Of the artists working in tapestry today, Helena Hernmarck stands without peer. Her works can be seen in numerous public venues. The artist’s fashions each piece to the architectural design of the individual space they occupy. Often derived from a local environment, her themes often encapsulate the great outdoors and are frequently heroic in scale. Helena Hernmarck was born in Sweden, a country with a great textile tradition. She received her education at the Handarbetes Vanner Weaving School and the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfackskolan). Her work can be found in collections in the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Hernmarck was the recipient of the American Institute of Architects 1973 Craftsmanship Medal, was elected a Fellow of the American Craft Council in 1996, and won the Connecticut Commission of the Arts Governor’s Art Award in 1998. In 1999 she received Sweden’s prestigious Prins Medal and in 2000 was elected the Swedish American of the year.
The term tabula rasa is a Latin term meaning blank slate. The term often refers to the concept that people are born into the world without previous mental content or knowledge. Their knowledge comes from experience and perception. In Western philosophy, the idea can be traced back to Aristotle. Hernmarck’s Tabula Rasa is a ten-by-fourteen hand woven tapestry hanging in the stairwell of the foyer of Pao Hall. While the artist was not given any specific direction for subject matter, she was asked to create a design that would both enliven and increase the feeling of space in the stairwell as well as collectively represent the four disciplines represented in the school: the Department of Art and Design, Department of Theatre, the Division of Music and the Division of Dance.
Tabula Rasa represents the beginning of the creative journey, whether it may be a new sheet of white paper, or an additional step in the development of an existing work. As Hernmarck works through her ideas in her sketchbook, she often finds the road to the final design through a process of change or “scraping away.” The hallmark of Helena Hernmarck’s work is her skill in creating the optical illusion of three dimensional space on a flat but richly textured surface of tapestry. In Tabula Rasa, she has created the illusion of sheets of saturated color that float out into space. This is accomplished so convincingly that
the viewer expects to be able to climb up the stairs and peer between the layers. This is the magic of Helena Hernmark’s masterpiece. The tapestry hangs in the foyer of Yue Kong Pao Hall in the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts at Purdue University.