When Art and Embroidery United - Part 2 / by Jeannine Cook

In my previous blog, I talked about the wonderful discovery of an unusual artist, Alain Dodier, in Sainte Valière, just north of Narbonne, France.  Alain not only creates paintings in Bayeux stitch embroidery (an embroidery form that originated in 11th century France), but he recounts vivid history and stories in his long, virtually animated, panels.  He is in fact today’s heir to the chroniclers who told the story of Norman William the Conqueror’s feat in 1066 when he became king of England.

After Alain had completed his long, literally in 30 meter length and also in time required to complete the work, embroidered panel about the History of the Cathars in southern France, he has moved to a brighter, more upbeat world.  He is telling the tale of the Pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela  in Northern Spain; many of whom passed through Alain’s adoptive Languedoc-Roussillon region en route to the Pyrenees and then on to Spain. Their story will be told on a seven meter long panel; Alain has already completed several meters of the work.

The world he depicts is now filled with light and colour; the embroidery silks he is using even have reflectivity when needed, and his story is one of faith and hope.  Ironically, however, the faith that moves these pilgrims to walk those long, arduous distances in pilgrimage is the same Catholic faith that was marshalled so cruelly against the “heretic” Cathars in the 11th-12th centuries in much the same region.

The pilgrims he evokes go via the different famous churches and landmarks that dot the landscape in Southern France between Béziers and Carcassonne. Rome set up the system of the “passport” that every pilgrim obtains along the route to Santiago, each stage of the pilgrimage marked up, a system which persists to this day.  The different sacred stops en route are evoked – Saint Guilhem en Désert, Montpellier,  Sainte Marie de la Mer, Pouzols, Sainte Valière, Carcassonne, etc.

Careful drawings, organisation of the sequence of scenes and text, colour planning, transfer of the images to the lovely linen – it was all painstaking, thoughtful research and preparation before Alain put a single thread into the fabric.  Now he is well into the project and declares that after this panel, he only has a couple of other ambitions in terms of embroidery endeavours. 

 Alain Dodier explaining the Pilgrims’ Route panel to Gregory Mackay and other artists. (Photography J. Cook)

Alain Dodier explaining the Pilgrims’ Route panel to Gregory Mackay and other artists. (Photography J. Cook)

 Alain Dodier explaining to Jeannine Cook his initial drawing process, long before a design is laid out on the linen panel, ready for embroidering. (Photograph courtesy of Eloise Caleo)

Alain Dodier explaining to Jeannine Cook his initial drawing process, long before a design is laid out on the linen panel, ready for embroidering. (Photograph courtesy of Eloise Caleo)

 Images chronicling the pilgrims’ halt at Capestang. (Photography J. Cook)

Images chronicling the pilgrims’ halt at Capestang. (Photography J. Cook)

 Capestang - detail, (Photography J. Cook)

Capestang - detail, (Photography J. Cook)

 The Benedictine church at Saint Guilhem le Desert in daily life that a pilgrim might have seen. (Photography J. Cook)

The Benedictine church at Saint Guilhem le Desert in daily life that a pilgrim might have seen. (Photography J. Cook)

 The weary pilgrim with his typical pilgrim’s staff with scallop shells, insignia of this pilgrimage even today. (Photography J. Cook)

The weary pilgrim with his typical pilgrim’s staff with scallop shells, insignia of this pilgrimage even today. (Photography J. Cook)

 Different scenes along the Pilgrims’ Route. (Photography J. Cook)

Different scenes along the Pilgrims’ Route. (Photography J. Cook)

 More scenes aloong the Pilgrims’ Route. (Photography J. Cook)

More scenes aloong the Pilgrims’ Route. (Photography J. Cook)

 Life along the pilgrims’ route. (Photography J. Cook)

Life along the pilgrims’ route. (Photography J. Cook)

 A pilgrim being blessed. (Photography J. Cook)

A pilgrim being blessed. (Photography J. Cook)

 Alain Dodier’s “palette” of embroidery silks includes luminous colours for the stained glass windows in the churches. (Photography J. Cook)

Alain Dodier’s “palette” of embroidery silks includes luminous colours for the stained glass windows in the churches. (Photography J. Cook)

Given the wonderful skill and artistry in these panels,  I hope very much that he is inspired to create many,  many more embroideries. If you are ever near Sainte Valière, try to go and visit Alain Dodier for an extraordinary, joyous celebration of creativity.