“NAPOLEON: Power and Splendor” Exhibition

January 22nd, 2019

Mike and I were in Kansas City MO recently, visiting our son and some grandsons over a few days during which we celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary. While there we visited one of our favourite places, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where there is a marvellous exhibition, NAPOLEON Power and Splendor running until March 10th 2019. This sumptuous glimpse of the extravagant splendour of Napoleon’s court and understanding it’s continuing importance to all aspects of French Life today is really worth seeing if you are in the area.

A general view of one gallery with silver embroidered sage green jacket.

In the foreground of this general view of one of the galleries featuring elaborate tableware of candelabras, plates, cutlery and serving dishes in place settings along with some church or chapel altar pieces, stands a beautifully cut grey-green velvet jacket heavily embroidered with silver. According to the panel nearby it was the dress uniform of The Grand Master of The Hunt – to do obviously with management of all the horses and stables and featuring a lovely cut-away style. While I was standing marvelling at the elaborate embroidery and that the jacket was obviously worn but not worn out, one of the museum docents came along and remarked that she wasn’t certain whether this was beading or not. I could have said “Get your eyes tested lady!” but didn’t, instead nicely pointed out to her that this fabulous trim on the jacket was hand embroidered with silver thread, the textures resulting from different stitches, not beads – principally padded satin stitch and lots of couched threads and cords.

Uniforms identified which of the six Imperial Household departments the 3,500 staff members worked in: The Grand Equerry, Grand Master of The Hunt, Grand Chaplain, Grand Marshal of the Palace, Grand Master of Ceremonies and General Chamberlain. Wool tapestry weaving, production of silk fabrics and wallpaper, painting, particularly portraiture of the Emperor and his family plus the metal crafts, jewellery and furniture making are all represented in this fascinating insight into extravagant luxury that characterised the palaces and environment of Emperor’s court.

You know when you’re faced with a lot to take in, your brain sometimes seizes up and refuses to absorb any more! So it was with the couple of hours we spent at the museum. For a non-student of European history, there was a lot I needed to read and try to put in perspective as context to the incredible grandeur I was seeing. All the creative arts and design flourished anew under Bonaparte’s patronage as he sought to elevate his image from successful military campaigner, First Consul, to Emperor of France with extensive power over France, North America, Asia and North Africa. Having in effect restored the monarchy he aggrandised his own image as a succesful military campaigner (despite having had to retreat from The Battle of The Nile in Egypt) strong political leader, tireless administrator, military genius and even some level of semi-divinity with immense power, ultimately becoming Emperor, in effect a ruthless dictator. Architectural projects, household goods and equipment, jewellery and body ornaments plus other worn or held crowns, vessels and weapons symbolised his power. Textiles ranging from enormous tapestry weavings to curtains, upholstery, clothing and uniforms and equipment were lavishly ornamented by skilled craftsmen employing symbolic imagery lifted from ancient Greece and Rome plus others, such as bees, associated with very early French kings.

One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition is this beautiful chair, one of Napoleon’s many thrones in the imperial palaces. Upholstered in fabulous red velvet it has a touch of Egypt about it, in the style which came to be known as Empire. It’s in a gallery containing some huge tapestry hangings that had graced the reception rooms at Versailles. The colours of the galleries, in this case red – were stunning, adding so much to the feeling of opulence everywhere you looked.

Another gallery featured soft furnishings and various personal items owned and used by the imperial family. Apparently Napoleon maintained good dental hygiene, so his personal dentist, who travelled everywhere with him, never needed to use some of the handsome tools in the elaborately crafted set of dental tools exhibited. This may or may not be the actual set in the exhibition – but, if not, it is very like what I saw, and the text reads pretty much word for word what I read in that gallery – so I think it may be.

I don’t remember how many palaces the emperor had use of – you can google that! but below are some of the silk furnishing fabrics commissioned during his reign as apartments were refurbished. Gorgeous and no doubt important symbols are in these designs – you can see more Napoleonic symbol images here and, using the googler, explore around ’empire style’, ‘napoleonic’ and related terms come up with some wonderful antique furniture and objects from early to mid C19 France, United States and Regency England.

