The Gilgamesh Tapestry is on permanent display in the Reference Area of Hutchins Library. This prize winning piece is a 5'x8' needlework panel depicting incidents and characters in the Gilgamesh epic poem (believed to be the world’s oldest story). The tapestry was designed and constructed by Virginia Ferrill Piland, Berea College Class of 1943.
Materials: Fabrics: Hand-dyed, wax resist dyed, discharged dyed, and commercial cottons. Also found objects - lapis bead necklace, seashell for thorns on a plant, a clay signature seal bead.
Techniques: Regular and reverse applique, Seminole piecing for border, padding to give depth. Elaborate embroidery.
The artist placed herself seated, with embroidery hoop in hand (an anachornsim), dating this work with the cuneiform symbol for comet, to indicate this work was completed in 1984, the year of Halley's Comet return to Earth viewers.
Artist Statement: The hanging, made in five registers, tells the 5000 year old story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk (Southern Iraq). Wanting to maintain authenticity, the artist studied a translation of the epic, written on twelve clay tablets, at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. Consulting with the archeologist there, she examined numerous artifacts - a rare hand-on opportunity. Piland has exhibited widely in shows and exhibts. Her works have been shown nationally and internationally in museums, in private collections, and in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Gilgamesh hangs in the Reference area of Hutchins Library, Berea College (KY) where it invites patrons to enter and "read" the oldest story know to man.
Piland has created quilts to air her views on smoking, prejudice, religion, and global warming. Her quilt, “O Jerusalem!” featuring symbols of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, hung in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and is part of Berea’s Union Church’s collection of Piland’s quilts. Her quilts also hang in St. Joseph Hospital in Berea (tapestry of Historic Berea) and in the Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library (quilt protesting global warming).
Gilgamesh, an epic poem of 3000 lines written in cuneiform and predating the Bible, is believed to be the world’s oldest story. Some of the clay tablets on which it is written date back to 3000 B.C., but the seventh century edition inscribed by Sin-leqi-unninni is the most nearly complete and is the source for the study of this needlework.
According to the epic, in the city of Uruk in Sumer (southern Iraq) lived a god/king Gilgamesh. Because of his exploitation and oppression, the people beseeched the gods to intervene. The gods then created Enkidu who was expected to subdue Gilgamesh. Instead, during a wrestling match, the two became best friends. Together they engaged in numerous feasts of daring, and ultimately they slew the monster Humbaba in the sacred cedar forests. For the desecration of the forests, the gods decreed that Enkidu must die. Gilgamesh, overcome with grief for his friend and concern for his own mortality, went in search of Utnapishtim (Biblical Noah) who knew the secret of immortality. Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that he must return to Uruk and “live in the conformity of man.” However, the secret of eternal youth was revealed to him – to eat of the plant called weed-that-makes-old-young-again which lay at the bottom of the bitter river (Death). Although Gilgamesh obtained the weed, he lost it when a serpent devoured it, shedding its skin (becoming young) as it ate the weed. Gilgamesh then returned to Uruk, resigned to mortality.