Skip navigation
The Australian National University

Valerie Kirk

Higher Degree Research Convenor
Location: Textiles workshop
Phone: (02) 6125 5833

Personal Website

ANU Researchers Profile

Valerie Kirk studied art and design at Edinburgh College of Art and was captivated by the creative process/infinite possibilities of the tapestry medium. In 1979 she came to Australia to become a weaver at the Victorian(Australian) Tapestry Workshop, then worked in all states of Australia before moving to ANU, Canberra, to be the Head of Textiles. Her work from this time has focused on what it means to be a Scottish/Australian in this context.

Full Biography

Valerie Kirk studied art and design at Edinburgh College of Art and was captivated by the creative process/infinite possibilities of the tapestry medium. In 1979 she came to Australia to become a weaver at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, and then worked in all states of Australia before moving to Canberra in 1991 to be the Head of Textiles at the Australian National University, School of Art. Her work from this time focussed on what it meant to be a Scottish/Australian in this context.

She is considered to be an important international figure in the world of contemporary tapestry. As an artist, writer, teacher and public figure she has made a significant contribution, forging valuable and tangible links with the Scottish tradition and global field. While actively maintaining her practice as an artist, Valerie’s remarkable capacity for achievement has seen her inspire and lead community tapestry projects, research and write a major thesis on tapestry, direct significant textile projects and create major works. She has held several solo exhibitions and presented her work in USA, Europe, Australia, NZ and SE Asia.

During 2004-2005 she was commissioned to design and weave three major tapestries to celebrate Nobel Prizes in Science associated with the Australian National University. A further tapestry was commissioned and woven in 2006 featuring the work on small pox and myxomatosis of Professor Frank Fenner. The tapestries are installed and on public display at University House, ANU.

Her most outstanding achievement to date is winning the “To Furnish a Future” carpet design competition in 2006. The selected “Crimson Carpet” design draws on the natural patination of stone around Government House, Sydney, combining with a palette of crimson from the tonal range in the Waratah flower. The second stage of the project involved working closely with the consulting design team, the Australian company, “Whitecliffe Imports” and the manufacturers, “Siam Carpets” in Thailand. The hand tufted carpet measures 8m x 20m and was produced in one piece to fit the rooms. The design is significantly different from the normal range of carpet design and  at the Energy Australia National Trust Heritage Awards 2008 held on Monday 7 APRIL 2008, the refurbishment of the State Rooms at Government House won one of the major awards - Conservation, Built Heritage for a Project under $1 million.

Awards such as the Australia Council New Work grant, ACT Creative Arts Fellowship and Muse Arts Woman of the Year mark substantial success and her artwork is documented in the Telos Portfolio Collection publication.


Solo Exhibitions:

2015 Cordis Trust Prize for Tapestry, The Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh

2014 Botanic Art Exhibition, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Awaken, Craft ACT Craft and Design Centre - Canberra

2009 Returning, Sturt Gallery, Mittagong

2006 Leaving and Returning, Warrnambool Art Gallery      

2004 Journeys, Ararat Gallery

2003 Traditions Revisited, Craft ACT Gallery, Canberra

2000 Croxxing, Sturt Gallery, Mittagong.

1999 Rock and a Place Between, Spark Gallery, Wollongong

1998 Dwelling, Street Theatre Gallery, Canberra

1990 Opals and Images of Outback Australia, Warrnambool Art Gallery

1985 Guestspace, Ararat Gallery

Group exhibitions (selected)

2010 Nets, ANU School of Art Foyer Gallery, Canberra

2010 About Time: Australian Studio Tapestry 1975-2005, Ararat Regional Art Gallery

2010 Enchanted Pathways, ATA, Santa Fe, USA

2010 Is This Me?, Touring Australia and New Zealand

2010 Petite, Wangaratta Regional Gallery

2008-09 40: Highlights from the Ararat Regional Art Gallery Textile Fibre Collection, Ararat Regional Art Gallery

2008 Manipulate:Construct, The Town Hall Gallery, Melbourne

2008 Gardens: tapestries from Australia and NZ, Alliance Francais, Canberra,

2008 Land, ANU School of Art, Canberra and online with ATA, U.S.A.

2007                                        “Lightweight” Dunedin, NZ

2006                                        “Micro”, Victorian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne.

2006                                        “Two Materials” Craft ACT

2006                                        “65 Roses” ANU School of Art Gallery

2006                                        Online exhibition curated by Sharon Marcus, “Between Two Worlds”, @ American Tapestry Alliance Web Gallery. USA

“Grand Ideas - Small Format” Grand Rapids, MI, USA

2005                                        “Design-ed”Australian National University Gallery, ACT.

