Sunday, July 29, 2012

Road Trip - Day 1 - Tapestries of Thies

I put out a "last call" e-mail back in April to invite anyone who wanted to come and visit and another friend Andrea stepped up to the challenge.

 Her responses to the call and some back and forth correspondence -
  • I'm excited...I can't wait to see you.  I'm "game" to anything you would like to do!
  • Whatever unfolds will be fun
  • No...I have never ridden a camel nor have I ever lived next door to a mama goat and her little baby goat.    :)  (but she meant sheep)
  •  This will truly be an adventure for me!  But who better to do it with... then the Goldman Sutton clan.
Yeah - let the adventure begin by enjoying your new living space for a few days in the apartment! What more do you need but a mosquito net and a thermarest.

We packed in the sights, sounds and tastes of Dakar during her first few days to give her a true feel of how life has been for us the last 9 months.

Point des Almadies

Muhammad Ali - and his fruit cart

Bus Line 47 - zigs and zags through the Dakar neighborhoods.
Visit to the Gueye Brothers Sous Verres Atelier

The other highlight of having Andrea visit was our chance to take on a road trip to some other parts of Senegal we had not yet visited. We secure Habib - a taxi driver we had come to know and like - to be our driver for this road trip. We debated on the sept-place option and after calculating the costs and number of transfers we would encounter plus the possible wait time involved between towns and the lugging of our luggage - we thought it prudent to be able to move about more freely by working with Habib. 

First stop - Manufactures Senegalaises des Arts Decoratifs in Thies

Manufactures Sénégalaises des Arts Décoratifs is an artistic center inspired by President Senghor in the 1960’s. It's more of a school of fine arts in the art of tapestries that also includes a gallery of stunning tapestries.  Designs for the brightly colored tapestries are chosen from paintings submitted by Senegalese  and other African artists.

Preparing the design is an intricate and fascinating process that we had a chance to observe.

We learned there was two approaches to the weaving and in the first room there were many looms setup upright and apprentices learning the art of weaving. The result of this effort in how they were putting the yarn on the strings reminded me of 'hooked rug' so one side at the knot and the other the plush yarn. They would also use a scissors to give it a 'trim' so it was very even.  In some instances there was a specific pattern they were following and that pattern was placed behind or under the loom in reverse.  

This design was a Baobab Tree

After we saw them weaving we moved into another room where a man who had been employed and taught at the center for a very long time was doing the mapping of a future approved design with the colors.  Here is where the process begins with transforming the picture and idea onto the paper before the weaving actually begins. This part can take weeks to do in order to get the colors right. In some cases they use a single color and in others a combination of colors to generate a visual effect of a new color if that color is not available already dyed.  It was so intricate in terms of the colors and the mapping.

A wall of all the fiber colors ever used in each tapestry

In the last room there was another series of looms set up but the weaving technique was different.  Here it was more like shuttling the fibers over and under the strings to create the image as they followed the paper underneath.

If I recall there was 7 or 8 tapestries being worked on. The tapestries are so exclusive - there is never more than 8 made of each design. They can range from  2 to 3 m high and about 2 m wide. They can take months and even years to complete.  Apparently these tapestries find new homes around the world and are given as gifts from the Senegalese government to foreign dignitaries of other countries.

The paper on top of the loop was flipped over for me to take the picture in order to not disclose what it was and where it was going.  And at this point I actually have forgotten so there you have it. 

From here we went to the display gallery which was a sight to behold (and unfortunately I was not able to take pictures but snagged others from the web)  looking at all these incredible and brilliantly colorful hangings.  It was a bit of a shame to recognize the love and attention paid to the tapestries and yet the facility itself inside in which they were displayed was in a state of disrepair.  The contrast was very apparent and slightly disheartening knowing the challenge the country faces with climate and electricity and funds to house works of art in a more preserving environment.


  1. I've SO enjoyed reading your posts during the last year. Alas, your post re: the Peace Corps perspective rang especially true (and brought back many memories and feelings I'd long since forgotten in the 25 years since my own P/C service).

    The fact is, not much HAS changed here in Berkeley since your departure - especially relative to the extraordinary things you've witnessed and experienced. I walk by your house at least once a week (on my way to Trader Joe's) and observe that there too everything is much the same except, perhaps, for the relative positions of your 2 cars due to your neighbor starting them up and moving them about from time to time.

    Actually, that's not TOTALLY true. Your neighbor on the corner of Hearst and Grant has just about finished erecting a fence and gate around the perimeter of his lot - so you have THAT to look forward to. ;-)

    Let us know if there's anything you need (either prior to or after your return) and we'll be happy to oblige. I for one welcome an opportunity to just hang out on your front stoop with a tall glass of Jus de Bissap while watching the world go by.

    All our love,

    Brian, Eve, Olivia and Milo

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