Quebec textiles artist Micheline Beauchemin dies

Micheline Beauchemin, a Grondines, Que.-based artist whose tapestries grace public buildings in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and many international cities, has died at age 79.
Quebec artist Micheline Beauchemin has died at age 79. ((Canada Council for the Arts))
Micheline Beauchemin, a Grondines, Que.-based artist whose tapestries grace public buildings in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and many international cities, has died at age 79.

Beauchemin died Tuesday, according to a statement from the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

She was a pioneer in textile arts, creating huge tapestries of acrylic and other new fabrics using both traditional and modern techniques, according to museum president John Porter.

Among her most famous tapestries are acrylic curtain at the Grande Salle of the Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts in Montreal and the stage curtain of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

She won the Governor General's Award for art in 2006, the Saidye Bronfman Award in 1982 and the Prix Paul Émile-Borduas in 2005.

Beauchemin was born in Longueuil, Que., in 1929 and studied at the Montreal School of Fine Arts, the École des beaux-arts in Paris and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. 

Her early interests were painting and stained glass and in 1953, she held the first exhibit of her stained glass work in Chartres, France.

She became interested in murals, embroidery and tapestries while on a trip to Greece, and began experimenting with new textures and colours. In 1956, she exhibited her first tapestries at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Chartres.

Beauchemin returned to Canada in 1957 and exhibited at the first Exposition nationale d'artisanat du Canada. Two of her tapestries were chosen to decorate the Canadian pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in Belgium and she also worked for Radio-Canada as a costume designer.

The Beauchemin Curtain still hangs in the NAC's Southam Hall in Ottawa. (National Arts Centre)
She studied new technologies and weaving techniques overseas, travelling to Japan, China, Burma, Mexico, Cambodia, Latin America and India to learn about dyeing and weaving.

Her tapestries integrate wool, metallic thread, silk, cotton, nylon, acrylics, aluminium, gold and silver thread and rayon.

In the 1960s, Beauchemin began collaborating with architects and won commissions to create beautiful curtains and tapestries for public buildings.

In 1966, Micheline Beauchemin was commissioned to create a 23-metre-by-13 metre curtain for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, then in the planning stages.

She worked with crafts people at the Kawashima Knitting Mill in Kyoto, Japan, the only mill large enough to handle such a curtain. Her work drew applause when it was unveiled at the NAC's opening in June 1969.

"The Beauchemin Curtain was the first work of art presented at the National Arts Centre ever to receive a standing ovation," said Peter Herrndorf, president of the NAC, calling Beauchemin "one of Canada's most accomplished artists."

She was also commissioned to create tapestries for Queen's Park in Toronto in 1969, the social sciences building at York University in 1970, the Hudson's Bay Company in Winnipeg in 1970 and the Canadian pavilion at the 1970 World Fair in Osaka.

Her work has been collected by Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the National Gallery of Canada, and institutions in Canada, the U.S., Europe and Japan. The Quebec museum plans an exhibit of her work this October.

In 1980, Beauchemin was a high-profile member of a citizens group opposed to a Hydro-Québec project on the river near Les Grondines. She said the landscape and changing seasons of the region inspired her work and she felt she must join the fight to save it.