You and I probably share at least some love of textiles, which is why you’re reading this blog, right? And I hope you’re a regular! Through my long involvement in textiles I have learned a lot of history, but history was never my strong point at school, where the subject was taught by the school principal, Miss Margery Rooney. We adored her, but she was a very uninspiring teacher For most lessons, whe read aloud from the text book while we followed along, and just occasionally there was a change of activity as we copied notes from the blackboard. I hated her boring classes and opted out of history as soon as I could. In my late 20s, though, I realised what a shame it was this dreary teacher had killed ‘history’ as a subject for me. Though I’ve been making up for it over the past 50 years, my knowledge of European history in particular is still deficient in parts, of which I was very aware at this exhibition! While writing this account today, I found this link to the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia) setting out the life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte in a way I found fairly easy and comfortable to wrap my mind around. And here’s a timeline site putting the Napoleonic period into context re textile fashions which I’ve bookmarked for the future.

In summary, we’ve all heard of Napoleon Bonaparte, but I’m sure I was not alone in not realising how much the world, not just France, owes to this extraordinary man. Apparently he was a total workaholic, excelled at devising systems to organise people and services, and slept perhaps 3 hours per night. From the NGV site’s interesting page of facts and figures one most striking to me is “The rule of Napoleon fostered numerous scientific discoveries, many related to warfare. The process of canning food was a product of the Napoleonic Wars and the search for a better means to preserve food for the troops.”  Napoleon was President of the French Academy of Sciences from 1801–1814. The more you learn the more you know there is to learn.

Seduced By Colour

January 7th, 2019

Panama, on the isthmus connecting North and South America, pulsates with life and colour. We’ve been there several times, and one time several years ago I got totally out of control in a haberdashery/ merceria stocked with glitter and lots of interesting ‘stuff’ for all kinds of embroidery and craft activities. My eye was taken by reels and reels of gorgeous bright coloured ribbon, and, as if under some kind of Panamanian Bright Colours Spell, I bought 7-8m of every bright, narrow ribbon I could find, which didn’t look much when organised into balls…


Have you ever found that after buying something gorgeous in a foreign place, you get it home and wonder what the heck you are going to do with it? The only link I can see between ribbons and my preferred usual surface design technique, improvisational quilting, is ‘lines’. Over the following year or two I ‘visited’ these ribbons/lines of colour regularly, letting them slither through my fingers as I wondered what had possessed me, and what on earth I was going to do with them. I ratted one or two colours to tie around wrapped gifts … and realised that wouldn’t use them up any year soon!

However an idea came to mind late last year during a bit of a tidy up. (Don’t worry, nothing too severe) At the time I thought I needed another 100cm x 60cm piece for the SAQA Oceania call for entries for “Connections” so that I’d have two to submit by the closing date in January, but I’ve since re-read that prospectus and found it’s only one entry per member. So, whether or not what follows turns out to be something suitable to exhibit another time, it will be a good learning sample. I’ve always found it worthwhile to make samples when practising or learning new techniques.

I was inspired to use (up) these materials by the memory of one art quilt I saw nearly 30 years ago in Denver CO’s Arvada Centre A huge piece approx 2m x 2m, it was made of bright coloured fabric squares sandwiched between metallic insect screen mesh layers. On the front layer some squares were cut and the fabrics inside eased out in the manner of a facial tissue box top. It was stunning how the metallic mesh shimmered and the colours glowed. I can’t imagine how the maker worked with anything less than leather gloves and an industrial machine to assemble the mesh pieces. I didn’t take a photo or make note at the time, but finding it still on my mind a few years ago, I wrote without success to some likely sources inquiring who made it. I’d love to hear from anyone who recognises my description and knows who made that art quilt.

