Painting with threads
Exhibition about the work of Gisella Santi
MIAT - Museu Industrial e Artesanal do Têxtil, PT
06.04. – 30.06.2021
Gisella Santi: Gentes de Carbo Verde, © MIAT - Museu Industrial e Artesanal do Têxtil, PT
Located in a former carpet factory called Tapetes Dom Fuas (1933), later Tapetes Vitória (1945), the Industrial and Handicraft Textile Museum MIAT is a project which aims to dignify the legacy of the generations who made the towns of Mira de Aire and Minde become one of the centres of the textile industry in Portugal in the 20th century.
After almost three months of lockdown, the museum announces now the reopening on the 6th of April with the exhibition "Pintar com os fios"(Painting with threads). It´s a posthumous exhibition featuring the works of a renowned textile artist, Gisella Santi (1922-2006). The curator of the exhibition is Orenzio Santi, the artist´s son.
Gisella Santi played a fundamental role in the evolution of textile art, her contribution was of great importance for the flourishing of contemporary textile art (tapestry) in Portugal.
Born in Pescopagano (Italy) in 1922. Gisella Santi graduated in Mural Painting from the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice and took a course of Figure Drawing from the Brera Academy of Fine Arts (Milan). She also took other courses, including restoration of paintings and of tapestries.
Gisella Santi arrived in Portugal with her partner in the second half of the fifties, partly looking for work and partly for love. During the post war years, she saw herself as an artist and painter. However, always aiming to gain her independence as a woman, Gisella got involved in the restoration of antique textile pieces (tapestries) and, between 1957 and 1974, she started her own antique textile restoration studio/school in Lisbon. The studio employed more than ten women, and due the high quality standards of Gisela´s work, the studio soon started receiving a growing number of orders. In the beginning, the Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santo and the Instituto José de Figueiredo recommended her work to clients. Later, more clients arrived through the recommendation of an antique dealer and carpet trader, the owner of the company David & Popper from Lisbon who belonged to the Jewish refugee community that was persecuted during the anti Semitism wave which grew across Europe during the Second World War.
In those days, Gisella Santi´s studio restored rugs and tapestries from Portuguese and international collections by darning and repairing damaged parts caused by wear and tear. The knowledge/experience of painting in conjunction with the various textile restoration techniques and the expertise in the dying of wool and silk were fundamental skills to enable Gisella to create textile art. Passionate about textiles, her interest and knowledge wasn´t just limited to the traditional two-dimensional wool and silk tapestry.
Gisella visited the International Lausanne Tapestry Biennials where she followed, with curiosity, the movements “La Nouvelle Tapisserie” and “Fiber Art”. The renowned artist Jean Lurçat was one of the main promoters of the International Lausanne Tapestry Biennials.
At the start of the 1970´s, in an individual exhibition of her paintings, Gisella showed her first tapestry using the technique of Gobelins, a figurative tapestry which represents the Basílica e Jardim da Estrela (the Estrela Church and Garden) in Lisbon. In Portugal, most of the artists sent their paintings to be transposed into tapestries in manufactures as is the example of the Manufactura de Tapeçaria de Portalegre. With her knowledge of drawing and weaving, Gisella Santi was able to prepare her own tapestry cartoons which enabled her to transpose her paintings into tapestry, she acquired a vertical loom and started weaving tapestries, emphasising one of the characteristics of the artists of that time: the fact that they were creators (drawing/painting) as well as executants (weaving tapestries).
In 1974, the “Carnation Revolution” overthrew the Portuguese dictatorial regime and there was a lower demand for restoration work, so Gisella started teaching tapestry and weaving. In 1975, with the support of the Portuguese Department for Culture, she starts organising weaving courses in IADE (Faculty of Design, Technology and Communication, Lisbon) and in Condeixa (town in the centre region of Portugal) where she used to stay at a friend´s house, the Cape Verdian ceramic artist Leão Lopes. Later, and due to this friendship, Gisella organised a tapestry course in Cape Verde.
Gradually the restoration studio became a weaving and tapestry studio-school where, besides producing her own textile objects, Gisella also welcomed artists who wished to learn the art of weaving and to develop their own projects.
In 1975, she also founded the tapestry cooperative ARA with Flávia Monsaraz, which closed two years later. In 1978, she founded the Grupo 345 de Tapeçaria Portuguesa (group of Portuguese tapestry artists) which included some of the textile artists who frequented her studio. At the same time, Gisella started teaching tapestry technology at the Escola António Arroio (Portuguese Art School, Lisbon).
In the same year, the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (Portuguese Foundation) presented the 8th Lausanne Tapestry Biennial, among others, the following renowned contemporary textile artists took part: Magdalena Abakanovicz, Jagoda Buic, Elsi Giauque, Ritzi e Peter Jacobi, Aurelia Muñoz, Olga Amaral, Lia Cook and Sheila Hicks.
Originally associated with traditional tapestry, Gisella started creating three-dimensional objects, using conventional and unconventional materials, in a continuous exploration of shapes, textures and colours. However, she never stopped using traditional techniques, sometimes she would use the technique of Gobelins, almost as if she wished to refocus on the precision that this technique requires.
Besides being a textile artist, Gisella also played a fundamental role in the Grupo 345 which organised a series of exhibitions, in Portugal and abroad. Through these events, textile art has gained recognition among other forms of art, namely painting.
Thus, “Pintar com os fios” (Painting with threads) does not aim to compare tapestry to painting. On the contrary, it aims to illustrate metaphorically the joy that Gisella felt when, firstly, she was preparing her tapestry cartoons and afterwards when she was working on the loom intertwining threads with her fingers to weave her paintings, in a dialogue of opportunities and choices that remind us of the dialogue we have with life.