Antonia Syme

In Conversation

Painting with Thread: Samples and Tapestries from the Australian Tapestry Workshop is on show 2 August until 26 September. ATW are masters at weaving designs by some of Australia’s most accomplished artists including the magnificent work by Guan Wei. ADC's CEO Lisa Cahill spoke to ATW  Director Antonia Syme to find out a little more about what they do.  

Lisa Cahill: What process does the ATW take to commission an artist for a tapestry? 

Antonia Syme: It depends on the project. Some clients come to us with their choice of artist. Others would like to commission a tapestry and would like our advice about which artist they might like to consider. Sometimes a select number of artists might be approached to respond to a brief. Every project is different.


LC: Tapestry has such a long and incredible history as we all experienced recently with The Lady and the Unicorn exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. ATW carries that tradition locally. Is there any organisation internationally that compares with what you do?

AS: The French continue a long and rich history of tapestry weaving and the government supports a number of important tapestry workshops. Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh has been operating for over 100 years. We operate on a similar model with artist-weavers collaborating closely with the designer of the tapestry to create the final artwork. We have established creative exchanges with the British and French workshops.


LC: ATW also works with architects.  Can you tell us a bit about the work that you do in architecture?

AS: Architects have been closely associated with tapestry for many years. We have initiated the international Tapestry Design Prize for Architects to promote the creative possibilities of tapestry and architecture, and it’s been a very exciting journey to date. The winners of the third TDPA will be announced on 16th August.


LC: The process of making a major tapestry work is clearly exciting – what is your favourite part of the process?

AS: I love the excitement of the artists or architects as they explore the creative possibilities of their design with the weavers and the creation of the tapestries. I love the engagement with the clients and the public as they watch the tapestry grow from a design to a completed tapestry. The cutting of the warp threads once a tapestry is completed ( similar to cutting the umbilical cord) and freeing it from the loom to start a new life outside the ATW, is always very moving. And I love the final installation of the tapestry and people’s wonder at what can be  achieved by our very talented weavers with warp thread and coloured yarn.


LC: What’s on the horizon for ATW?

AS: We have the exhibition of the finalists of the Tapestry Design Prize for Architects opening in a fortnight.

We will also finish the lovely tapestry by architect Justin Hill in October/ November. We also have an exhibition of several beautiful tapestries in Hong Kong in December to coincide with Design Week. And we are in discussion with people about some other very interesting projects.We are also working with the amazing Deborah Cheetham AO who is composing individual pieces of music, inspired by our Embassy tapestry collection. She has already performed ‘Catching Breath’ which was inspired by our Brook Andrew tapestry of the same name, in Singapore.


Painting with Thread: Samples and Tapestries from the Australian Tapestry Workshop is on display at ADC until 26 September.

Explore the exhibition page here.


Image: Detail, Treasure Hunt, 2018, designed by Guan Wei and woven by Chris Cochius, Pamela Joyce, Jennifer Sharpe and Cheryl Thornton, wool and cotton, 0.86 x 3.5m. Photo by ATW.