“Chernobyl,” A Monumental Tapestry

I took a tour of the United Nations headquarters in New York yesterday.  Besides feeling moved to tears about the mission and programs of the UN, I was blown away by the artwork and artifacts in the building.  Tapestries!  The most amazing was a 32’9″ x 13’2″ tapestry by Alexander Kishchenko (1933-1997). It was given by the people of Belarus in 1991, in gratitude for the UN resolution regarding the Chernobyl nuclear accident.


The tour group was near the tapestry for just a short time, so I was thankful that our young Brazilian guide would take me back to it when the tour was finished.  Clearly, no non-staff person is allowed to wander around the building alone. Our guide did not have a great deal of information about the tapestry, but he said that the center snake-filled image in the panel reflects the Chernobyl disaster, the figure representing the man-made cause.


According to the tour guide, the right-hand, final panel includes a woman and a child, indicating hope for the future.  I also saw a sun and an owl, most likely for wisdom.


This is the first section.  In a book, Christ is dying on the cross, and a tear falls from a giant eye.


I wonder if there is a particular meaning for this image.  It’s on the lower, right-hand side of the tapestry.


The colors are vibrant and the weaving is so beautifully executed.  I will finish with some of my favorite sections, eye candy for everyone, but especially for weavers. Oh, these dragon colors!


There were a few marvelous fish.


This chicken brought to mind the French weaver Jean Lurcat.


Here is the name of the fabulous artist.


I would love to know more about this tapestry, but in my brief online searching I found scant reference to the artist and no more about the tapestry.  Of course I only searched in English; perhaps there is more in Belarusian or Russian.

When I returned with the guide to see this tapestry again, he directed my attention to another nearby monumental tapestry.  Presented to the UN in 1954 as a gift from Belgium, “Triumph of Peace” was designed by Peter Coif and executed under the direction of Gaspar De Witt. The UN information sheet states, “Fourteen artist craftsmen worked on it, using 70 miles of warp thread.  The total length of the yarn is 94.000 miles.  The wool and jute used in the composition could stretch four times around the equator. The tapestry measures 43-1/2 x 28-1/2 feet.”  The tour guide said that it is the largest tapestry ever woven.


I only had a sideways view of the impressive tapestry.  While I immediately appreciated its quality and beauty, I turned back to the color and imagery of the Belarus tapestry.  Clearly the guide needed to return to his job, and even though I wanted to stay and study it longer, I gathered my Minnesota politeness, thanked the kind guide, and left.

I saw one more tapestry at the UN building, given as a gift from Latvia in 1994.  “Hope” was woven by Edite Pauls-Vignere. Much of the surface had a brushed, furry appearance. IMG_3781


The sixteen participants in my tour group included Americans, Australians, Chinese, New Zealanders, and Germans.  As our guide described the work of the United Nations, I felt close to these fellow citizens of the world.  I feel the same way when I see the tapestries, as if I am part of a world-wide community of tapestry weavers and admirers.


    1. Thank you! I had not notices the outer edges of the wings, which are almost the came color as the background. But of course, that’s it!