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JRR Tolkien Tapestries

Submitted by Bethany on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 10:00

Yesterday I shared all about the famous tapestries of Aubusson, France (a small town about 30 minutes away from where we are housesitting. The museum we visited held incredible works art from the whimsical to the historical, to the very contemporary and modern. Right now, they also have one special exhibit based all around the works of JRR Tolkien. 

When I first learned they had a Tolkien display I was excited, as I am a fan of his writing - in particular The Hobbit (though not the movies, blech) and The Lord of the Rings (these movies I like.) I assumed the tapestries would be based on the books, and I was partly right. Turns out the tapestries are exact replicas of illustrations Tolkien drew in his lifetime! Some illustrate scenes from the books or the worlds he created, and some from drawings and letters he did for his children around Christmastime every year (which have been published in a book.) 

Usually, the original Tolkien drawings are housed in the Oxford library in England. They have been loaned out to the museum in order to create this unique exhibit. There are 13 drawings that will eventually be turned into tapestries, which you can imagine is a painstaking process. They start with the original drawing or painting, like this one of Rivendell, which is about the size of a normal sheet of printer paper. 

Then they blow it up into the scale the tapestry will be - which I think was about 2 meters by 3 meters, aka 6.5 feet by 9.8 feet, aka HUGE. This helps them to see exactly what they need to recreate with the fabric. Here is the giant painting of Rivendell. 

Once that is created, they can start work on the actual tapestry. Only a few of the eventual 13 have been completed so far, but one is of this scene from The Hobbit - "Bilbo Comes to the Hut of the Raft Elves." It was fun to remember that scene in the book and see it played out in this larger than life work of art. The detail in it is incredible, and the color variation is so hard to achieve in this particular medium. 

They had a video playing in the display area, which talked all about the creation of these pieces. Luckily it had English subtitles so I was able to sit and watch it for a bit! From what I could gather the two people you see on screen here are the main artists creating these works. They discussed everything from how the thread is chosen, to the particular techniques they are using to weave these pieces of art. It truly takes an incredible amount of dedication and patience. 

Also in this area, they had on display many of Tolkiens works of art. Well, I think. I'm guessing the ones on the wall here are recreations of his art since they weren't framed or protected in any way. 

I really fell in love with the Christmas works of art. I had no idea about this aspect of Tolkien's work, and I plan to seek out this book and read it as soon as I can. (They did have it available in the gift shop but I'm not in a book buying place in my life right now.) How fun that he made up these stories and drawings every year for his children! Apparently, they often featured a very clumsy polar bear. 

Some years the bear managed to be more graceful, as seen here in 1933 when he is ice skating with the elves!

The art from Christmas 1926 has already been turned into a tapestry, and it features amazingly bright and vibrant colors. I didn't find the whole back story on this one but I'm guessing it is meant to portray the Northern Lights? Regardless, it is stunning. 


This last one was perhaps my favorite, but it was hung so high it was hard to get a decent picture of it! It depicts Smaug from The Hobbit, and is titled "Conversations with Smaug". 

Of all the time we spent in the museum this section was by far my favorite. I loved the connection to some of my favorite literary works and learning more about Tolkien. I had no idea he was an artist as well as an author! 

Do you like Tolkien's books? Was it news to you he was an artist or am I silly for not knowing that? Which tapestry is your favorite? If you could pick any scene from a Tolkien work to be turned into a tapestry, what would you choose? I think something with the flying eagles would be incredible. 

XOXO, Bethany 



Your thoughts?

I love that they are showing the process too, it adds so much to understand the craft and artestry really necessary to bring it to life. My mom has a beautiful copy of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings in box sets that include his original art work, so I grew up with seeing them and I love his style. Thanks for sharing!


Fri, 04/12/2019 - 05:24

In reply to by sekarber

How fun that she had copies of the books that contained the illustrations! I had no idea he was an artist, too. He definitely has a unique style and it was so cool to see it come to even larger life in the tapestries. I'm glad you enjoyed!