Public Talk on the Beauchemin Tapestry

Beauchemin Tapestry

Beauchemin Tapestry, photo courtesy of UWinnipeg

The Beauchemin Tapestry is a commanding piece of art that has has hung above the Centennial Hall escalators for more than two decades. The piece was recently moved into Gallery 1C03 where textile conservator Jose Milne cleans and repairs it throughout the week. Gallery 1C03 hosts a talk on November 25 from 12:30 – 1:00 pm about textile restoration techniques and the history of this remarkable tapestry. After the tapestry is restored,  Milne will prepare a storage and transportation support system for the piece in preparation for its return to Manitoba Government Services where it will be displayed in a public area in the weeks to come.

The Hudson’s Bay Company commissioned distinguished Canadian textile artist Micheline Beauchemin to weave this untitled tapestry for its international headquarters, Hudson’s Bay House, then located in Winnipeg near the Forks for its tri-centenary in 1970. The tapestry hung in the foyer of Hudson’s Bay House for many years before it was transferred to the care of the Government of Manitoba and then installed at The University of Winnipeg.

The HBC sought a contemporary visual artist of national repute to carry out this special commission. Micheline Beauchemin, O.C., C.Q., R.C.A. (1929-2009) was a Québec artist acknowledged as a master of weaving. A graduate of Montréal’s École des Beaux Arts, where she studied painting and stained glass, she furthered her studies in Europe where she began creating works in fibre.  In her lifetime, she received many honours for her artistic work: in 1970 she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts; in 1973 she was made an officer of the Order of Canada; and in 1991 she was made a Knight of the National Order of Québec. In 2006 Beauchemin was also the recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, Canada’s highest honour for a visual artist. Beauchemin’s tapestries are in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Canadian Museum of History, among others. Notably, she had just completed her most recognized commission – the monumental stage curtains for Ottawa’s National Arts Centre — immediately prior to weaving the tapestry for Hudson’s Bay House. An innovative textile artist, Beauchemin’s abstract designs are full of movement and reflect her training with renowned Québec painter Alfred Pellan. She constantly experimented with new materials: metallic yarns, natural and synthetic threads, and Plexiglas beads, all of which are employed in the Hudson’s Bay House tapestry.

Although Beauchemin’s tapestry for Hudson’s Bay House is abstract, it speaks to the Company’s roots in the fur trade industry and an aspect of the culture that accompanied this heritage. “Beauchemin visualized a group of vigorous dancers in colourful costumes and her description of the finished panel is that of a ‘jig’, based on a variety of shades of red and other colours which dance about.” The artist’s account of her work evokes impressions of the voyageurs who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company as fur traders and the boldly-hued, woven ceinture flêchées that they frequently wore.  Viewers can imagine the tapestry as a recollection of voyageurs dancing in centuries past with their sashes twirling about as they moved.

The University of Winnipeg is grateful to The Province of Manitoba’s Heritage Grants Program for providing financial assistance to help make this restoration possible.

For more information contact:
Jennifer Gibson, Director/Curator,
Gallery 1C03, The University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, MB R3B 2E9
Phone: 204-786-9253

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