It was amazing how quickly this process ate up the ribbon of which I only had enough to do 7 x 9 squares instead of the 7×10 originally planned. As I’m using black nylon organza and a black polyester that unravels pretty easily, selecting an edge finish technique for this could be tricky. I ended up placing the ribbons a bit differently, but you’ll get the idea that squares have been marked by tacking to be removed once the organza and polyester layers are fastened together. I plan to have some ribbons hanging out on the front side. It’s well advanced, and we’ll see soon how this experiment finishes up, and I’m considering a smaller version for the annual SAQA auction.

Tying Off Loose Ends 2

December 28th, 2018

My mother contended that every woman should have a sewing machine and use it; and further, that if the bailiffs ever came to sell you up, the machine was the one thing they could not take because it provided a way for a woman to make an honest, decent living. I have no idea if that is true in Australian law or not, but she certainly believed it, and I received a sewing machine for my 21st birthday. Since my mid teens, I’ve sewed countless metres of fabric into my own and childrens’ clothes, curtains, furniture coverings. though I no longer make clothes for anyone, I just kept on sewing as I discovered patchwork and quilt making about 30 years ago.


A sewing machine has always been part of my Essential Life Equipment. Early in my life the machine was either in use out on a table in the family living room – we’ve lived in plenty of houses with one living/family/dining area – or resting on the floor beside a bookcase or in a hall cupboard. In the Mt. Isa house, I remember how exciting it was to get my very own built-in cupboard that contained the machine and when I need to sew, I simply opened the doors and locked the fold-up work bench area into place. For the first time I had my own space, and it felt like a total luxury. In the Boulder house with big rambling enclosed verandahs I bagged a corner room, never minding that the louvre windows allowed a fair bit of dust to come in, because like all Goldfields seamstresses, that never bothered me. This was a luxury upgrade that I have been fortunate to enjoy since, where ever we have lived. Here in Montevideo I have the largest room yet, about which I wrote with some revealing pics back in 2013

When we bought the Perth house, I chose an upstairs bedroom with a view out over the street below and to the city beyond. In renovating, I installed cupboards all along one wall and a pin board along another shorter wall. Book cases were on a third wall, and on the front wall, glass door windows opened out on to the upper balcony. It was marvellous, but for all the 24+ years we owned it, we only lived in that house as man and wife for 3+ years, sigh. Over the 20 years I was absent, my sewing room gradually became a storage room as the our house sitter/buyers progressed from a couple to a family with three children. Early on I used to have some visiting rights, but it’s years since I had a long enough visit to Perth to do anything in that room. I arrived thinking I’d be able to do a quick bit of sorting and discarding, a plan I immediately abandoned when I saw this!

It was no surprise then, that at the end of monday afternoon, all the stuff in the foreground had been packed, and the packers discovered that what they’d assumed was wall was actually painted sliding doors behind which were shelves of quilting and embroidery fabrics and drawers of embroidery threads, notions and equipment. That meant they had seriously underquoted volume and time for the job, and extra hands were hastily called in for the next day to help meet the tight tuesday afternoon uplift deadline in what is removal companies’ busiest time of year! When they finally reached the hidden stash, I was called to something else going on elsewhere in the house, so I just have to take it on faith that my fabrics and other goodies were still behind those cupboard doors, and that they’ve all gone into storage.

Tying Off Loose Ends

December 25th, 2018

Hi everyone! I know, I’m sorry, I’ve neglected my visual diary blog for a few weeks, but my regular readers know this happens every now and then, and usually because I’ve been travelling. This time I failed to set up a few posts to appear on this blog while I was away, but I have some good things to share now I’m back in Montevideo.

Our first stop was Perth WA, where we needed to clear our belongings from our house we sold a few months ago to the last of a long line of fine, responsible house sitters we’ve had living there since we came to Uruguay on the search for gold, c.1999. (I’m not going to be more precise, it would take a couple of paragraphs to explain all this) We accepted the occupants’ attractive offer to buy the house they’d always said they liked, and so we had to get over there to organise our stuff. As we have not yet bought or rented another place, and things are truly up in the air on all that, most went into storage at the removal company’s warehouse facility in metro Perth WA. We sent about 5 cubic m. to the tip, and about the same amount of clothing and goods were donated. I think there’ll be more tip and donate activity when we eventually unpack!

