Good Shepherd Church Tapestry
Master weaver's tapestry renews traditional art form in Surrey parish
By Laureen McMahon
The B.C. Catholic
VANCOUVER--In the summer of 2010, a tapestry altarpiece of Jesus as the Good Shepherd was completed for Good Shepherd Church in Surrey, a gift from parishioner Helga Hoing to commemorate the 80th birthday of her husband Werner.
In November 2009 Hoing consulted Father Stanley Galvon about a tapestry to mark her husband's upcoming milestone.
"I thought it was a great idea and was overwhelmed at Helga's generosity," the pastor told The B.C. Catholic.
When Hoing, who hoped to keep the tapestry secret until Werner's birthday, discovered textile artist Ruth Jones she knew she had found the right person.
The tapestry was finished on time and presented to Werner the day before his birthday. On Aug. 15, the actual date, Father Galvon had the tapestry in place for the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass.
Vancouver painter and master textile artist Jones designed the tapestry to depict the Good Shepherd, after Whom the church was named.
"Helga suggested we follow the European tradition of hanging the saint behind the altar," said Jones, whose work hangs in international and local venues, including the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.
Researching the role of the shepherd, drawing and painting the design, and then weaving it into the tapestry was an arduous yet fascinating process, said Jones. An instructor in historic European tapestry technique, she graduated in Tapestry Design and Production from the National School for Decorative Arts in Aubusson, France.
Tapestries, Jones said, were created for European churches, and have hung in churches and chapels for hundreds of years. In the 14th century there was a surge in tapestry as the weaving process was studied and refined. Many tapestries were damaged in the Second World War, although probably the most famous of all, the Bayeux Tapestry, survived.
Jones visited the "beautiful setting" of the Surrey church to discuss the tapestry with Father Galvon, and began reading about the true nature of shepherds and sheep.
"I learned how sheep learn to obey their shepherd's voice; how they have perfect confidence in him and follow him wherever he leads. When he searches out those who have strayed, the flock will stay together until he returns. Shepherds lovingly mind their flock and constantly scan the forest for wolves which would destroy them."
While weaving, working in imported French tapestry yarns of wool and silk, Jones meditated and prayed, contemplating Jesus in His role as Good Shepherd.
"It taught me many things about how we can live our own lives," she said.
"Good shepherds," said Jones, "care for all living things while being aware of 'wolf-like' activity which can pull us off track. We need to forgive the trespasses of those around us, recognizing that, like sheep, people sometimes lose their way. We bring our flock together using good thoughts and prayers."
Old Testament connections to shepherds and sheep continue into the New Testament, Jones said.
King David, she explained, was born in a cave sheep fold, and news of his birth first travelled to shepherds. His mission was to tend to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Christ's birth was heralded by shepherds.
"Jesus gave His disciple Peter the office of shepherd by asking him to 'feed My sheep.'" The Latin word pastor means shepherd, Jones pointed out.
She wove a border of plants to "root the image in the earth and put our Saviour's feet firmly where the flock is grazing." Douglas fir and cedar trees place Jesus in our local environment.
"Over His head I painted stars in the shape of flowers and wheels to suggest the invisible spiritual realms and the reality of energy and intention that evolves over time," said Jones.
"Tapestry weaving is done from the back of the work, and weavers can't see the front until the work is finished and cut off the loom. So I asked Jesus what He wanted to look like and His form emerged from my hands."
Jesus's staff, said Jones, is "a stick from the forest whittled during the long days in the pasture," while His sandals are simple leather thongs tied to His feet. His beard is "a bit unkempt and blowing in the breeze of outdoors at dusk, the time that wolves stir."
Jesus's halo, Jones noted, is woven with threads that "shine with the clarity and compassion that make up His thoughts. The sheep stay close to God Who provides security, authority, and affection."
The tapestry was woven on a big low-warp loom with the help of assistants Trena Coulter, Sasha Webb, Rick Holloway, and Sarah Mouratidis. Coulter and Webb are weaving apprentices. Holloway helped with the technical aspect of the weaving, while Mouratidis sewed up threads.
The tapestry, Helga Hoing told The B.C. Catholic, was everything she could have wished for.
"It is really a masterpiece, and we are so thrilled to make it a permanent gift to the parish."