Anita Fedver grew up in Vukovar, an idyllic small town in Croatia.
“It’s a tradition back home for girls to be taught stitching, embroidery, knitting and crochet from a very young age,” says Anita, who has been practising this intricate form of tapestry for more than four decades. “My mother taught me Gobelin when I was nine years old. I created my first piece at 12, when I was home with a broken leg. My great grandmother Maria was well known for her Gobelin work in Vukovar and this technique has been handed down many generations now,” she says and with a smile adds, “In a way Gobelin is in my genes.”
This is an ancient form of tapestry created by sewing thread on canvas, using a very fine needle. Gobelin was the name of a family of dyers, from Reims in France. In the 15th Century, the patriarch of the family, Jehan Gobelin, discovered an exotic scarlet dye, and he spent so much money on a factory to produce this, that it was named ‘La Folie Gobelin’ by the locals, which translates to ‘Gobelin’s folly’. But Jehan Gobelin proved everyone wrong. The dye works flourished, and a tapestry manufacturing factory was added in the 16th Century.
“In 15th Century Europe, before fine art prints were available, Gobelin was used to reproduce masterpieces in oil, as the two were barely distinguishable from a distance. Gobelin technique was also used for replicas because it would last for generations,” says Anita.
Among Anita’s works dispalyed at the Focus Art Gallery is a picture I find striking in particular. It is of a little girl in a white dress. “It is titled Pinkie,” says Anita, adding, “Unfortunately, the girl who was the model for the original painting died a year after the painting was made.” The girl’s name was Sarah Moulton and the original painting was done by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1794, and is on display at the Huntington Library in California, she says. When looked at from a distance Pinkie looks like an oil painting. On stepping closer, the minute needle work becomes visible.
“For this piece I’ve used a special Gobelin technique called petit-point wherever more detailing is required. There are 41 colours of thread used in this work, with each thread having six plaits. It’s taken me three months and 10,080 stitches to complete it,” she explains.
Ever since Anita moved to India in 2005, she has been a product development consultant with Bachi Shoes in Ranipet (a subsidiary of Tata International). And how does she find time for this hobby? “I live in a village called Mangadu, a few kilometers off Ranipet. Everything winds down early and the whole house is asleep by 9 pm. I spend a few hours every night working on Gobelin and I find it relaxing. It also reminds me of my mother, grandmother and my beloved Croatia.”
(Anita Fedver will be exhibiting a series of Gobelin and Petit Point Art, titled Through The Needle’s Eye, between 10 am and 8 pm on December 7 and 8 at Focus Art Gallery, 19, Marshalls Road, Egmore.)