Art: “Black Gold” by Sandra Sawatzky.

I spent the morning downtown at the Glenbow Museum, which is currently hosting an absolutely incredible art exhibit: a 67 meter long (220 feet!) embroidered tapestry called “Black Gold,” by Calgary artist Sandra Sawatzky.  Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry and split into 8 panels for ease of showing/viewing, this is the complete history of oil and its connection to humankind, from before we were even kicking as a species, during the days of the dinosaurs, through all the technological movements we’ve made right up to our modern car-culture.  Every detail of the story was meticulously researched and planned, each image/scene representative of people and culture and significant events on the timeline. I would have been impressed with the storytelling alone, but I can’t even begin to find words sufficient to describe the perfectly formed and beautifully executed stitching, the vibrant colours of thread she selected, and the stylized imagery and borders reminiscent of the Bayeux Tapestry.  I had to repeatedly remember to clap shut my gaping jaw; “Black Gold” is truly a masterpiece!

I was impressed by something I read in the artist’s statement about the medium of embroidery on fabric – Sawatzky is also a filmmaker, and she commented on the fact that the USB flash drives, external hard drives, and the computers we are currently using to edit and save film images will not survive far into the future (hopefully we will be able to save the data in a new way!), but she was resolved to create something far more durable and lasting with the cloth and thread that comprise “Black Gold.”  (In another gallery of the museum was an exhibit called Eye of the Needle; in it, there were gorgeous examples of different types of embroidery and beadwork, as well as projects detailing the quilling and tufting artistry of Canadian Indigenous people.  Some of the items were modern, while others were over a century old – an indication of the longevity of the medium).

It took Sawatzky nine years to complete “Black Gold” from start to finish, and you can read details of how she went about the work on her project blog, here.  (This separate link will take you to the Glenbow Museum’s site, where you can read about the exhibit. As the webpages change to reflect new exhibits, this link won’t last beyond May 2018, I believe, but you can at least read it now).

Next time I feel daunted by a large task (creative or otherwise), I will have to immediately remind myself of “Black Gold” and the beyond-impressive amount of work that went into it.  I am so pleased to have had the chance to see it. (And it was also delightful taking in some of the fantastic abstract paintings of Lawren Harris – one of the members of the Group of Seven – which were on display at the Museum in a separate gallery).


  1. Wow! That is a fantastic embroidered tapestry! Thanks for the links you have included. I loved reading about her family holiday in 1965 that inspired the little embroidery! I also loved seeing the beautifully coloured paintings of Lawren Harris.

  2. Wow, Sheryl. The sheer size, scope and time involved in creating that piece (is it a “piece” when it’s that huge?) is daunting to me. I love textile art – it just feels more accessible to me, even though one isn’t allowed to touch these exhibits. Kudos to all the artists involved in the shows.

  3. I’ve done enough needlepoint in my life to be impressed beyond words by that tapestry. It was fun to see the mention of Lawren Harris’s paintings, too. An acquaintance just was in Calgary during an extended visit to your area, and he was gently fussing about the fact that they left before the exhibit opened. I’ve never thought I had a bucket list, but I surely would enjoy being able to attend an exhibit of Harris’s work — as well as the rest of the Group of Seven, of course.

  4. Sheryl, my initial comment disappeared, which is why I enter 1 above. I didn’t want to retype it and lose it again. The Black Gold tapestry is extraordinary. Nine Years, working 8 to 10 hours a day. What incredibly art, craft and dedication to her work. I’m so glad you had a chance to see the exhibit. I was lucky enough to see the Bayeux Tapestry when I was in France in 1989. It’s exciting to read about this new tapestry, telling another part of history. I hope to see it one day.

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