Friday, September 19, 2014

the french shore tapestry

detail of French Shore Tapestry, copyright J C Roy and Christina Roy 2007-2009
A detail from The French Shore Tapestry, Conche , Newfoundland designed by Jean Claude Roy and his wife Christina and embroidered by women who live in the village.

I have been thinking about this post for a while.  I want to talk about the beautiful embroidered tapestry that Ned and I visited when we were in Newfoundland last week, the French Shore Tapestry in Conche.  We met Joan Simmonds, the program director of the interpretive center where the 220 foot long tapestry hangs and found out how the tapestry came about.

In 2002, Jean Claude Roy, a prolific painter of scenes of Newfoundland, was inspired to create an artwork that would show the history of Newfoundland, and he and his wife Christina developed the idea of a tapestry over the next two years.  They presented their idea to the French Shore Historical Society in 2004 and offered to work with them as partners.  The resulting tapestry project began in 2007, a co-production between the society and Christina and Jean Claude Roy, and involved many local men and women from the village of Conche.  The complete history of the tapestry and some of the story and images from it are on the dedicated website,  but nothing is better than making that trek up the northern peninsula of Newfoundland to see (and want to touch, but not touch) this artwork in person.
detail of French Shore Tapestry, copyright JC Roy and Christina Roy, 2007 - 2009  photo Judith e Martin)
In the style of the famous Bayeux tapestry, it tells the story of Newfoundland's northern peninsula's settlement.  The fishing was so wonderful off the shore of Newfoundland, that the French and English came over from Europe in the 1700's to fish for cod.  They stayed for the season, salting the fish in order to take it back home again.   There is so much history in that area of newfoundland - a viking base camp (unesco site), the grenfell mission hospital in St Anthony, as well as the amazing rugged landscape and sparse fishing villages of the area.
But what I really really wanted to mention in this post is the power of the co-operative nature of this huge pieces.  So many hands are connected together.  When I was working on the Manitoulin circle project, it was the connection with other women that was so rewarding, and the resulting beautiful textiles we made together were just the proof.  I am changed forever by that project, yet how can I work that thought into this post?
French Shore Tapestry detail, copyright JC Roy and Christina Roy, 2007-2009  (photo Judith e Martin)
Also, the artistic imagery drawn by Jean Claude Roy, an artist who lives in both France and in Newfoundland floored me.   He used fantastic scale in combination with an imaginative and often humorous graphic novel approach to tell the very beautiful historical tale.
Above is the final panel - a tracing of all the stitchers hands.  I love it.  I also love the website page where they introduce themselves and speak a bit about the experience of stitching together.  Many of these stitchers are continuing to meet and have started work on another immense project, a tapestry that tells about the important (to Newfoundland's fishing and settlement) Treaty of Utrecht.  Wow.

The famous Bayeux tapestry (900 years old) now has its own museum in Normandy, France.  There is also an embroidered copy of it - with a museum in Reading UK.

Someday, I'd like to see the fabulous Keiskamma tapestry, also inspired by the Bayeux tapestry.That South African embroidery hangs in the parliament buildings in Cape Town, the blog  gives a concise story of it's formation and the women who stitched it.
Keiskamma Tapestry (detail)
Also in South Africa, a tapestry about  The Creation of The World hangs in Johannesberg, created by the bethesda foundation embroiderers.  Valerie Hearder  of African Threads is taking a tour to South Africa next spring, view itinerary here and they will be spending time in Cape Town.  One could make the trek!

It is inspiring that through sewing and internet we connect with each other across the world, across high art and craft.  In England there is the is the Quaker Tapestry, stitched by 4,000 people and the Overlord Tapestry worked by the Royal School of Needlework.  Then there is the Palestinian tapestry that I had not heard of until just now.

Last week, the Quilt of Belonging came to Manitoulin Island and that was immensely powerful. A group project that originated in Canada but takes in the entire world, it deserves a separate post.

Images of the french shore tapestry have been approved by the artists and the curator of the interpretation centre.


  1. I don't think I've commented here before, but have been reading and enjoying your blog and work for a while now.

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing the pictures of this fabulous tapestry! I wish I were closer so I could see it in person!

  2. There is also the Quaker Tapestry , embroidered to cell rate the history of Quakerism. there is a great part where every woman on the boat to the New World was given a needle and taught to sew so she had a trade when she arrived.

  3. oh wow! these are beyond beautiful, the quality of the line, the breadth of the vision & of course I am very taken with that blue winged raven!

  4. Love these works Judy !

    The best part probably is: all the people working together !!

  5. A friend send me a link to the Quilt of Belonging, and I immediately ordered the book. Two weeks ago, I saw the Bayeux Tapestry - something that would have been more powerful had we not been herded through with severely limited viewing time. That was hugely disappointing. But the tapestry itself - at least what I could see of it - was hugely magnificent. These collaborative projects are quite moving. I'm glad to know of these others.

  6. Ned and I visited the Bayeux tapestry in 2009 and we had a very good experience. We spent a lot of time with it. However, the light was 'museum careful " (very dim) and I think the whole thing was protected with glass...but for goodness sake, it has survived so much and is still so beautiful. Two world wars in France just to name twentieth century hardships. I own a book about that bayeux tapestry, and wish that there were books about the other ones I've written about in this post.

  7. There is also Calgary's Sandra Sawatzky's 220 foot current project in process about the history of petroleum (of all things!)--beautifully stitched and designed, but alas, she hasn't updated in awhile

  8. Oh I love this French Shore Tapestry. The design is gorgeous, and I love the inclusion of the hands that did the stitching as the final panel. I would love to see it.

    I recently did a blog post on the Bayeux Tapestry, and on the final panel which has been stitched by residents and visitors of Alderney in the Channel Islands. I saw the Bayeux Tapestry for the third time in the summer, and the final panel was at that time being displayed in the same museum.

    There is also the Overlord Tapestry - an account of the events surrounding D Day - 6th June 1944. This is permanently housed in Portsmouth. I never knew there were so many others!

  9. And don't forget the Great Tapestry of Scotland,
    The Bayeux Tapestry is such an inspiration.

  10. Thank you for that information about the Great Tapestry of Scotland. It is fantastic!!

    there is a good write up on Kate Davies blog - but it also has its own website.

    Type katedaviesdesigns great-tapestry-of-scotland-1-23/ into your search engine.

    Thanks to all who keep informing me about bayeux inspired group embroideries.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx