By Valerie L. Egar
Many years ago in a mountain kingdom that bordered the sea, the Queen decided to hold a contest, asking the finest weavers to create tapestries that captured the Kingdom’s beauty. The Queen knew the blue mountains to the North, the western shining sea, the forests in the East and lush farms in the South would inspire artists. She looked forward to seeing their creations.
The Queen decreed that the tapestries would hang in the Royal Museum and the artists would be honored. Judges would select one tapestry as the best and she would award the artist a generous prize. The artists had one year to design and weave the tapestries.
Most artists liked the idea at first, but gave up after a few weeks. They had other projects to attend, without spending month after month weaving. A few others started, but soon grew dissatisfied with the results and stopped. After six months, only two weavers remained at the task, a quiet red-haired woman named Niomi and a shy woman named Rhianna.
Every morning, Niomi walked for hours before she started working. She splashed in lake water and watched the way the sun sparkled on the waves. She picked wildflowers to decorate her studio and filled her pockets with smooth rocks
and white feathers she found. Some days she climbed trees and sat in the branches, looking at clouds.
When she was done wandering, she sat at her loom and worked, thinking of the marvelous things she had seen. On days it was breezy, the wool she wove into the tapestry was light and joyful. A mourning dove’s song became a small streak of grey in the meadow. The love she felt for the earth became dappled sunlight breaking through tree leaves. Every day she wove what she saw and heard into the tapestry.
From the day Rhianna learned of the contest, she didn’t move from her studio. She set her heart on creating the largest, most perfect and beautiful tapestry anyone had ever seen. She set seven mirrors around her room to reflect what was outside. Every day she looked into the mirrors and copied what she saw.
Rhianna was meticulous, matching the blue of the sky and the white of every wisp of cloud in perfect tiny threads. Every knot was neatly tied, every color true. For eleven months, she worked dawn to dusk, stopping only to quickly eat and sleeping only when it grew too dark to see.
At the end of the year, both women travelled to the Royal Museum and presented their tapestries. The tapestries were hung for judging. How different they were!
Both were large and covered a wall. Niomi’s was uneven in texture, some wool thick, other wool thin, some weaving tight, other parts loose. The colors shimmered and the tapestry seemed to pulse with sound. The judges heard bird song and cicadas, the wind rustling in branches when they looked at it.
“But it’s not very neat,” one of the judges commented.
“The edges are uneven,” offered another.
The hours Rhianna put into her tapestry showed. It was beautiful, perfectly executed. Like Niomi’s, the colors shimmered. Everything Rihanna viewed in the mirrors— trees, the ocean, clouds, flying birds— were reproduced precisely in the weaving.
Her craftsmanship is far better than Niomi’s,” said one judge and the others agreed.
“So we agree that Rhianna wins?”
“No!” shouted one of the judges. “Niomi’s throbs with life. Rhianna’s is very beautiful, but I feel nothing.”
An argument began among the four. Two argued that perfection and craftsmanship should prevail, the other two that the feeling evoked by Niomi’s tapestry made it the clear winner.
“By golly, I look at it and feel the sun!” one judge said. “That should mean something.”
The judges consulted the Queen. Wise woman, she decided if four experts couldn’t decide, neither would she. She awarded prizes to Rhianna and Niomi and honored them both. The tapestries remained in the Royal Museum and people still view them and argue about which one is better.
Which might you choose?
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published April 13, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)