2003-2004                               “Tactile Narratives – Aspects of Australian Contemporary Tapestry”, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Tasmania.

2003                                        “Surface”, Stella Downer Fine Art, Sydney.

2003                                        “Lake Mungo” Mura Clay Gallery, Sydney.


2002                                                                                {C}

“Black and White Matter” Craft ACT, Canberra.

2002                                        Kyoto Seika University Gallery, Japan.

2002                                        “The Hobart Art Prize” – Works on Paper, Hobart, Tasmania.

2000-2002                               “Frisson”Tamworth Biennial of Textile Art, Tamworth and tour

“Lake Mungo Revisited” Goulburn Regional Gallery and national tour


2001                                                                                {C}

 “Textiles 2001”Artespresso, Canberra.

2001                                        “Consanguinity” CSA Library, Canberra

2001                                        “Chinese Whispers” The Study Gallery, Poole, G.B.

2001                                        “Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory Acquisitive Craft Exhibition”. Tapestry “CROXXING” acquired.

1999                                        "Presiding Officers Craft Exhibition", Parliament House, Canberra.

                                                "Drawn in Form", Brisbane City Gallery, Brisbane.

                                                "Australian Textiles", Sturt Craft Gallery, Mittagong.

1998                                        "Origins and New Perspectives", Lodz, Poland and tour.

1998                                        "More Swanky Hankies" Jam Factory, Adelaide, ANCA Gallery, Canberra, Centre for Contemporary Craft, Sydney and international tour.

1997                                        Group exhibition, Salon Natasha, Hanoi, Vietnam.

                                                Alice Craft Acquisition.

                                                Northern Territory Craft Exhibition.

                                                "Turning Point", Craft A.C.T.

                                                "Mainly Textiles ", University of Wollongong

                                                "Lake Mungo - Works in Progress", University of Wollongong

1996 - 1997                             12th Tamworth Fibre Textile Biennial, Tamworth and National tour.

1996 - 1997                             " Swanky Hankies ", ANCA Gallery, Canberra and Fibre Design Gallery, Goulburn.

1996                                        "Its About Time", Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.

1996                                        "Small Expressions ", Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.

1995                                        "Capital Works", Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore and Hong Kong.

1995                                        " Texts from the Edge " The Jam Factory, Adelaide and national tour.

1995                                        " Women in a Changing City "  Crafts ACT.

1995                                        Craft A.C.T. members exhibition

1992-1995                               “Directions”  Seminar and exhibition program, Goulburn Art Gallery, and Tour

1994                                        " The International Encounter of Miniature Tapestry " Mexico City and Tour, Mexico.

1993                                        “Simile”  Curated by David Salter, Craft Victoria Gallery, Melbourne

1991-1993                               “Tapestry in Context”  The Victorian Ministry for the Arts, Melbourne and tour Victoria, NSW and SA

1992                                        “Coincidences”  L-Space, CSA Canberra

1992                                        “Addressing the Chair”  Canberra Contemporary Art Space

1991                                        Kybosh Gallery - Canberra

                                                Alice Springs Award Exhibition

1990                                        Riddoch Art Gallery Award Exhibition (work acquired), Mt Gambier, SA

                                                -“Decorex”,  Melbourne, VIC

                                                -Moora Award Exhibition, WA

                                                -“Fibre and Text”  Ararat and Tour

                                                -Small Tapestries Exhibition, Beaver Galleries Canberra

1989                                        Regional Craft Exhibition, The Meat Market Craft Centre, Melbourne, VIC

                                                -“A New Group”,  Multi-media Art, Warrnambool, Melbourne and Geelong

                                                -“The Cutting Edge”,  The Womens’ Gallery, Melbourne

                                                -“Textiles for Interiors”,  Crafts Council Gallery, Sydney

1988                                        “The Face of Australia,  Bicentennial touring exhibition - venues throughout Australia

                                                -“Australian Tapestries”,  The Victorian Ministry for the Arts, Melbourne, Victoria

1987                                        -“The Textile  Suitcase”,  Touring exhibition, WA

                                                -“Scottish Miniatures”,  Tour of New Zealand and Australia

                                                -“Contemporary Imagery:  Ancient Tradition”,  Washington USA and tour

                                                -“Art and Industry” ,  The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, GB and tour

