Leeds textile artist Ruth Bell’s tapestries have recently received acclaim at an exhibition curated by the British Tapestry Group.
In her local home studio, Ruth Bell sits at her loom patiently weaving her colourful and beautiful textured tapestries. Her work is bold, bright, expressive, and stunning.
“I first learned the complex art of tapestry weaving as an apprentice at The Georges Goldstein Studio in Jerusalem. We worked on large flatbed looms with pedals, and I was taught to weave back-to-front using the French gobelin technique. Tapestry weaving is an ancient craft; slow paced and meditative, using millennia old techniques and simple equipment, but the process itself is quite complex. Mixing the coloured threads on the bobbins, I can sometimes have over 20 bobbins and 100 colours on one row.
“I find that tapestry gives me a wonderful means of expression of both my love of Judaism and concepts of Jewish mysticism and spirituality. Tapestry is like life. On the surface it’s a chaotic mess of tangled threads but turn it over and ‘voila!’, it all fits and makes sense and the patterns become clear.”
Ruth currently has two of her recent works on show in an exhibition curated by the British Tapestry Group: “Fabric of the North” features a selection of tapestries at Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar until 31st December. The two pieces have already made their mark. ‘Unifying Force – The Power of Giving’ was shortlisted for the prestigious international Heallreaf Tapestry Prize in 2019, and ‘The Blessing of Rain’ was commended by the judges for the UK Knitting & Stitching Show self-portrait competition during the height of the pandemic last year.
Ruth has work in both public and private collections and she takes private commissions. If you’re looking for gifts, or something special for your home, her website shop Torah Tapestries sells giclee art print reproductions of her work. Printed canvasses are also available to order. Ruth has other strings to her bow. She designed the recreated 19th century shtetl at the Jewish Heritage Centre for Children housed at Chabad Lubavitch and with a trusty team of local volunteers she has been actively involved for over 10 years in showing parties of school children and adult groups (from Yorkshire and beyond) around the centre: “We showcase how Jewish life used to be and how it has evolved into the 21st century.
“Jewish education has flowered since my childhood in the sixties. Children can learn and have fun at the same time! My brother, Rabbi Reuven Cohen has played a major part in making that happen with his famous Gan Yisrael day camp. My younger brother David (who was featured in a recent issue of JLife) is a comedy writer and songwriter for Horrible Histories, so I guess creativity runs in the family!”
Ruth teaches a weekly women’s Torah class on Zoom and is currently planning to launch a new Torah & Textiles class: “I want to look at the importance of weaving, dyeing, spinning and embroidery from a Jewish perspective. The Tabernacle and both the Temples in Jerusalem had floor to ceiling tapestries with lions and eagles woven into the design. The wools were hand-dyed using plant dyes. I’ve experimented with dyeing my own wools and it’s an exciting process. I am looking for other women to join me in a voyage of tactile discovery. For more information or to get involved in the class you can contact me through my Torah Tapestries website. It’s time to polish up my textile skills in time for the building of the third Temple.”
To purchase Ruth work for your home, visit Torahtapestries.com, and to view the Fabric of the North Exhibition visit Fabricofthenorth.org