With two teams of packers, it was a whirl of activity which Mike and I could not really keep up with. We each lunged once or twice to take something from the packers’ hands, but although we did bring an extra case back, we were still well under our luggage limit, and as usual while there we did buy a few important things like Vegemite, Gravox, curry pastes, several books and a couple of new garments each.

This wine saucer is one of a pair I bought on what turns out to have been my first visit to Uruguay, in 1989. The antique shop owner told me they were German made, c.1910, and it is lovely to be reunited with them, as they are such a beautiful design. Mike did a great job this morning cleaning them and this dragonflies sugar cube bowl with tongs:

The house clearing went both heaps better than I expected, and a little worse in some aspects; as I for example was not prepared for the tide of emotions that hit me at the end of the first day, even though it has been on my determined agenda for months. Mike was a bit dismayed when he realised how much it had deteriorated from the freshly renovated state it was when we last lived in it as man and wife 22 years ago, though I’d been telling him for several years ‘It really needs a lot of work…’ Thanks to the solid support of our good friend Graciela Cortazzo who stood by patiently saying ‘Keep’, ‘Donate’ or ‘Tip’ whenever she sensed we were hovering or dithering, we survived it all, after which we had another week or so of visiting friends, and a fair bit of wine therapy. We can now plan our next steps with clear minds. Before returning to Uruguay, we spent a week in Tasmania, another at Nerang, Gold Coast Qld, and finally a week in New Zealand. Some impressions of the Auckland Art Gallery exhibitions and the War Museum there, will come up in the next couple of weeks.

But in the meantime, let me invite you to start dipping into my new blog, pickledgizzards.com, where for several months now I have been writing about Life and Family memories including the foods I associate with them, and how eating, particularly in Australia, has changed over my lifetime. As you know, I don’t ‘do recipes’ here, (or fluffy kitties or cute grandchildren either) But my second blog isn’t just another foodie blog loaded with my favourite chef’s yummy gourmet recipes, and to see what I mean, try https://pickledgizzards.com/cheese-savouries/ I hope you enjoy those posts, too.

Browsing with Pinterest

November 13th, 2018

Every day Pinterest emails pics of things it thinks I might like, but all this stuff barely involves humans, it’s just clever algorithms that work out from what you look at online what else you might like to see.  It’s often wrong or a bit wide of the mark, but when ‘they’ get it right, as today, it is wonderful.

Through Pinterest I discovered the work of Anna Santinello

Woven wire sculpture  (c) Anna Santinello

How exhilarating it must be to construct such a large sculpture from the inside out, having the organic shape curl around you as it goes.  Santinello says: “I represent life as comprised between two doors: birth and death. That is why my sculptures are broken off, with bodies seeming to crumble. Building, starting to destroy, to be and not to be, in our life we, like the blind, are unable to grasp its meaning if we lack any reference point.”  Hence the wonderful frayed edge, visible in many of her other sculptures and installations.

Untitled, woven copper and iron wire, 26 x 28 x 20cm.  (c) Anna Santinello.

Edges, or lack of them, can be very powerful points in a composition.

Santinello’s website contains a very thought provoking artist statement, bringing to mind things I see the same way – as in “It is the work leading you….. a final result slowly taking its shape in a complicated plot of matter, at the same time soft and so resistant. Coming out of the mere strength of my hands.”  The medium and technique enables a total change of scale without compromising any of her ideas:

Woven silver wire jewellery  (c) Anna Santinello

When you visit her website, and be sure to scroll down on every page, because on first visit to the jewellery page for example, I had no idea that by scrolling beyond the first line of images in a slide show, I would find collections of her jewellery grouped by year. When you look at all of them you’ll be struck as I was at the blend of light femininity in the symbols in her designs, but also the lacy textile like look of the woven wire.  It’s easy to forget these are not made of thread but of wire.  They appear to be lacy ‘textiles, and I’d love to handle some.

Woven silver wire neck piece 2004.  (c)Anna Santinello.

My thanks to Anna Santinello who granted permission to use her images in this post.

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