Friday, September 6, 2019

Tapestry of Spirit

September 2019 - Toronto ON

“Tapestry of Spirit” presents the ambitious and inclusive social project to create a cross-stitched interpretation of the Torah. This installation features texts from the books of Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy, along with selections from the New Testament and the Qur’an.


What’s an artist to do when an idea grows so big that the final work is almost impossible to display?


That’s the conundrum now facing Toronto textile artist Temma Gentles, whose simple idea to stitch the Torah, the Jewish holy book, has grown into a project so big she’s needed to call in a machinist’s help.

Gentles launched the Torah Stitch by Stitch project in 2013; it was an idea initially born out of a rejection. Gentles was asked to be part of an exhibit of women’s religious art in Israel. Then the organizers restricted the exhibit to women who were Orthodox, “which wasn’t me.”


That restriction, she thought turned “women’s religious art” into “the art of religious women.” Which left her with a question: “What do people who are not Orthodox do to express their connection with the Torah?”



Being a textile artist, she decided to stitch it. She initially envisioned it as a small-scale, grassroots project: she stitched the very last portion of the Torah, and thought she would gather whatever stitched panels were submitted and put them up alongside her own work.

“There would be a few things hanging on the wall and then a big ellipses on the wall, and then my portion, which was the last one,” Gentles explained. “That was to signify, symbolically, that in some sense we had written a Torah, which is one of the commandments.”

But the idea gained traction and her group of inspired stitchers put up a website where others could register and, for $18, receive the materials to make a panel.

Now, 1,500 people from 28 countries have contributed. The still unfinished project stands more than two metres tall, 85 metres long and takes up much of the third floor of the Textile Museum of Canada.


The need to display it in a way that honoured the Torah became apparent. Some participants were not comfortable writing the Hebrew name for God on their panels, for example, so the organizers sent them verses without the name.

Though the textile is a work of art, they took care to respect strict guidelines for how any legitimate Torah is produced: it must be written by hand and preserved in a scroll. The armature now displaying the tapestry was specially made with that in mind.


Martin Gaudet, a machinist from Bainsville, Ont., was tasked with creating a flexible, self-standing framework that would meet museum standards and fit the theme of “journey.” He had worked on the armature for another large textile project, the Quilt of Belonging, by artist Esther Bryan.


“The idea to have a scroll in an organic form forbids you (from seeing) the whole thing at once,” Gaudet said. “So that, figuratively speaking, or artistically speaking, you’re embarking on a quest: a spirit quest.”

The books of Genesis, Exodus and the last half of Deuteronomy are now on display in Hebrew, along with sections of the Qur’an in Arabic and the Scriptures in Greek as part of the exhibit Tapestry of Spirit at the textile museum.

Arlene Witty; cross-stitch on aida cloth; 13” wide; “After leaving Egypt, the Israelites wander in the Sinai peninsula for 40 years before a new free-born generation enters the Promised Land (Caravan)”.

I didn't see any other personal pieces other than this.


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