Location: Montréal, Québec
Image: MUTATION 1984, tapestry, hand spun wool, natural dyes, 183 x 366 cm. Photo courtesy of Paulette-Marie Sauvé.
1. How would you describe your work?
I enjoy interpreting nature and my memories of childhood landscapes in Northern Ontario, and I am fascinated with the history of spiritual aspects of indigenous art. My home was in the land of First Nations Anishinaabeg, and their care and respect for the land and also the wildlife is a source of inspiration in my artwork. This is shown for instance in my tapestry installation titled “Lake Dwellers”, woven in 1984.
My conceptual approach to painting these themes allows me to create woven tapestries. Many sources of inspiration are the shore of a lake, or a river or a marsh, with sun reflections on the water, and also wildlife in Ontario. Since moving to Montreal, my interests include photo- montages of architectural studies of Old Montreal, the farmlands on the South-shore, and wildlife in the area of the Saint Lawrence River.
Image: LAKE DWELLERS, 1984, installation with hand woven wool tapestry in 2 parts, tree branches, acrylic painted wood, 213 × 183 × 70 cm
2. How has your work evolved since starting out? Do you work with different materials? Different looms? Different processes?
I wanted to interpret my memories and express the emotional impact they had, and still have on me. So I studied painting, sculpture, architecture and interior design in Montreal at the “Institut des Arts appliqués” (from around 1971 to 1974). At the same time, I discovered Old Montreal, and an old church with a weaving school run by a member of the Congregation of Nuns of Notre-Dame de Bonsecours, Sœur Cécile Auger. I learned so much from her, and discovered hundreds of weave patterns and the relationship between the warp threads and all the different types of yarn. I had a small 45-inch (115 cm) Leclerc Loom and in order to pay for my studies, I was able to make a profit by weaving shawls, ponchos, decorative cushions and table runners. But I wanted to weave more figurative work and I developed a concept for a woven theme about Mother Earth. I remembered that Sœur Cécile had taught me how to weave a circular pattern that creates a hollow tube when removed from the loom. I wove a large circular tent in very colorful wool, ribbons and sequins. It measured 4 feet (122 cm) in diameter, and 7 feet (214 cm) high. See my tapestry installation titled “La Terre-mère Rêvée”.
Also in 1974, I won a contract to weave a large tapestry for the “Institut de Tourisme et d’Hotellerie” in Montreal. So I purchased a larger Leclerc weaving loom that was 8 feet (245 cm) wide. I wove a tapestry in hand-dyed wool, that measured 20 feet (620 cm) wide by 6 feet (186 cm) high, shown in the photo titled “Feu Doux”. After about 25 years, the Institut d’Hotellerie was renovated and the tapestry was removed.
Also in 1974, I got a wonderful opportunity for travel to Europe when I was awarded a youth study program to visit weaving studios in France. This had an impact on my future work, as I was deeply moved by three collections of tapestries: a 15th century collection called “La Dame à la licorne”, in the Museum of Cluny in Paris, a 14th century collection called “l’Apocalypse de Saint-Jean” in Angers, and a collection woven in the 1960s called Le Chant du monde by Jean Lurçat, also in Angers. I saw huge tapestries at the Manufacture des Gobelins in Paris, and met the master dyer, Jean Dufour, who dyed the wool for those tapestries using centuries old natural dye recipes. On returning home, my husband and I moved to a farm on Montreal’s south-shore, where I began making my own raw materials by cultivating a small garden of plants for natural dyes, and my husband and I raised sheep.
Then, in 1977, I visited the Nilus Leclerc loom factory, and had a custom made high-warp Gobelin loom built for me. Since 1977, I select my favorite paintings to prepare a scale model that I can weave on my tapestry loom. I was also painting on handmade paper, Arches watercolour paper, canvas and wood panel in order to participate in exhibitions in art galleries. The sales of these paintings helped pay for my studio expenses and exploration in tapestry weaving.
My work evolved again in 1992 when I was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Quebec in Montreal. This gave me advanced training in photography, Adobe Photoshop, and in silkscreen techniques on textiles.
Images: Left: LE VIEUX PORT SUR LE FLEUVE 2015 mix-media on canvas_framed size 41 x 41 cm, Centre: PONT JACQUES-CARTIER 2014-archival ink on aluminium, framed size 82 x 155 cm, Right: PONT JACQUES-CARTIER, 2021, hand woven cotton optic fibers, electronic circuit microcontroller, wooden frame, 72 x 105 cm. Photos courtesy of Paulette-Marie Sauvé.
3. Could you walk us through your creative process?
My early creative process began with painting and weaving, however, my desire to create more figurative work inspired me to find new techniques to develop concepts for woven tapestry.
This has evolved since 2000 by using a digital camera to work with new techniques in photography, and by adding electronic weaving looms to my studio.
New technology in photography allows me to create large photo-montages. Now my paintings and woven tapestries have different perspectives and more detail. Some of the paintings and photo-montages are printed on aluminum and others are printed on gallery-stretched canvas.
New technology in weaving allows me to create more sophisticated figurative work. Since 2016, I have added an electronic TC2 Jacquard loom to my studio, and my photomontages can now become inspirations for my Jacquard woven tapestries. In order to create files for weaving on the Jacquard loom, I use my weaving lessons that I learned from Sœur Cécile in the 1970s. I can use hundreds of weave patterns to build my image files that are then turned into black and white binary code files that are used by the software that runs the TC2 Jacquard loom.
