Alongside Mitchell Scholar Daniel Listwa, I have been interning under Bill Shipsey and Art for Amnesty (Amnesty International). We are currently working on a project to have the mural El Holocausto by Mexican artist Manuel Lozano translated into tapestry form. The mural is a monumental reflection on the cyclical, inevitable nature of violence despite human yearning for hope. With its gorgeous palette and stark figures, it’s a shame that the stationary mural is viewed by so few. As a tapestry, El Holocausto can travel the world as a banner for human rights.
Working for Bill is exciting. His energy is infectious. A phone call about an idea quickly turns into action. One day he suggested that Daniel and I go to France to document how the tapestries are made, and then next thing I knew, we were on a plane.
Félicie Ferret greeted us in the Pinton showroom in Paris, where we had the opportunity to view finished rugs and tapestries. We then travelled to Felletin to document how the tapestries are made from beginning to end. Unprocessed wool is cleaned, spun into yarn, and dyed.
We met up with Jacques Bourdeix, who has worked on all the previous Art for Amnesty tapestries. Jacques turns the provided reference painting into a huge ‘cartoon’. Using his genius intuition and decades of experience, he is able to identify every color in the cartoon. He marks sections and numbers onto the cartoon, which is then placed into the loom. Essentially, the weavers who spend months on the tapestry directly follow Jacques’ instructions. Jacque claimed he was an artisan rather than an artist, but when he described all the shades and hues hidden within his favorite color, black, I thought he was one of the most brilliant artists I have ever met. He said that when he sleeps, his mind is filled with dreams of his tapestries.
It takes many weavers several months to transform Jacques’ cartoon into a tapestry. They work methodically and intensely, their fingers dancing and their feet bobbing. I found it charming when we met two of the weavers who were mother and daughter. The Pinton establishment is similarly a longstanding family tradition.
I have only seen such a process from start to finish once before, in a handmade paper-making factory in India. The differences were stark. Performing all stages of the tapestry onsite in France is an expensive but valuable endeavor. Unlike what I saw in India, with its minimal wages and long hours (where one worker wore a shirt that read “Exercise Daily, Live Clean, Die Anyway”), the Pinton workshop was a friendly and engaging environment. Despite its ventures into the world of fine art and the fast-paced art market, Pinton remains a family company. I was in awe of the level of mastery that went into every aspect of the tapestry-making. I took their lessons of artistry, dedication, and sincerity to heart.