• Art and Design History and Theory, History of Design and Curatorial Studies (MA)

    Mae Colburn

    Tapestry in the Expanded Field: An Analysis of Contemporary Narrative Tapestry with Special Emphasis on Bjørn Nørgaard’s History of Denmark Series, 1988-2000

    This research looks at production aspects of five tapestry series, two historical and three contemporary. Each series is traced from its inception through to its completion with sketches, cartoons, photographs, notebooks and other ephemera from the design and production processes serving as the basis for an investigation of the collaborative relationships between the artists, patrons, and artisans involved in each series. 

    While the goal of this research was not to compare historical and contemporary production processes as such, this is inevitably what happened. None of the contemporary artists claimed an historical precedent and none were attempting to revive this historical medium, but all conformed, to differing degrees, to the collaborative production processes that prevailed in professional European workshops of the Renaissance wherein an artist produced a design, which a group of specialists translated into a full-scale cartoon, which a group of weavers then translated into a tapestry. Bjørn Nørgaard’s History of Denmark series was produced at the Gobelins manufactory in France, William Kentridge’s Porter Series (in production since 2001) at the Stephens Tapestry Workshop in South Africa, and Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences (2012) at Flanders Tapestries in Belgium, which specializes in digital jacquard tapestries. At the same time, this historical distance afforded each artist the freedom to shape production processes according to their own artistic visions, configuring the relationship between artist, patron, and artisan to reflect conditions of the present and to articulate individual social, political, and economic perspectives. 

    Image caption: Bjørn Nørgaard tapestry on the loom at the Gobelins Manufactory, 1990. Photo: Søren Rud, reproduced in Bjørn Nørgaard et al., 'Tapestries for the Queen of Denmark' (Copenhagen: Lord Chamberlain's Office, 2000).