Woad Trip

As Part of my residency I was asked by Fabrica to visit Amiens in February as they are also a partner in this Blue Project. I spent two very interesting days there, and  beneath is an account of them.

Since the visit I have been commissioned by the Musée de Picardie to do two projects. A video installation and a series of panel paintings. The two projects will be exhibited together in June 2013

The video installation is a ‘collaboration’ with the last remaining velvet factory in Amiens  – 3 videos will be shown using archive material from the collection . One will be using the Velvet swatches from the 1880’s right up to the 1960’s in the Factory’s collection – these are an incredible (closely guarded) document to the patterns and dyes (including woad) that was once the main industry in 17th and 18th Centuries there. The video will be projected onto a velvet screen specifically made for the installation and will be shown both on the “lost island’ on the Hortillonnages and in the Museum’s foyer.

swatch sample from the collection

swatch sample from the collection

The second project will be a series of largescale paintings situated next to the restored Lady Godiva Painting. (see below). The Godiva myth (and peeping tom) originates from Coventry where they have a large collection of Lady Godiva paintings in the Herbert Gallery. Both towns  have/had historic cathedrals and were badly bombed in WWII. I visited the conservation dept at the Herbert where paint analyses was being undertaken on a painting of lady Godiva from 1920’s. I hope to also see some paint samples from the painting by Jules Lefebvre from Amiens soon and use both samples from both cities as a staring point for the paintings.

Lady Godiva paint sample

Lady Godiva paint sample



Hortillonnages visit 18. 2. 2013 .

catch of the day

catch of the day


island in the Hortillonnages

Cold clear day.

At the Maison de la Culture and met with Aide Clemente the director of production at  MCA   and drove to the Hortillonnages . A kind of water allotment world. Until the turn of last century many people made their livelihood from growing veg, now it is more recreational in the summer months with only 4 farmers working full time, only one farmer does it purely via boat the others have land access so can use their voitures. A few plots have turned their holiday sheds into camouflaged hunting posts with caged ducks and geese so they call out and attract wilder targets.

The gardens date back to roman times and are man made and in need of constant repair due to soil erosion on the banks. Speed restrictions for boats are in place for this reason.

Water rats are real pests for the farmers, one farmer says he kills 2 or 3 daily. The council has an active commissioning policy for art projects and there appears to be commissions annually for both temporary and permanent works.  Anne Marie O’Sullivan was coincidently on the trip and was viewing potential sites for a  late June installation.

The museum has an island for its own particular projects, owned privately by Monsieur and Madam Perdu they allow the museum to install artworks.  This will be the third year commissioning an artist and the previous artworks are still in place , which the museum likes,  wanting to keep and build on this legacy.

lost island

lost island

One island has been chosen to grow woad, however apparently it might be tricky due to the moisture content of the earth but they are going to give it a try. There is a cultural exchange project with Kings Lynn that they are organising in Norfolk and the woad growing is the start of the link between Amiens and king Lynn.

Visit to Atelier Toscan

18. 2. 2013 . 2pm

velevet samples

velevet samples

tins of dyes

tins of dyes

This afternoon a varied group of us  (artists, curators and architects)  and Sabine Cazenave went out  to the TOSCAN  velvet factory, outside Amiens to the atelier (his fathers large old garage)  ,  this is his first atelier where he does all the embossing. the second atelier (in Amiens) is specifically for dyeing. He has 6 people working the studio in total; it is a real family business (started by his Grandfather) and his passion for the textiles and dyeing is very apparent. He does a lot of work with the National Trust, recreating decorative embossed velvet. The technique dates back to the 18th century in Amiens and he is dedicated to keeping this alive. Velour is a process  where brass rollers are engraved with a pattern and then heated from the inside. The velvet, silk or linen is passed thought the rollers embossing a pattern on the material. These are generally used for furniture and curtains. He makes bespoke rollers for wealthy clients as well as reconstructing designs from old cloth fragments, Lyme Park south of Manchester being a good example.    He also has a great collection of historic dye swatches.

silk swatches from the 30's

silk swatches from the 30’s


Another cold clear day.

