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The Famous Tapestries of Aubusson, France

Submitted by Bethany on Mon, 04/08/2019 - 10:00

On Friday last week, we returned to the town of Aubusson to visit our friend Suzanne, and to see some of the tapestries that have helped make the area world famous. Fun fact: Aubusson tapestries were name-dropped in the third "Crazy Rich Asians" book as something that super-rich people buy to hang up in their houses! I was so excited when I read that line and was like, "Hey! I've been there!"

Tapestries are available all around Aubusson and the surrounding area, and there are many artists still making these tapestries by hand today. For a more affordable option, you can get ones that are machine made, as a hand made one will set you back anywhere from a couple thousand euros to a couple hundred thousand, depending on size. When you see how intricate the work is to make these things it makes sense - large handmade ones must take years to create! Here is one set up at the museum we visited, you can see the spool with black thread on the left - that is hand-weaved over and under the vertical white threads to eventually make the pattern or picture - alternating colors as needed. 

I don't know how anyone has the patience to create these incredible works of art - I certainly wouldn't! They are also created upside down - so in order to see the image being created the artist has to crawl down on the floor and look up at their table. The museum we visited is the Citié Internationale de la Tapisserie, which contains old tapestries, new ones, and people creating them onsite! They also have a special JRR Tolkien display which I will share all about tomorrow. Until then, take a journey with me through the museum! 

The first piece that greets you in the entrance to the museum is this fabulous unicorn. I love how they made it look like a bear skin rug (unicorn skin rug, if we're being technical) by adding the head and the hooves. The black and white tapestry is simple color-wise but detailed in the pattern. This must be one of their signature pieces because it was all over their souvenirs (some of which we sent to our Patreons - get in on this action here if you wish!

The upstairs portion of the museum seemed to contain the more whimsical modern-day tapestries. I was first greeted by colorful confection that features a fox dancing in point shoes and a squirrel drinking on a piano, among other things. I gave a sneak peek of this one our Instagram account and it's actually now my phone background because this one was my favorite (I think, there are a lot of awesome ones!)

To continue the animal theme, there was this incredible horse that showcases how the tapestries aren't always just wall hangings or rugs - they can be 3D! I can't even imagine the amount of work it must have taken to not only create these patterns but created them in such a way that they would look right when patterned into the horse. Incredible. 

Sometimes the tapestries are put on furniture as well! No one sits on these anymore but back in the day, they might have just been someone's dining room chairs. 

In one portion of the museum, they detailed more how the designs are made for the tapestries. Each design starts as a sketch, then a painting, then gets translated into the tapestry. This design plan shows that at one point it's almost like a "paint by numbers" project (do you remember doing those as a kid? I loved them!)

When I ventured downstairs I encountered more of the older tapestries, ones that might have at one point hung in castles or chateaus. I was delighted to spot another unicorn. 

I feel like there has to be an interesting story behind this next one but I have no idea what it is. There's a couple in a chariot, they guy is asleep, the woman is brandishing a sword, and the chariot is being pulled by tiny winged children? So much going on in this picture. 

This next one is one of the biggest ones they had on display - it was huge! It features three vignettes of courtship including what looks like a proposal at the end. 

After the old fashioned ones came some truly "modern art" style ones. At first, I didn't care for these as much. They reminded me of paintings you see at museums and think to yourself "a child could have done this." (Like some we saw in Glasgow, Scotland) However, creating this look in the medium of the tapestry is a heck of a lot harder than paint on canvas, so I decided I was more impressed! 

I'm pretty sure this one is a Rorschach test - what do you see in it? 

My phone literally thought this one was a QR code when I went to take a picture of it. 

So let's hear it, which tapestry is your favorite? Do you prefer the whimsical, the more refined or the modern? How excited are you to see the JRR Tolkien ones tomorrow? Let's chat!

XOXO, Bethany 


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