A weaved journey

Travels in the Wardrobe is a blog I came across by clicking links from one place to another and it turned out to be a serendipitous event when I arrived at a visit to the goblins workshops and museum in Paris…fascinating and on my list to visit on next Paris visit.

It is reblogged here in it’s entirety for your enjoyment.

A weaved journey

Tel Aviv is already burning in an extraordinary heat wave of 36 Celsius degrees.  This untypical weather in March, deadly hot, encouraged everyone to go out half-dressed, to the bright sun and the coffee shops. Four hours flight-time away Paris is still cold and snowy. Here the weather justifies staying indoors, and encourages dedicating one’s time to traditional crafts like weaving and gobelin making. The weather has direct impact on culture, and this is well-evident in the museum of the goblin manufactures in Paris.

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Visiting the goblins workshops and museum is like time-travelling. The gobelins are rich in color and gigantic in size. They cover the museum walls from ceiling to floor in many meters of careful and imaginative weaving. The textiles show the particularity of this ancient art form that emerged from a traditional and simple act of weaving into a human expertise unknown today. Thousands of workers, dyers and weavers collaborated for years in creating one beautiful and huge gobelin. In the photos we focused on detail because a quick glance at the totality of the fabric risks losing the small particularities that make it so unique. Any woven centimeter is an example of the high quality of craftmenship characterizing this creation.

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The ancient workshop was created in the 15th century as a private business by Jean Gobelin, after whom the whole genre is named. Fifty years later, the factory was purchased by King Louis IVX who appointed Colbert to supervise the production that used expansive materials such as silk, rare plants for the dyes and of course gold and silver threads. The King wanted to keep an open eye on this workshop that produced one of the most prestigious creations in the French realm, carrying the King’s glory around the world.

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What is the economic value of this factory today? Once kings and noblemen could afford the luxury of employing artists and craftsmen for years and years to create unique works that would not be sold. Even so, they had important role in magnifying the glory of the nation and the kingdom. Indeed, back than democracy and liberty were non-existent. But humanity produced marvelous creations that we admire to this day. We reflected upon the life of the weavers as we looked at their creations.

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By visiting only the museum one cannot understand the sense of the gobelins, therefore we joined a guided tour of the workshops that are located in the next-door building. The area used to be outside the city walls, but since then the city grew and encompassed it. Now the manufacturing site is right in the centre of the 13the arrondisement, not so far from the Latin Quarter. Here in the state owned workshops the workers are ‘civil servants’ who create carpets and gobelins by hand according to the same ancient techniques invented there many centuries ago.

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There are two techniques: one to create flat gobelins, and the second, savonnerie, creates tri-dimensional thicker carpets of softer wool. This technique reminds of contemporary carpets. The themes are no longer copies of ancient models, but mostly modern creations by contemporary artists, selected by a special committee. The production time for each carpet or gobelin is about four years. Each craftsman or woman are responsible not only for weaving the textile but also for the planning, color-selection, and the technique. The gobelins created are property of the state, and are presented in embassies, museums, and official sites.

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Thus France preserves and perpetuates the old techniques of gobelin-making, that otherwise would have definitely become extinct. The unique human knowledge transmitted to us through generations of weavers and craftsmen is nowadays considered national treasure in France, worthy of protection at public expense. There is a clear continuity here. Since the days of the kings weavers were considered royal asset, and they received housing with vegetable gardens where they grew their own food, and decent living conditions (by comparison to the rest of the people of course). Also today the weavers enjoy some economic protection as civil servants with artistic freedom and decent pay.

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At the end of the tour we continued to think about the social value of artistic creation, even without clear economic value (especially if the goods are not for sale). Should states continue to fund, at a time of political crisis, the ancient crafts that otherwise could disappear, or should the free market decide the cultural priorities? We think the answer is obvious.

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