The Secrets of the Loom
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
A stitch in time does, in fact, save nine when considering the art of tapestry.
By Eugene S. Robinson
A documentary film crew was rolling out of Renate von Löwis of Menar’s Hamburg apartment. Chatting in German they pulled up cabling and cameras and headed out and away from an apartment that even with them gone, looked exactly like what it is: a workshop for creation.
“I’ve been a serious textile artist since 2000,” says Renate von Löwis of Menar, 57, who started designing rugs and interior textiles a few years ago. But before all this, the autodidact from Wolfsburg completed a two-year program in handweaving in Bielefeld, and then fell into a decidedly different career path. In 1998 in Hamburg, she started road-managing bands, a thankless job in which success is measured by your charges not killing themselves or each other before tour end.
Still, “touring with creative people is always a shot in the arm,” she says, explaining her long tenure with alt-indie darlings TV On the Radio, as well as a bevy of the best, from Interpol to Bon Iver, and from Dinosaur Jr. to Pavement. “But only if you, yourself, are also creative.” Eventually the call of the loom loomed. First as a way to depressurize post-tour and then as of 2016, a full-time calling.
Not only does it take three to four days to set up the gigantic loom in her apartment, once she starts weaving the tapestries — some of which are stretching the tape at 2’ 11.5” by 5’ 3” — it could take up to six months to finish the designs she pre-draws. This is after picking the right colors; if she can’t find what she wants to use, she creates and dyes the materials herself. Officially making the final product much less a living room tchotchke and much more a serious work of art — one that can fetch $200 for the smallest piece and the sky’s the limit for the largest (her priciest piece to date went for $6,500).
… All available signs point to a design revival, with artists like Chris Ofili and Tracey Emin both working with tapestry.
“What sets her apart from hobbyists is the intensity of work, the number of pieces she is producing and the designs,” says Manuel Liebeskind, who produced and directed a film on her. “It’s hard to get this across in film since tapestries are very much about the tactile, but we’re trying to do the work justice.”
Sort of what happened when out of a field of 2,500, von Löwis of Menar was selected as one of the top 50 finalists for the 2017 Kate Derum Award in Melbourne, Australia. An accomplishment that attracted bigger names and entry into the home furnishing luxury market. Though tapestries are not everybody’s thing — “If we had wanted the ’70s back, we’d have asked for the ’70s back,” sniffs Atarah Price, a Texas-based interior designer — all available signs point to a design revival, with artists like Chris Ofili and Tracey Emin both working with tapestry.
“I love their stuff,” laughs von Löwis of Menar, who slips effortlessly between German, English and French on occasion when she’s making a point. “But they do lots of other stuff, and with painting and sculpting you can just easily do and get away with calling it art, while with tapestry, you can’t pretend. You have to learn all the techniques from scratch and keep practicing, and learning never ends.”
Her work, showing in Germany now, with U.S. plans afoot, is warm and essentially and beautifully human. “I live in an apartment,” Liebeskind says of his cosmopolitan Berlin digs, “but her pieces resonate well beyond this city.” And rubbing your hand over the knotted wool for us kids of the ’70s, nothing suddenly seems more true.