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Nordic Blue Ice Floe: Homage to the St. Lawrence River

Micheline Beauchemin
Nordic Blue Ice Floe: Homage to the St. Lawrence River, 1984
Cotton threads covered with mylar, coloured silk threads, and linen threads
162 x 504.5 cm
Purchased 2002
© Micheline Beauchemin

Highly regarded throughout her distinguished career, Micheline Beauchemin has from the beginning received prestigious commissions both at home and abroad as part of various programs integrating art with architecture. During a stay in Greece in 1954, Beauchemin discovered the brilliant colours of the embroidery and crocheted rugs made by Greek peasant women, which motivated her to begin weaving tapestries herself. It was not long before her talents in this domain were recognized: in 1955 an exhibition of her tapestries and stained glass was held at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.

In 1962 she visited Japan and, in order to learn more about local techniques, became acquainted with the Tatsumara family, weavers who had been connected to the Imperial family for generations. A second and third visit solidified her working relations with the Japanese, who still supply her with materials produced according to her specifications. In the mid-1960s she met Isamu Noguchi in Montreal, and he invited her to work in Japan in the textile studios of his friend Kawashima Jimbee. While there in 1967–1968 she produced one of her most spectacular creations, the theatre curtain of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa – a work that is as vibrant and impressive today as it was thirty-five years ago. At that time, the largest loom in existence, fifteen metres long and three storeys high, was in Japan. In 1968 the Nihonbashi Gallery in Tokyo took advantage of Beauchemin's presence in the country to organize an exhibition of her works.

Micheline Beauchemin has lived at Grondines, Quebec, for many years. Adjacent to her three-hundred-year-old house is a studio where she has produced much of her work and provided numerous students from all over the world with practical training. Her main inspiration is the changing light, now iridescent, now a lustrous bronze, reflected by the St. Lawrence River, especially during the spring thaw, when the ice from the depths turns a deep blue. In the abstract Nordic Blue Ice Floe, more than sixty different shades of blue render the effects of light produced by the ephemeral event of the ice break-up.

The work is one of a series of tributes to the St. Lawrence that the artist has created over a ten-year period. The river has long been of primary importance to her family: the Beauchemins of Sorel were involved in maritime activities, and her engineer father was in charge of navigation on the river. "The presence of the river is absolutely necessary for me to create," she says. "I am mainly interested in light, and therefore in the colour inherent in light. . . . For me, the river is molten silver, liquid metal. I was unable to express the river with wool, or cotton, or even grey silk. But in Japan, I had the choice of a thousand shades of silver!"

In this unique tapestry, Beauchemin brilliantly combines the shimmering effect of coloured metallic reflections (the result of covering the threads with mylar), varying textures in gradations of blue, and volumes that suggest drapery, the whole forming a surface that is fascinating to explore in all its details.