First published: Fall 2002
The weaving of coloured wools is traditionally a female, domestic activity, associated with a practical purpose and destined for soldiers or new-born babies rather than the whitewashed walls of a modern art gallery. The vibrant tapestries and solid lace structures made by Marie-Rose Lortet challenge this conception. For her December 2000–May 2001 retrospective exhibition at the Jean Lurçat Museum of Contemporary Textiles in Angers, France, she chose the title ‘Woollen territories, architectures of thread 1967–2000’, which suggests the potential expanse and strength of these delicate materials. Lortet’s threads have escaped the hearth to stake a claim over land and property. She has transcended the mythical female roles of Ariadne or Penelope attributed to her by Gilbert Lascault in the catalogue essay, and crossed over into the predominantly male world of architects, landowners and conquerors.
Born in Strasbourg in 1945, Marie-Rose Lortet began making collages of assembled artefacts from an early age. Having observed her mother and grandmother knitting clothes, she found the procedure came naturally, but she disregarded its practical uses in favour of creating ‘flexible images that could follow me wherever I went’.
At the age of sixteen, she was briefly employed in a couture house, but found herself unable to conform to the designer’s patterns, and instinctively began to make tiny clothes, their sleeves ‘more suited to the wings of angels than the arms of models’. She progressed to small pictures made of fabric before devoting her attention to colourful tightly-knitted figure compositions. They were generally scorned or ignored until, in 1967, she read a newspaper article investigating ‘unconventional’ creative activity. She recalls, ‘A friend sent some of my small-scale works to Jean Dubuffet’s Compagnie de L’Art Brut, rue de Sèvres, Paris.’