Friday, 1 March 2013

Felletin, Aubusson, Farewell

On Friday our minibus driver took us to the  town of Felletin, to view only one of two viable workshops left in the area, the historic Ateliers Pinton. It happened to be a day off for the tapestry weavers, so unfortunately we did not see them at the loom but this is a workshop run in the traditional manner where they copy the artwork in faithful reproduction from a carefully numbered cartoon. On my first visit we were fortunate to meet and speak with the "cartonniere", an attractive young woman who was sitting on the floor laboriously outlining the areas of colour for the weavers to follow. The designs, by British artist Ahmed Moustafa, were intimidatingly large and complicated but alive with luminous bands of colour enlivened by gold thread. Also destined for the Cite, they will be a stunning addition to the collection.

Cartonnier at work numbering the cartoon

A Moustafa on the loom

Completed tapestry being unrolled

This time there were two finished tapestries hanging in the foyer that had been commissioned by their designer, Tissot. Two cubist cockerels woven in single and double weave in a very dated, 1950s style. I was horrified to find that they had been nailed up to wooden battens for hanging.

 Tissot tapestry nailed up for hanging

The workshop also makes tufted rugs and carpets, so we started our visit there, first in a showroom full of samples that catered to hotels and other public buildings. Sample books illustrated the variety and extent of their range of sculpted finishes in neutral colours. We went on to see the making, cutting and finishing in various studios. Once again we were agog at the lack of health and safety regulations. Two women were working with tufting guns without masks, punching wool and cotton into a fabric made of synthetic material. The air was dense with floating fibres that caught in the throat, and the floor a minefield of tangled cords and deep chasms between concrete slabs that act as drains. We asked about occupational health and safety and they assured us that no such thing was enforced.

Rug tufting studio

Downstairs, in the quiet of the tapestry studio we were able to examine in detail the pieces that were on the looms. There was an edition of a Leger and two Moustafas, impossibly detailed. Characteristic of French weaving the warps were spaced very closely, creating a warp based rather than weft based fabric woven with two, three or five strands of fine wool. The weavers are definitely skilled artisans, closely following their numbered cartoons with no individual creative input.

Susanne with Leger edition

Afterwards we walked up the hill to the centre of the village where the traditional Friday market was in full swing, meandering through the cobbled lanes of the town and bursting with local produce. We had a lovely time investigating everything and buying some food for a picnic lunch that we ate sitting in the grounds of the church.

Friday market at Felletin

In the Eglise du Château there was a very interesting exhibition called “Licornes et 
bestes etranges” (the S in bêtes is not a spelling mistake but the medieval spelling of the word). 
A combination of ancient and contemporary tapestry around the theme of animals, the 
unicorn tapestry, Peau de Licorne, that we saw on the loom last year at Patrick Guillot’s workshop being the focus. Designed by Nicolas Buffe, it is displayed as a floor piece and is a contemporary version of the hallowed unicorn, shaped like the flayed skin of the animal complete with Limoges porcelain head and hoofs! Woven in black and white, the design is incredibly complex with highly detailed vignettes throughout, which, when observed closely draw inspiration from amongst other things, Japanese Manga cartoons. Old and new combined in an absolute collision of ideas. Patrick's hands flew deftly over these finest of details and we learned a new stitch (derived from Soumak, I think) that outlined beautifully the most delicate forms.
Exhibition in Eglise du Château
Peau de Licorne with Limoges porcelain hoofs and horn 
Peau de Licorne being woven

Other works in the exhibition included a conceptual piece by Bernard Battu and the artist Jacques Harambaru. It comprised a large "filet"net hung from the wall, weighted shells and rocks caught in its folds. An embroidered needlepoint three dimensional unicorn dragged a male torso in its wake, quite bizarre and very brightly coloured. A very curious inclusion was a cartoon for La Dame a la Licorne, dating from the 1940s and ostensibly created for the weaving of editions, upon which the little animals were pasted on separate pieces of paper for ease of shifting them around.

 Needlepoint Unicorn

 Painted cartoon with animal cut outs

We then boarded our bus and headed to Aubusson for our last visit there. Our first stop was to meet Patrick Guillot who was working in the ENSA building on a large commission for a Government building that is decorated in 18th C. style. Patrick was quite effusive and talked at length about his contribution as creative collaborator on the project. The design was an unusual amalgam of fruit, flowers, shells and story book creatures cavorting on a background that mimicked a pattern of green moire silk. Ribbons of text also wound their way around the subjects. The loom was warped in two different warp settings with some very closely spaced bands of warp inserted to cope with the fine detail. Patrick's skill is consummate as he interprets the impossibly difficult work with alarming speed.

 Patrick showing Susanne the project on the loom
 The cartoon hanging down behind the loom

The re-invigorated tapestry school has produced its first batch of ten graduates and we briefly viewed their samplers and projects that were on view in another building. It was great to see the budding future of a real tapestry revival in a town that is synonymous with this craft.

 A walk through the old town brought us to the atelier and shop of Chantal Chirac, perched on the side of the river on the Pont de la Terrade, and stuffed with the most amazing array of artwork and furniture which seems to cheerily overflow from the constraints of its surrounds. She restores old tapestry cartoons and we observed roll upon roll of them, mostly 18th C. designs in full colour from which exact copies would have been made in tapestry. A large building next door has been built in sympathetic style to house a private cartoon museum. The charming Musee des Cartonnes has been skilfully designed with views out to the river, and is comprised of four or five rooms of painted cartoons from the last three centuries in an interesting display. A downstairs area exhibited a retrospective of tapestries designed by Antonia Bory, who is now in her nineties. Chantal's husband Bernard treated us to an amusing overview as he grappled valiantly with English translations of his very French expressions.
Chantal Chirac's studio with new Musee des Cartonnes on the right.
 Studio interior

And so back to the Manoir on our minibus, and our final dinner cooked by the lovely Valerie. Susanne joined us for a delicious farewell dinner of delicate coquilles St. Jacques, one of the most classic French dishes. There was much happy chatter, giving of gifts and very emotional goodbyes. My fondest wish is to return in 2013. Our meals were so special that I have listed Valerie's menus here. 

Valerie's Menus

Filet mignon of pork cooked with sage - fresh pasta - pear tart with caramel sauce
Filet mignon sauté à la sauge –pâtes fraiches- flan poires sauce caramel

Poached fish – vegetables - crumble
Poisson poché – julienne de légumes –crumble 

Marinated chicken with a confit of ratatouille - white chocolate and raspberry dessert
Poulet mariné  -confit de ratatouille-verrine chocolat blanc framboises

Vegetable lasagna – salad - cooked pears with spices
Lasagne de légumes-salade-poires aux épices.

Roast beef – vegetables - poached fruit with ice cream
Roti de bœuf-légumes-fruits pochés –glace.

Spring lamb casserole - mango carpaccio with spices
Navarin d’agneau printanier-carpaccio de mangue aux épices douces.

Scallops with a fondue of leeks - baked peaches with pistachio and speculoos
Saint-jacques-fondue de poireaux-pêches rôties pistache spéculoos

The next morning we tidied up and packed our bags. Francois came over to say goodbye and I promised I would be back. Our coach appeared beyond the hedges and swept us off through the picturesque countryside to Limoges and our train to Paris.


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  2. Just thought I would googel Tapestry Tours. Your tour sounds fabulous! Sorry I will be otherwise occupied this year! Also the dinner last evening with your delicious curries was great. It was lovely to meet you - and find the various connections -