Bibliotheca Louis Aragon visit

I was shown the ARTOTECH which is a print collection of national and international artists that the public can hire free of charge for 8 week slots. The collection ranges from well known to not so well known artists and they have an annual purchase budget of 15000 Euros (excluding framing). Only a few Libraries in France have this facility and it is well used in Amiens. (We should have one in Brighton!).

I searched for woad on the library catalogue and found two books on the subject.

‘La Waide, Guede ou Pastel’ by Nicole Payen , unfortunately it was on Loan but the three names in the title were explained. Waide and Guede are Northern French/German names. Pastel is from Southern France and apparently is/was a more intense blue than the Northern variety.

‘Poesie de Waide en Jeune et Blue’ by jean Foucalt is a small pamphlet published in 2012 of poems based on Woad.

There are three themes for the exhibition

1st theme

will be directed mainly for children and families at the bibliotheque and will be about the history of woad and its importance in the growth of Amiens historically and culturally. Interesting woad fact no. 27 – 80% of the money used to build the Cathedral came from woad merchants!

The cathedral also has the head (more of a leathery face) of John the Baptist! It is visible in a glass cabinet on the North side of the Chancel and apparently has been scientifically examined and appears to be from the correct date of his life.

2nd theme

Blue in nature  – will be exhibited at Hove Museum

3rd theme ,

Blue colour in Art.  Will be shown at the Museum de Picardie and with an emphasis on lady Godiva by Jules Lefebvre 1836- 1911.

Musée de Picardie 2pm

flag pole on top of the museum (in line with a plane!)

flag pole on top of the museum (in line with a plane!)

I was shown the upstairs galleries which one whole wing is empty for refurbishment and restoration. Only one room is being used and this is for conserving the collection. We met a  private restorer who was working on a painting and apparently,  except for the Louvre, no public museums have ‘ in house restorers’ . Each painting has to be put out to tender to 5 private conservators. Hugely bureaucratic and time consuming but the idea is that it shows that public funds are being spent correctly.

Lady Godiva ready for restoration

Lady Godiva ready for restoration

We saw the huge painting of lady Godiva, still on the floor, she will shortly be cleaned and re-stretched on an aluminium stretcher. Many works of art were taken down and shipped to the south during the Second World War and Lady Godiva was no exception. The original frame is in 4 pieces is also being restored, thankfully it avoided the bronze paint most frames got a coat of after the war because they couldn’t afford leaf at the time.

Lady Godiva will be placed in the main salon downstairs which houses some of the huge paintings, one being 17 square metres! You can imagine how much work alone it must be to rehang and change the collection around. I asked which came first the large paintings or the museum, as the salon appears higher than anything you would get in the National Gallery, maybe the sculpture rooms at the V&A are similar in height.

Apparently the Main salon was originally a garden/ courtyard that the museum galleries surrounded. It was the centralised government in Paris in the late 18th century sending out these monumental works to the periphery that forced towns some liked Amiens to build larger museum spaces.

They have a budget for a commissioned artist to make a piece of work for the main salon as well as the ‘lost island’ of hortinillage. Sabine offered the project to me which I was not expecting but seemed churlish to refuse. I think the deadlines are quite close, the museum is the 20th June and the hortinillage is 28th.

Extra visit to dyeing plant of TOSCAN


the old textile and dyeing factory

the old textile and dyeing factory

We visited the dyeing plant of TOSCAN. Which is situated on the edge of Amiens and is housed in a derelict dyeing complex by the river dating back to 17 th century. It has an old disfunctional water mill and apparently the complex which is more like a village was completely self sufficient growing its own veg and having its own football team and pitch, which TOSCAN is planning to restore. The team had they’re own outfit with velvet embossed logo too. TOSCAN hopes to restore the old exhibition hall and many of the buildings. He says he could move to a modern industrial estate but because of the heritage of the buildings prefers to set up here even though its more work and cost.


1 thought on “Woad Trip

  1. Pingback: Amiens – starting the day after the day before | From a Dot

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