If you have seen a medieval themed movie you probably know what tapestries are. But chances are that you will see them more often in the future because architects are rediscovering them again and are using them in banks, hotels, office building and so on.
Tapestry fulfills another function today. In past times it was supposed to insulate against cold air and humidity. Today they give warmth to modern and sometimes cold appealing architecture.
There are a couple of well-known artist who create hand-woven tapestries. The last two years were especially busy they say since more and more architects are buying their products. Depending on the artist and some other factors a square foot can cost anywhere between $90 to $700.
Tapestries give “warmth that engages the sympathy of the viewer” Henry Cobb says. He is an architect at I. M. Pei & Partners. He also said that Weaving can create a scale appropriate to architecture.
The headquarters of Pitney Bowes is now equipped with two huge tapestries of 11 times 39 feet. They were designed and weaved by artist Helena Hernmarck.
Another architect, Adrian Smith from Chicago, used tapestries in an office building to soften the entrance area. Since there wasn't the right space for a sculpture, he decided in favor of a tapestry.
Artist Hernmarck and the architect chose the motif for the project together. At the end it was something based on the work of Louis Sullivan, who himself was an architect from Chicago with a big influence on the city's appeal.
Helena Hernmarck says that “the client wanted something photorealistic”. The tapestry also needed to be geometric and somehow extending the buildings design. This idea is also stated in Sullivans book on ornamentation.
For works like this huge amounts of yarn is required. A display with up to 3000 colors and such a size can easily require over 200 pounds of yarn. Hernmarck gets the materials from Sweden, where she selects it personally.
Another artist, Michelle Lester from Manhattan, dyes the yarn herself. She enlarges by clients approved designs and traces them onto the warp. Her specialty are landscape themes of which she sold quite a few. She designed a desert panorama for a hotel in Tokyo or another huge landscape for an office building in Parsippany.
To create a huge tapestry Lester had to hire a team of 36 weavers, who were working eight-hour shifts, over the course of a year (about 4000 man-hours). Two metal beams were holding the warp and the weavers had to work from both sides to avoid collision.
The weaver Lois Bryant works alone, but her studio disposes a computerized loom. This speeds up the work and therefore lets her concentrate more on the design and colors.
The software lets her program her drawing into the machine, which then controls the loom's warp threats. Only sometimes she has to move back and make some changes.
''Once it's working, it's wonderful,'' she said. ''When it doesn't, I want to cry.'' The decision, who is to call in the situation is not always easy. It could either be the software guy, the loom manufacturer or her dad, who added the motor for the loom's treadle.
Tapestries are especially great for atrium pieces. After the easy installation the usual maintenance is almost zero. Shake the tapestry for cleaning and you are good to go. Only from time to time a more extensive clean is necessary.
In the case of a discotheque the owner had asked, how to clean his tapestries since the smoke and dust was a huge problem. At the end he decided to send his tapestries to a carwash for cleaning. It worked.