean Lurçat.

Thanks to Jean Lurçat for making alive again this art in the 1940s. This renewing inspired Sonia Delaunay, Picasso, Fernand Léger and many other artists to create pieces of art in making tapestry patterns. I was moved to see the gigantic black tapestry sculptures by Jagoda Buic and the bloody red ones by Magdalena Abakanowicz. I was happy to admire pieces by Elsi Giauque, Sheila Hicks, Mariette Rousseau Vermette and Josep Grau-Garriga.

In 1977 I was studying high-warp weaving at University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières. I bought a book about Modern Tapestry. At the time, I knew the book by heart, with all the famous creators, their fabulous pieces and their process of creation. That book made me dream a lot about my art... And at this exhibition all these famous tapestries were displayed, in real in front of me. I was in Heaven.

It took me a few days after visiting the exhibition for realizing that there was no piece from the 2000s. Was it a deliberate choice made by the curator or is there no more artists to perform the art of tapestry?

Femmes à leurs toilettes (Women’s Morning Ablutions), tapestry, design by Pablo Picasso, 1938

La cour du chat (The Cat’s Backyard), tapestry, design by Dom Robert

The photo research and the translation are made by Lucie Daigneault

Editors note:  There are 24 travelogues in total for this series.  We are moving to posting one per month, at the beginning of each month.  I hope you are enjoying this series as much as I am !

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The Embroiderers' Association of Canada (EAC) is a national non-profit educational organization whose purpose is to have a fellowship of persons who enjoy needlework and wish to learn and share their knowledge; and thereby to work towards maintaining higher standards of design, colour and workmanship.

Our aim is to preserve traditional techniques and promote new challenges in the Art of Embroidery through education and networking.

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