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This Tapestry Illustrates the Spirit of St. Louis

This Tapestry Illustrates the Spirit of St. Louis

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For almost three decades, a remarkable amalgam of art, architecture and history has sheltered in Marsha and Dave Schuman’s posh Creve Coeur home – specifically, in a gigantic roll beneath the couple’s hand-carved Art Deco-style maple billiard table from the 1940s, adjoining the residence’s great room.

Rolled, that amalgam measures roughly 2 feet in diameter and 4 feet in length – like a burrito for the Jolly Green Giant. Unrolled, not without a fair amount of effort by Marsha Schuman, it measures fully 20 feet wide and stands revealed as a panoramic tapestry.

“The story is, there is no other one like it,” Schuman remarks.

More specifically, against an abstract lemon, tangerine and orange background like a slightly beclouded metro area sunset during the dog days, the tapestry depicts Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, as it once was known; the Basilica of St. Louis, King, more commonly called the Old Cathedral; the SS Admiral, scrapped the better part of a decade ago; the general St. Louis cityscape from a distance; Busch Memorial Stadium, superannuated by Busch Stadium III in 2005; the Gateway Arch; the Apotheosis of St. Louis, the statue of King Louis IX of France atop Art Hill in Forest Park; the Saint Louis Art Museum; and Carl Milles’ Meeting of the Waters fountain adjacent to St. Louis’ glorious Union Station.

Emphasizing the singularity and the significance of that work are both the present and the past. That is, before all of history collapsed so ridiculously into the World Wide Web and devices little larger than dominos, fiber art of this sort sometimes served acute narrative purposes.

In that regard, one need think only of the mind-boggling depiction of the Norman Conquest on the famous 230-foot-wide Bayeux Tapestry. No less an authority than E.H. Gombrich – in The Story of Art, his 1950 classic – notes that the anonymous medieval creator of that precursor to the Schumans’ tapestry “tells the epic with such an economy of means, and with such concentration on what seemed important to him, that the final result remains more memorable than the realistic accounts in our newspapers and on television.”

The same holds true for the work in question. Designed by acclaimed (and aptly named) Georgia fiber artist Ken Weaver and fabricated in Sweden of pure wool carpet loops, the Schumans’ tapestry originally graced the executive boardroom in the Des Peres headquarters of Community Federal Savings and Loan, whose TV jingle readers “of a certain age” should recall with some amusement. “It helped St. Louis to expand and to evolve,” says Schuman of the inspirational special commission from that self-dubbed “blue chip of the savings business,” where she worked at the time.

When Community Federal shuttered late in 1990 as part of the nationwide S&L debacle, the Schumans scrambled to obtain the sui generis tapestry. Subsequently, to maintain its immaculate condition free of mildew and other woes, the couple stashed the work in its current location. (A wise move, that, given this year’s lunatic weather. Schuman laments: “Our sump pump ran so much from all the stormwater that it burned out, and our whole lower level flooded!”)

Nowadays, though, the couple hopes to find the fibrous phantasmagoria a “forever home,” both to better exhibit its historical glories for the public and to defray familial medical expenses.

There in her and her husband’s great room, Schuman regards the one-of-a-kind blend of art and history at her feet and fondly, even wistfully, alludes to another local historical artifact: “This tapestry is the spirit of St. Louis.”

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Bryan A. Hollerbach serves as LN's copy editor and one of its staff writers. He loves to read, write, impersonate an amateur artist and research all things bibulous.

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