Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-Elves, tapestry from J.R.R. Tolkien, collection Cité internationale de la tapisserie, Aubusson, France. © The Tolkien Estate Ltd 1937.

The cité at the heart of tapestry town

TEXT: HEIDI FULLER LOVE | PHOTOS © THE TOLKIEN ESTATE LTD 1937

A sleepy town in the heart of rural Creuse, Aubusson, has been the home of master weavers, whose work has rivalled that of the mighty State Gobelins manufacture for the past six centuries. “Visitors will be enthralled when they learn about the UNESCO heritage-classed ‘savoir faire’ and the astonishing and complex work involved in making these tapestries – this was the bread and butter work of so many local families,” explains Emmanuel Gérard.

Gérard is the director of Aubusson’s Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie, which comprises Europe’s only tapestry documentation centre, a training centre for weavers as well as an artefact-packed museum. Exhibits include work by major contemporary artist Jean Lurçat and extremely rare tapestries such as the Mille Fleurs à la Licorne, which date back to 1480.

Open since 2016, the Cité is also dedicated to training international artists to follow in the footsteps of their tapestry-creating forebears. “This is not a dead tradition, we want it to be passed on; we want Aubusson to live from tapestry as it always has,” says Emmanuel Gérard.

Partly thanks to the Cité’s training programme, Aubusson’s cobbled streets are now packed with tapestry-related attractions, including a renovated 16th-century tapestry-maker’s house, where exhibits trace the history and tradition of Aubusson. “Although this was once a dying art, today we have seven ateliers and three manufacturers here, as well as dyers and spinning mills,” says Gérard proudly.

Two major exhibitions are planned for this summer: an innovative new project in conjunction with the Tolkien Estate to produce a series of tapestries based on the work of the Lord of The Rings author, and also a ground-breaking exhibition in conjunction with Switzerland exploring the influence of the Biennales de la Tapisserie in Lausanne, on textile art around the world in the 1960s.

Gérard is understandably enthusiastic about the Cité’s future. “People need to come here and spend time with the tapestries,” he concludes. ‘They will be astounded by the sheer scale and detail of these wonderful works of art.”

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