News

VALE MICHAEL PERRY

14-01-2019

Everyone at the Australian Tapestry Workshop is very saddened by the recent death of Michael Perry.
His beautifully crafted bobbins have been an integral part of every tapestry woven at the ATW for many years.
He provided our weavers with one of their key tools of trade - the simple but exquisitely worked bobbin with its brass tip.
It gives us solace that Micheal’s essence is embedded in our many tapestries around the world.
We extend all our sympathy to Ethyl and the Perry family.

Vale Michael.

Michael Perry – a tribute by Cresside Collette, former ATW weaver and current weaving instructor

Last month I was shocked and surprised to learn that Michael is ill with leukaemia, and though he is involved in a brave fight, the long–term prospects are not good. And I started to think about his wonderful contribution to the world of tapestry weaving, the beautiful brass tipped bobbins that he engineered and has supplied to all of us since the 1980s, and the fact that he has very rarely been acknowledged in print for his skill and dedication.

In 2012, I had the opportunity to write a little paragraph about ‘my working tools’ in the catalogue for the First Tamworth Triennale, and, of course, found it a great pleasure to make this attribution:

“My bobbins are small works of art in themselves, fashioned by local wood turner Michael Perry from a range of Australian hardwoods, with elegant brass tips that aid the beating of the weft. Their weight and shape feel right in the hand, and Australian tapestry weavers are indebted to Michael for his beautifully crafted version of this ancient working tool.”

But it’s not just his workmanship that we will miss. Over many years I have had lovely chats with Michael whenever I rang him to place an order a few times year - for the tapestry course I taught at RMIT, for the numerous workshops I have conducted over the years, and as gifts for the tapestry weavers I visit in the UK on my annual tapestry tour. Our conversations have ranged over many subjects both personal and professional, and have always been interesting.

I spoke with him at length last week, and though he sounded breathless he was keen to engage and I found out more about his life than I had previously known. For the greater part of his life he worked as a civil engineer, and was CEO of the Ports and Harbours Authority in Victoria, from which he retired in 1988. At around the same time, his wife Ethel, a retired dentist and keen weaver, became a student in the short–lived Diploma of Tapestry course at Prahran TAFE. Michael, who had been an accomplished woodworker since the age of nine, felt he could improve on the rudimentary bobbins she was using in the course - the same bobbins that we had used at the Tapestry Workshop for over a decade.

And so, as weavers at the Workshop, the brass tipped bobbins came into our lives, making an enormous difference to our ability to compress the weft easily. One of Michael’s first commissions was to renovate over 1,000 existing bobbins for the Workshop by fitting them with the trademark brass tip, and gradually he began to provide his own crafted version. Soon he was fulfilling orders for courses around Australia and supplying individual weavers overseas. None of us will underestimate the excitement of opening up a neatly packed, handmade cardboard box from Michael containing a small battalion of bobbins carved from varying colours of wood, each with their own personality. My students would pore over them for hours, making their selection.

Writing to me last month he said:

“I enjoyed making the bobbins notwithstanding that some friends questioned my involvement in what they saw as repetitious work. For my part I enjoyed thecontacts and also the real satisfaction of making something that was utilised by experts in their field to make something that was very beautiful.”

During our recent conversation he re-iterated his love of working in wood, of the sense of achievement of making a dovetail join that fits just so, of the pride of having a grandson who is a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker. And finally he said something that resonates with all of us as weavers and artists:

“Art and Craft give you the deepest pleasure.”

We will miss you, Michael Perry.


- Cresside Collette, February 2016.

Michael Perry passed away on January 9th 2019, three years after he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Back to news