Weaving a new thread in Florence’s artisanal tradition

Weaving a new thread in Florence’s artisanal tradition

Jules Vissers and Anna Meryl Rose work with textiles in intriguing new ways.

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Tue 09 Jan 2024 11:04 AM

Florence’s artisanal tradition is one of the many ways that the city’s history is lived out today. Artists and craftspeople of every variety build upon centuries of artistic practice with traditional methods joining new innovations in their daily work. Among the artists that live and work in Florence are those working with textiles, a craft with a strong legacy in the region.

In Florence’s heyday, textiles, weaving and embroidery were some of the crafts that Renaissance women could claim for their own. While painting important cathedral frescoes or carving grand sculptures was largely off-limits to female artists, the textile arts were where they found their own arena. If they were going to be confined to the domestic sphere, they would develop their practice there, under the guidance of the women they lived with and who developed this art form alongside them.

Centuries later, the textile arts continue to evolve, with constantly modernizing techniques and styles, and a number of remarkable women in Florence who keep it alive with their creativity and flair.

Taftique - Jules Vissers

Originally from the Netherlands, Jules Vissers moved to Florence in 2017, having lived in Italy since 1998 and working with textiles in a number of ways, including embroidery, felting and jewelry making. Her recent work combines several techniques and materials in every piece, turning yarn and stitch into intricate tapestries that reinterpret Florence’s ancient traditions. She recently exhibited her work at Artigianato e Palazzo and the 2023 Florence Biennale, where she won the president’s award for her piece titled Specular.

How does the environment of Florence and Tuscany facilitate your work?

I personally source my yarns and fibres in the area around Florence and in the north of Italy. I regularly visit technically advanced companies that come up with amazing new yarns each year and I have the possibility to use completely recycled yarns in a wide range of colours and textures. It’s amazing from an aesthetic point of view, but also technically speaking. I use natural wool, cotton and hemp, as well as recycled and mixed yarns, which all come from local factories.

The textile industry has an important legacy in this area. How does this history shape your practice?

It was only when I came to Florence and took a Master in Textile Arts at the Accademia di Belle Arti that I decided that I wanted to create art pieces with my textile techniques. The aesthetics of Antique and Renaissance Art that you see all around the city and its museums fascinate me, and I try to translate this artistic heritage into the textile medium in my own personal style. The same counts for the fabulous nature that you find in Tuscany in general. I try to combine the beauty of form and colour that I see in art and nature with textile techniques to create surprisingly contemporary images. The ancient tradition of covering the walls with tapestries inspires me to create textile artworks made with my own variety of techniques and with a multi-functional approach.

Taftique - Jules Vissers

The challenge lies in creating a space for contemporary art alongside the historic offering. How is the contemporary textile arts industry changing, particularly in Florence?

Generally speaking, in the art and design world, in recent years there is more and more room for textile art and for collectible handcrafted design. In Europe, this trend first started in the Nordic countries, but I am glad also to see it happening here. The challenge is in helping textiles to be seen as an art form rather than as something to be used for another purpose. After starting my textile studio, I participated at Artigianato e Palazzo and got in touch with Artex, Centro per l’Artigianato Artistico e Tradizionale della Toscana and OMA – Osservatorio dei Mestieri d’Arte. These two organizations are very important for connecting artisans operating in Florence and Tuscany.

Anna Meryl Rose’s recent work in textiles is just one of the many different art forms she has experimented with throughout her career. The presence of textiles in Florence’s artistic culture, both historical and contemporary, has influenced her own practice, venturing into tufting and sculptural forms.

Anna-Meryl-Rose-ph.-Olga-Makarova-@makarova.visual-

When did you first start to incorporate textiles into your work?

When I began my MFA in 2010, I entered with a portfolio of paintings and works on paper, in which I had already begun to include elements of stitching, braiding and some 3D elements. Over the following three to four years, when I was going back and forth between Florence and San Francisco, where the MFA program was based, my practice expanded to installation, photography and sculpture, often incorporating yarns, fibers and textiles.

How do you currently use textiles in your work?

For about the past year, I have been doing a lot of tufting, making and experimenting with rugs and tapestries. Coming out of the turbulence of the past few years, I found myself attracted to the methodical practice of tufting, which requires a bit more planning and precision than I maybe use in other areas of my work. We’ll see where it goes, but my hope is that it leads me back to the sculptural and installation works that have been a major part of my practice. It’s all connected in the end.

Where does your interest in textiles-based art stem from?

My interest in textiles is linked to a fascination with the objects of our everyday lives: the things we wear, the things we eat, the actions we repeat over and over again. All of these elements can be unpacked to tell us about our location in culture, history, politics and psychology.

Textiles as an art form has historical and economic importance for Florence and Tuscany, as well as being something that has had many manifestations through the centuries. Has this presence influenced your work?

There are certain museum collections that I return to: Palazzo Davanzati, Museo Bardini and the Costume Gallery at Palazzo Pitti—hooray, it has reopened! I’m always interested in the material culture of the past, the ways people lived in their spaces, the objects they loved, the things that were given value. I’m sure all of this looking has woven its way into my work. I love portraits, which luckily abound around here, for the clothes and textiles, maybe even more than for the rendering of the sitter. I’m always looking at sleeves, hems, ruffles and jewels. Of course, for several centuries, Florence was right in the heart of those arts.

The artisanal culture of Florence is also well known with many of the city’s craftspeople connected through the organization you co-founded: Creative People in Florence. Have you seen the effect of the heritage on these artists and the overlap between what influences them?

Influences are certainly unique to each artisan, designer, creative and artist, but I, and the other two creatives in the CPiF team, jewelry designer Sara Amrhein and ceramist Kirstie Mathieson, often hear from group members that they are drawn to the artisan traditions rooted in Florence’s history. They may have come here to learn traditional techniques to build the foundation of their practice. There is such a wide range of artisan practices that have historical roots here, such as jewelry, bookbinding, papermaking, mosaic, decoration, woodworking, ceramics…the list goes on. When these disciplines cross paths with other fields such as photography, visual arts, performance and video, some really exciting things happen. CPiF seeks to support ways for creatives to collaborate across disciplines and push their practice forward, beyond the traditions of a particular discipline, towards a more contemporary perspective.

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