Tonight is the opening for the Winter Show, the premier art, antiques, and design show in Manhattan, and Frida Hansen’s monumental tapestry from 1903, Sørover (Southward) will be exhibited publicly for the first time in 91 years. I stopped by during set-up yesterday for a pr-show glimpse.
It was so amazing to see it last summer at full scale and in color. After cleaning, it is glorious.
I’ve been thinking about how remarkable it is that the Southward (Sørover) has turned up in such wonderful condition. The person who cleaned the tapestry, Robert Mann, was recently featured on the George Washington University and Textile Museum zoom series, “Rug Appreciation Morning.” I highly recommend his talk, “Restoring Rugs and Carpets.” He made a general comment at the beginning, “A four hundred year old table is old. But at a hundred years, a rug is often very old. What I mean to say is that no matter how stoutly woven, textiles, whether on a living room floor or a Central Asian home, are ephemeral. They are subject to more rapid degradation than objects of wood, metal, or stone.” That’s so true. Sørover could have turned up damaged by smoke or insects or sun. But it was in perfect condition! Except, Robert Mann noted, it was holding on to nearly 120 years of dust.
I observed the cleaning process in Denver, the first careful washing that made the colors come alive. But then he washed it two more times, to release the stubborn dust molecules from the wool fibers. It makes sense, since wool yarn, even if it looks relatively smooth, has many wooly filaments that can all trap dust.
Then even at a microscopic level, each one of those fibers is scaly, something like this.
So of course it takes time to convince all those accumulated dust particles to release from the tapestry.
Here is a swan head comparison, pre-cleaning and post. The photo is not perfect, as the light conditions were not the same when the photos were taken. You can still see the remarkable difference that washing made! Note how the beak color becomes different from the feather color. The outlining of the fan-shaped waves becomes much bluer.
You can read more about the washing in this article, “Finding Frida Hansen’s Colors Again: Cleaning Southward.”
A full photo of the restored tapestry is coming soon!