In the tranquil hills above Loulé, Françoise Devroede is busy at her loom weaving unique works of art. Jan Hinze went to visit and was bowled over by what she saw and learned.
Françoise Devroede is a Licier Créateur (weaver designer), which is the professional term for persons who make tapestries based on their own designs. She first became interested in weaving at the age of six. Her parents had bought her an embroidery set but this failed to ignite a creative spark; Françoise had seen woven tapestries in museums and decided that was what she wanted to do.
A bit of background
Tapestries were most commonly used in the Middle Ages by the aristocracy and the wealthy, providing decoration and insulation for castle walls, covering openings and giving privacy. Probably the most famous tapestry is La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) woven in the beginning of the 16th century and currently exhibited at the Cluny Museum in Paris.
Tapestries are now widely available to buy, with many replicas being machine made. However, Françoise is one of only around 25 people in the world today creating warp tapestries perpetuating the art that made Flanders famous in the Middle Ages. Currently in Europe, these tapestries are made only at the Manufacture des Gobelins in Paris, at Aubusson in France, at the Crecit in Tournai in Belgium and at the Manufactura de Tapeçarias de Portalegre here in Portugal.
Born in Belgium, Françoise gained a Masters degree in Roman Philology and, while pursuing her career at the Université du Travail in Charleroi, she spent five years attending the School of Arts in Braine l’Alleud – one of the few places where the ancestral art of warp tapestry was taught – as a student under weaver designer Marce Truyens.
She is a member of the Domaine de la Lice, the renowned Belgian Association of recognised and certified wall tapestry artists. After spending time in the USA, Françoise moved to Portugal in 2006.
Françoise does everything from the design to the finished product. Her very first tapestry – Marine – was completed in 1981. Her inspiration comes from the environment, sometimes flowers, or from photographs where she will be motivated by a small section of the image.
Once she has decided on a design, she will create a real-size template which in itself can take three to four months. The tapestries then take up to two years to complete. Most of her works are enormous although she will occasionally make much smaller ones. One particular tapestry, Jazz measures 213 x 140cm.
Françoise signs each tapestry and this alone takes 30 hours of work. Her latest creation, The Wave, took 1,000 hours to weave, with wool purchased from a specialist manufacturer in Belgium. All of her tapestries are unique works and while the materials and techniques are classical her designs are utterly contemporary.
Françoise has exhibited around the world including the USA, Belgium and Portugal, in particular at the prestigious Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça, a World Heritage site in central Portugal, some 120km north of Lisbon.
Her most recent exhibition was held in São Bras. There will be another there in June of 2020. “The problem is that I need a very large space to be able to show my works,”she says. “You have to stand back to appreciate them fully and fulfilling that requirement is difficult”.
Prices for these amazing works of art – that is the only way you can describe them – are high. But then that’s hardly surprising when you are buying a treasure.