The Trojan Family in Wool, Cotton, Silk and Gold
“The Trojan Family Tapestry,” by renowned artist John Nava, hangs just inside Steven and Kathryn Sample Hall in the new Ronald Tutor Campus Center. It is one of more than 100 pieces of art and Trojan memorabilia installed in preparation for the building’s Art Grand Opening on Sept. 30.
The massive tapestry, which hangs 22 feet tall by 22 feet wide and was woven near Bruges, Belgium, is the signature commission of the center’s Art & Trojan Traditions program and permanent art collection.
The figures in the tapestry depict USC students and staff members, chosen to represent the diverse USC community. USC President Emeritus Steven B. Sample and campus center naming donor Ronald Tutor ’63 are shown walking together in the left panel of the tapestry. Rebecca Soni, a former USC swimmer and 2008 Olympic gold medalist, stands next to then-USC football player David Buehler.
An unusual feature of the tapestry is the background, a “field of knowledge” made up of historic documents that are part of the holdings of USC Libraries. Among the documents in this “mosaic of texts,” as the artist calls it, are:
• a 13th-century Koran
• the first illustrated English version of Don Quixote by Cervantes, from 1687
• the fourth edition of the University of Southern California newspaper, April 1881
• a painted chronicle from the Mixtec Highlands in Mexico, Codex Bodley
• Gentaku Otsuki’s Kankai ibun, a Japanese manuscript from 1807 based on interviews with four fishermen
• a manuscript of Jud Süss, the first novel by Lion Feuchtwanger (the library’s rare book room is named after him)
• the Nuremberg Chronicle from 1493
The tapestry was commissioned in 2008. USC Fisher Museum of Art director Selma Holo and a campus center team that included Patrick Bailey, Jason Cruz and Cindy Robinson met with Nava to help develop his vision for the project. In the summer of 2008, Nava, who lives in Ojai, Calif., began making visits to campus to photograph students and meet with USC Libraries staff members. He later attended a USC football game against Notre Dame, where he photographed Buehler.
Nava is best known for his collection of tapestries at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Of the Tutor Center commission, Nava said: “The frieze of figures that move across the fabric mirrors the real-life movement of the campus community both in the passage and, to extend the metaphor, through the world of the university itself.” He said those pictured “reflect the interior preoccupations and attitudes typical of all generations of students – each intently focused on making his or her way.”
Once Nava chose the photographs he wanted to use, he painted the figures individually onto white backgrounds. He then scanned the paintings into a computer program to arrange the different elements that made up the final design. The paintings of the figures and the text images for the background were brought together, edited and adjusted using Photoshop. They were set up for the loom by controlling variables such as size, color palette and image distortion.
Throughout the process, Nava had the Flanders Tapestries mill, located in the village of Weilsbeke, Belgium, weave test pieces to test the color, size and detail of the composition. It took several tests to arrive at the precise shades of cardinal and gold. Most of the colored fibers are cotton or wool, with silk used for some of the white shades. Gold metallic fibers were used throughout the tapestry, which shine when light hits them.
After almost two years of planning, painting, designing and testing, the tapestry was woven in May. It was woven in three parts, which were joined during the installation on June 29.
At the July 10 opening of the campus center, Nava asked Sample if he recognized himself in the tapestry. “I recognize the university,” Sample replied.
There will be an exhibition of the tapestry paintings and test pieces at the USC Fisher Museum of Art from Jan. 10 through April 19, 2011, as part of the USC Fisher Museum of Art @ Campus Center partnership.