Book Review: The Making of Modern Tapestry: My Journey of Discovery

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The Making of Modern Tapestry: My Journey of Discovery. Silvia Heyden. 1998. Printed by D-Max Imaging, Inc., North Carolina. ISBN 978-0-966-34501-8

I first came across Silvia Heyden's work when I saw the 2011 documentary, A Weaverly Path - Tapestry Weaving of Silvia Heyden. The film provides viewers with a personal look into her creative processes as she works on a series of tapestries inspired by the movements of a river close to her house. Her tapestries and approach to weaving were unlike any I've seen before. Here's a link to the trailer to that film: A Weaverly Path Film trailer.

The Making of Modern Tapestry: My Journey of Discovery also provides readers with insights into Heyden's thought processes as she reflects on the hundreds of pieces she's woven. Her goal in weaving wasn't to make paintings, but to push the boundaries of thread and loom, to integrate form and function, and allow the tapestries to develop their own identities.

Left: In Tyrannos (200 x 350cm) by Silvia Heyden; Right: Baobab Tree (240 x 180 cm) by Silvia Heyden

Left: In Tyrannos (200 x 350cm) by Silvia Heyden; Right: Baobab Tree (240 x 180 cm) by Silvia Heyden

The book is divided into three major sections, which, loosely, outline Heyden's development as a weaver:  "My Journey of Discovery", "Affinity with Music", and "A New Horizon." Starting with Heyden's education at the School of Design in Zurich (1948-1953), readers are taken, step-by-step into the evolving love affair Heyden had with the loom and the deep influence music had on her work. She writes:

I will never forget my fascination with the loom I built to weave the floor rug. My violin awakened my interest in the relationship between the instrument and the music played on it. Now it was the relation between the loom and the woven rug that captivated me. I began to dream about weaving tapestries. (p. 3)
Left: Tundra (150 x 145 cm) by Silvia Heyden; Right: Plummage (164 x 82cm) by Silvia Heyden

Left: Tundra (150 x 145 cm) by Silvia Heyden; Right: Plummage (164 x 82cm) by Silvia Heyden

Although I am not a weaver, I can appreciate and learn from Heyden's extensive understanding of color theory. She used collage and drawings to translate "concrete objects into abstract, weavable forms" (p. 4), often using the rhythms of nature and music to inform her work. She used a series of geometric shapes (particularly triangles) to achieve the desired movement in her tapestries and, though the narrative was accessible to non-weavers like me, people who do work on a loom will appreciate the line drawings and tips she provides to explain how she achieved the technical results. I read the book in an afternoon, but could go back over it time again and learn something new.

Left: One for Two (140 x 125 cm) by Silvia Heyden; Right: Shifting Accents (124 x 160 cm) by Silvia Heyden

Left: One for Two (140 x 125 cm) by Silvia Heyden; Right: Shifting Accents (124 x 160 cm) by Silvia Heyden

Perhaps the sweetest part of the book is an appendix by Heyden's husband, Siegfried, who also features in the documentary. He writes:

For more than thirty years, I have had the privilege of personally watching the creation of at least seven hundred tapestries from the vantage point of my desk near the loom. Of these seven hundred, seven figure prominently in my memory. They represent not just a brief and fleeting moment of enjoyment, but of long-lasting, deeply felt satisfaction. (p. 165)

For weavers and non-weavers alike, The Making of a Modern Tapestry is a visual delight. These works seem to capture not specific scenes, but moments in time (rhythms, moods, sounds captured in texture and color) by an artist who, with just the right balance of technical skill, imagination and intuition, lived, breathed and dreamed her way into each tapestry.