Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The passing of a great one--Silvia Heyden

I learned today that Silvia Heyden, wonderful artist and kind soul, has passed away.  I am so happy to have know her and to have been able to spend just a little time in her presence, watching her weave and hearing her inspiring words about making "weaverly" works.  I've had this quote from Silvia at the side bar of my blog for years:
..(I) have come to the conculsion that tapestry can indeed be an art form in its own right with its own specific mode of expression if the craft of weaving is allowed to influence the art of tapestry. In order to be meaningful, tapestry must find its own identity. It must not be a woven painting, but rather a composition that could only have been woven, not painted.

Silvia Heyden, from The Making of Modern Tapestry
The first time I saw one of her tapestries in person was at an exhibit held at Fernbank in Atlanta during the 1998 Convergence.  It was just an amazing piece--how did she make weft do that in the weaving?  Later in the conference, I met her in person and learned about her book, The Making of Modern Tapestry.  Did I get a copy then or order it later?  I don't recall... but it's one that I've gone back to many times for inspiration.

A few years ago Holly Wilkes arranged a get-together with Tapestry Weavers South members and Silvia in Durham at her home.  That day Silvia invited us to get out many of her stored tapestries, put them up for viewing and discussion.  She showed us many of her sketches and seeing how her loose drawings related to her tapestries was enlightening.  While we were there, Kenny Dalsheimer was filming for his documentary about Silvia and our group appeared in a short segment in the film.

A year or so later several of us joined Silvia for a workshop she gave in Durham.  We worked with color ideas at her home and then met in a nearby community building for hands-on weaving experiences.  She demonstrated her "feather weave" during the workshop and I was able to do a short video of that for reference later.  I remember it as a chilly time--we were all bundled up in coats for a walk by the Eno River, the inspiration for many of her later works.  But the heat of inspiration from the mind and hands of Silvia Heyden kept us all quite warm.

I was so happy to show her a tapestry I'd finished earlier, following that initial visit to her.  I took her thoughts of making an image "weaverly" and also of reducing the colors to three or four for this tapestry.  Here's Silvia taking a look at my work: 

I wrote about that at this blog post in 2009.

Here's a link to Lyn Hart's review of A Weaverly Path, the documentary film about Silvia, and the link to the film is here.

Last fall, the Tapestry Weavers South organization was happy to include her tapestries in our most recent exhibit.  TWS also presented her with an honorary membership in recognition of her wide influence in the tapestry world over many decades.

She will be missed by all who admired and loved her.  A link to an online obituary is here.

Rest in Peace, Silvia.


  1. I am so sorry I never got the chance to meet her. Her work and scholarship are so important.

  2. I'm saddened to read about Silvia Heyden's passing. She was a true artist and so very inspiring.

  3. Thank you, Tommye, for this remembrance of Silvia. Her tapestries were unique and she had something that all of us could learn from her. She was a beautiful person and will be missed.
    Holly Wilkes

  4. I had the memorable experience of visiting Sylvia - crossing Lake Maggiore,being met and spending an afternoon with her and her family in the 90s, with my husband and swiss cousin. So many fabulous tactile images to contemplate,such exquisite melding of color - many stand out vividly in my memory today . - what a contribution to our love of tapestry. We honor her gift and beautiful spirit...
    marie hochstrasser in KY

  5. What a special time we had with Silvia. Her wonderful philosophy and talent were shared with us and I think we all were thrilled to learn from her and get a glimpse of how she developed her work

  6. Your blog is a treasure. To just have discovered this post - written before I fell in love with tapestry, your work, and the work of Silvia H, is quite a joy.