Images: Left: IRIDESCENT RIVER CITY, 2009, archival ink on canvas, 91 x 122 cm, Right: MONTRÉAL VILLE IRISÉE, 2020, cotton optic fibers, electronic circuit microcontroller, wooden frame, 72 x 112 cmPhotos courtesy of Paulette-Marie Sauvé.
4. Does a painting – such as your Vision of Bell Lightbox - often act as a maquette-cartoon for your textile work?
Working with photography allows me to create different perspectives of architecture from Old Montreal as well as downtown Toronto. Some of these photos resulted in paintings, such as the Toronto International Film Festival’s Lightbox, and also scenes from King Street. They have become maquettes for woven tapestries. Landscapes from Ontario marshlands, the Montreal waterfront, farmland, and a pond near my studio have also served as maquettes for my tapestries.
Image: LA RUE KING TIFF LIGHTBOX hand woven bamboo & cotton, framed size 72 x 102 cm. Photo courtesy of Paulette-Marie Sauvé.
5. You have worked on very large-scale pieces, such as your Canadian landscape, which was displayed at the Commercial Union Tower in Toronto. Which has been the most challenging work to complete to date?
My Canadian landscape titled “Iridescent Marsh”, which was commissioned and purchased in 1984 by Cadillac Fairview, was a large triptych, and if you look at the photo, the two triangular shaped panels on the right side which are placed one above the other, measure thirty feet long by ten feet high. So, preparing a sixty-foot-long warp in Seine cotton, mounted on my high-warp Gobelin loom, and the dyes and the weaving took eleven months of work in my studio. Then the installation in Toronto took about three weeks more, for a total of almost one year to complete and install.
“Iridescent Marsh” was the most challenging work to complete, because it was woven with pure hand-dyed wool, and then I had to hire a contractor to install scaffolding with a platform that was twenty feet high. Two workers and I were standing on that platform as we drilled holes into the marble travertines, bolted long planks of wood covered with Velcro, and positioned the three triangular panels onto the wooden planks.
This triptych was displayed for about twenty years at the Commercial Union Tower in Toronto. The entire three panels could be seen from the street, as the triptych was installed in the main hall in front of a glass windowed wall facing Wellington Street near the corner of York Street in Toronto. After about twenty years, the main hall was renovated and my tapestry was sold at an auction.
Images: Top: IRIDESCENT MARSH, hand woven triptych 1985, wool panel on left side, 305 x 335 cm, 2 panels on right side, 305 x 914 cm, collection Cadillac Fairview, Lower: IRIDESCENT MARSH, 2 of 3 panels of triptych tapestry, together they measure 305 x 914 cm. Photos courtesy of Paulette-Marie Sauvé.
6. Your non-textile art has combined acrylics, photography and silkscreen techniques. Are there any new ways of creating or new types of materials you're interested in working with?
The artworks that I created during my studies for a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1992 resulted in an exhibition at the Galerie UQAM. These works included new ways of creating and new types of materials.
I worked in the university’s photography dark room in order to put my photo-montages on film and I built a set of silkscreens. This allowed me to use silkscreen techniques with acrylic paste on cotton fabric. I created about two dozen silkscreened panels for my exhibition at the Galerie UQAM titled “Le Geste Sacré et l’Image de synthèse”, which translates approximately to the sacred gesture and the numerical image. It portrays my admiration for indigenous spiritual paintings and sculpture, and the link to the human genetic code that inspires our need to search for proof of intelligence on other planets.
7. Have you encountered anything particularly surprising or unexpected over your career so far?
My artworks are copyright protected by Access Copyright, The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency. However, several huge tapestries that I have created for corporations since 1974, have been subject to building renovations after about 20 to 25 years, where my tapestries are removed and never re-installed in the buildings they were designed for. The owners provide no information as to the removal and final destination of these artworks. I feel that the Copyright protection law in Canada needs to include a clause about making it necessary for corporations to inform artists when their works will be removed either temporarily, or, permanently.
Image: PORT OF MONTREAL & BASILICA, oil on canvas, framed size 95 x 131 cm. Photo courtesy of Paulette-Marie Sauvé.
8. Tell us about a favourite piece you’ve created and why it’s so memorable.
My favourite work is my tapestry installation titled “Lake Dwellers”, woven in 1984. This portrays a sacred place where a grotto in a mountain (formed by the woven tapestry) is presented in front of a lake (formed by an acrylic painting on wood panel), with an axis (formed by the tree branches), and this installation can be used by a shaman/priest to send a message/prayer to the almighty creator/God.
9. What’s next for you? Or... In what ways do you hope your own practice continues to evolve?
I want to create a new set of tapestries to express the importance of protecting wildlife and biodiversity. Artists can use their work to make a statement about the urgent need to stop the destruction of the natural habitats of wildlife.
Images: BLUE HERON 2005, oil on canvas, 62 x 47 cm, BLUE HERON-PROTECT WILDLIFE 2023, hand woven wool, silk, cotton, 72 x 69 cm. Photos courtesy of Paulette-Marie Sauvé.
10. Pay it forward -- tell us about something or someone our readers should know about.
Wonderful wildlife museums with several live exhibitions and aquariums for young and old, that provide a great experience about protecting wildlife are shown in many cities in Canada and the U.S., such as the Biodome in Montreal. Visit their website and learn about their programs. It helps to get a membership for a year because there are so many buildings and gardens to visit and some events change with different seasons each year.
Image: Paulette-Marie Sauvé by Didier Boulad.