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Cultural Threads – tapestry art

To visit France is to immerse yourself into a culture that has had profound effects upon the world throughout its history. No matter where you are, every corner of France contains strands of culture that stretch back through the decades and centuries. The culture surrounds you. It speaks to your soul. All the arts are honoured, including the art of tapestry making…

The texture of history


When history is taught to children, it usually is centred around kings and queens, wars, and disputes. But quietly underpinning all human history is the importance of textile. Clothing, protective bedding, the sails used on ships – the list goes on and on.

Textile is an incredibly important factor in understanding human history. Indeed, textile has been a key factor in human progress throughout the millennia.

The art of textile

And mankind doesn’t just use materials for practical reasons but also as a means of expression and art.

Methods for introducing colours and patterns to textiles emerged many centuries ago, and these soon began to be adapted to practical and/or informative art forms. Whether in ancient Egypt, Greece or in the Roman Empire, decorative textile has held, and continues to hold, an important place in society.

In the Middle Ages in European culture, tapestry began to evolve and one of the major forces in the artistic prominence of textile centred around the Gobelin studios in France. In the 15th century, a family of dyers and clothmakers named Gobelin, created tapestry workshops in Paris. Gobelin became world famous for the precision and beauty of the hand-woven tapestries they produced.  And they are still a major force in this area of art. You can visit the Paris Gobelins factory at 42 avenue des Gobelins and take a guided tour.

From the earliest days of tapestry weaving, artists would send their designs to be woven at renowned studios by expert weavers – they still do.

Creating a tapestry is a highly labour-intensive activity and, as such, challenges every generation to master its complexities. But its subtle connection to the clothes we wear suggests that tapestry art will always be with us.

A modern tapestry artist

Modern, abstract tapestry art invites the viewer – as does all abstract art – to find their own personal relationship to the imagery.

Artist Ragnhild Monsen hand weaves beautiful abstract tapestries. Unlike much tapestry art today, she designs as well as hand dyes most of the yarn and weaves alone. She has used the vertical loom system for 50 years, the same type of loom used by the early Gobelin masters.

Monsen says that she realised early in her artistic life that like the silk-moth, she was required to go into a ‘cocoon of her own subconscious’ and let the invisible thread form ideas that were to become reality in her work. This has been, and still is, her method of working throughout her whole creative life.

Her extremely popular modern tapestry ‘Monet Mood’ (top photo), was created in 2021. It is a very complex and colourful work. Hand dyeing the yarns to get the exact colours and shades that Ragnhild wanted took a lot of time. Setting up the weights and warp threads of the loom took time. Followed by around 600 hours of actual weave time. It is incredibly intricate work that requires enormous concentration.

The art of tapestry

She has followed the almost mystical process of allowing a concept to form without the precondition of her own thought limitations. It is this deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual insight that has taken Monsen’s art to be exhibited and/or sold in 17 different countries as far apart as Japan, Canada, the USA, and Europe.

Mostly her art has been for public buildings: hospitals, schools, banks, Army camps, even on an oil rig. In recent years, however, sales to private collectors have grown as the desire to have tapestry in the home has increased.

Paris Exhibition October 2023

Ragnhild Monsen will exhibit several of her tapestries at Le Carousel du Louvre Art Fair. It takes place from 20 – 22 October 2023. Address: 99 rue de Rivoli, Paris 75001. Metro: Line 1/7 Palais-Royale Musee du Louvre.

You can visit her websites here: gobelin-moderne.fr; Ragnhild-monsen.com

By Geoff Groom, an Englishman who has lived in Scandinavia for some decades with a deep love for all things French acquired over many wonderful visits to France

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