April 20th, 2021

Eye on the Esplanade: The Black Gold Tapestry

By Daniel Meller on April 2, 2021.

The Black Gold Tapestry is neither black nor gold in colour, but rather a white background with a vivid display of colour.

The colours in its name reference a nickname for oil, “black gold.” Perhaps the older generation will remember the popular TV show The Beverly Hillbillies, where the theme song said “…up through the ground come a bubblin’ crude … oil that is, black gold”.

It’s amazing how oil and its innovations have influenced almost everything on this planet for better and for worse. This tapestry shows the history of oil, from the organic matter in the earliest part of Earth’s history to the plastics such as the ones I’m typing on at this very moment. It is a story as grand as any you could imagine, and all of its 220 feet of embroidered, colourful threads is here in our gallery.

Installing the tapestry was challenging. The maker of the tapestry, Sandra Sawatzky, needed a way to have the tapestry hang on the wall, and be easily packed and shipped for travel around the country or overseas. She devised a simple yet ingenious system for hanging using trailer awning rails. Sawatzky sewed a sleeve at the top of the artwork where we insert a rope. We then feed the rope and sleeve edge into the narrower “C” shaped channel on the rail preventing the tapestry from falling to the ground.

We are always careful with the art works or artefacts at the Esplanade. From manipulating to steaming out any wrinkles, we took special care in handling the monumental tapestry. After all, the artist spent close to 14,000 hours in its creation! We contacted the Canadian Conservation Institute for advice to ensure we took the highest levels of precautions.

The result is a massive tapestry that snakes along the walls of the gallery, bending around the corners specially designed to keep the flow of the artwork for optimal viewing.

This exhibition, alongside School Art 2021, is perfect for welcoming the public back into our building. We hope the province will move into Step 3 of its reopening plan soon so we can welcome you again. Until then, you can preview both exhibitions on our website – esplanade.ca.

Daniel Meller is a gallery assistant at the Esplanade

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