Take a look inside
See the weavers at work, recent tapestries and interviews with Jon Cattapan, Jason Smith and Antonia Syme.
Artists: Sally Gabori, Amy Loogatha, Netta Loogatha, †M.M., Dawn Naranatjil, Paula Paul and Ethel Thomas Title: Dulka Warngiid (Land of All) -detail Weavers: Amy Cornall, Rebbecca Moulton and Cheryl Thornton
The Australian Tapestry Workshop (ATW) enjoys an international reputation as a leader in contemporary tapestry. Established in 1976, it is the only workshop of its kind in Australia and one of only a handful in the world for the production of hand-woven tapestries. Artists worldwide are discovering how this traditional medium can be used in completely new ways, and the ATW is in the vanguard of this revival.
Using the same techniques employed in Europe since the 15th century, the ATW's skilled weavers work with artists from Australia and overseas to produce tapestries that are known for their vibrancy, technical accomplishment and inventive interpretation.
Since its inception, the ATW's philosophy has been to employ weavers trained as artists to enable close collaboration with the artists whose work they are interpreting. Many notable Australian and international artists have collaborated with the ATW's weavers over the years including Arthur Boyd, Jon Cattapan, John Olsen, Jorn Utzon, David Noonan and Sally Smart.
To date, the ATW has created more than 500 tapestries ranging from palm-size to monumental. They are woven using the finest Australian wool, which is dyed onsite forming a unique palette of 370 colours. These works hang in significant public and private collections around the world. The ATW is one of Australia's largest producers of public art, and every year, millions of people see an ATW tapestry!
Mr Myer is one of the ATW's most longstanding and enthusiastic supporters as well as being a leading philanthropist and cultural leader. We are delighted that he will continue the legacy of our late Patron Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE, who was a driving force behind the ATW's establishment and a tireless promoter of our work.
Tapestry weaving has a long history, with some of the earliest tapestry fragments surviving from ancient civilisations over 1,000 years ago. However, the great flowering of tapestry, occured in France and Flanders during the Middle Ages and the number and variety of tapestries woven during this period has never been surpassed.
The history of Western tapestry, and of the famous workshops associated with it, is integral to the history of painting and architecture. Falling between the fine arts and the decorative arts, tapestry has played a time-honoured role in architecture, humanising the spaces in buildings both public and private. This has been achieved through the medium's natural charm and its softening effect on surroundings, both texturally and acoustically. More than ornamental, its aesthetic quality depends on the merit of its pictorial conception as well as on the excellence of its craft.
Tapestries have always been considered a luxury item and in earlier times were commissioned by the Church, royalty and the very wealthy. They were particularly popular with the nomadic princes of the Middle Ages due to their durability and relative ease of transport. The subjects of medieval tapestries were broad, ranging from the deeds of the commissioning princes to popular tales from literature.
At the beginning of the 16th century the quality of tapestry making declined. Tapestry became imitative, moving away from being a free and creative art as it was in the Gothic period with workshops competing with each other for fidelity of reproduction. Patrons began to favour the work of individual painters, and weavers were expected to copy paintings as exactly as possible.
While William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones were responsible for the revival of the art of tapestry in England in the 19th century, it has only been in recent times that weavers have found themselves in the midst of a rediscovered enthusiasm for the medium.
In the 20th century, the revival of tapestry claims descent from medieval times when workshops returned to the principles of weaving based on traditional methods, and artists began entrusting their designs to the skill and judgement of workshop weavers*. Today, tapestry enjoys a renewed vigour as part of the modern art world, be it in a textile context or sitting alongside other traditional or contemporary disciplines.
*Opened in 1912, Dovecot Tapestry Studio in Scotland, United Kingdom was used as a model for the Australian Tapestry Workshop when the idea for an Australian tapestry studio were first developed in the mid 1970s. Creating contemporary tapestries, Dovecot Tapestry Studio works in a similar way to the Australian Tapestry Workshop, while on a smaller scale, creating contemporary tapestries in collaboration with United Kingdom and international artists.
The Australian Tapestry Workshop is a member of ACDC, a group of peak organisations from all states and territories in Australia that represent the professional craft and design sector. The organisations engage with the sector at a local, national and international level and offer services and programs that support sustainable practice.