1985                                        Third Biennial of Fibre and Textiles, Ararat -“C.F.M.A” Portland, Victoria

1984                                        The Makers Mark Gallery, Melbourne

1983                                        “Contemporary British Craft” , Tour of Interior Design Showrooms, Florida, USA

                                                -“Contemporary Design for Interiors”,  Hopper-Williams Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, GB

1982                                        “Images in Weaving”,  British Crafts Centre, London, GB

                                                -“Making It”,  British Crafts Council Gallery, London, GB

                                                -“Northern Open”,  selected Art from England, Sunderland Arts Centre, GB

1981                                        “Textiles North”,   British Tour

                                                -“Society of Scottish Artists”,  Exhibition, Edinburgh, Scotland

                                                -“S.T.A.G.”,  Warehouse Gallery, Convent Garden, London, GB

                                                -“Collage of Images in Weaving”,  Chelsea, London, GB

                                                -“7-Up”,  Sunderland Studio Artists Exhibition Tour, GB



1999                                        MA (Hons) University of Wollongong

1989                                        Grad. Dip. in Education Admin., Hawthorn Inst. of Ed.(3units )

1979-1980                               Art Teachers Certificate, Goldsmiths College, University of London

1978-1979                               Postgraduate in tapestry, Edinburgh College of Art


Research Interests

Lao Textiles Research

Since 2000 I have travelled to Lao PDR each year investigating contemporary textiles and learning about the history and culture. During this time I have curated exhibitions of Lao textiles, given lectures at institutions and to public groups, presented a paper at the Lao Handicraft Festival conference and arranged residencies for Lao textile experts at ANU School of Art.

Historically textiles in Laos were mainly produced from cotton and silk to provide clothing, soft furnishings and ceremonial pieces for the home and temple. People used the textiles they made in their daily activities, clothing, rituals, and for religious purposes. Luxurious textiles were made by skilled craftspeople for the Royal family and also high quality fabrics were imported for the elite. During the war, from1964-1973, everything changed and people struggled to survive producing only the necessary textiles for basic subsistence. Post war, people continued providing for their families, homes and the temple, but new factors came in to play. The country was opening up to external influence and trade. Expertise from other countries was introduced and development projects were set up to improve production and increase output allowing for diversified income generation. Knowledge of materials, processes and skills have been carried forward as village and rural self-sufficiency has continued with respect for traditions. Parallel to this, Lao textiles have been further developed in diverse ways through new businesses, commercial opportunities and relationships with international designers and markets.

Research Project Erub Erwer Meta – Valerie Kirk and Louise Hamby 2015

This project focuses on Erub Erwer Meta, Darnley Island, Torres Strait and the printed fabrics which embody new ideas/methods in a time of technological advancement. Through this case study involving interviews, observations at Cairns Indigenous Art Fair and study of archival materials, Valerie Kirk and I seek to ascertain the impact of the changing context of fabric printing, viability of traditional methods as well as outsourcing digital printing and the roles of cultural mediators and exchange with outside agencies.

The context of Indigenous fabric printing in Australia has changed continuously since the 1970s. Sales of high-end art works have decreased, but there is growing interest in new forms that are not as expensive as painting, such as Erub textiles. The profile of Indigenous fibre and the financial return to artists has changed substantially over the past decade as evidenced by the exhibitions, sales of work and publications (Hamby 2005, 2010). Despite this growing dynamic in the Indigenous art market, there is a specific lack of dedicated Indigenous printed fabrics research, and no publications on the new development of Indigenous outsourcing of hand and digital fabric printing. This is due to perceptions of fabric as utilitarian, as opposed to art and the lack of acknowledgment of individual artists’ work through labelling, documentation, archiving and publication. In the case of Erub Erwer Meta, geographic isolation is also a factor. The artists have worked in their remote location with limited input or acknowledgement from outside, but they have recently embraced new technologies for computer aided design, outsourcing of digital printing and production of fabrics, textile artworks and sports clothing.

This project will identify skills, technologies and interactions to increase productivity and financial return.  Examination of the artistic, social and cultural values associated with printing will help determine the impact and viability of fabric printing and the ways in which it contributes to the health and well-being of Aboriginal people by boosting their self-confidence and ability to provide for their families. The research will address the question of the conflicting values of hand-made versus commercial digital works within the arena of already complex attitudes regarding what constitutes an authentic Aboriginal art product. Entangled in the authenticity issue is the role of collaboration between Indigenous artists and others in fabric production in the community and outside.

We will prepare a report dealing with all aspects of Erub Erwer Meta fabric printing and its potential end uses. This will document issues and highlight to the art/fashion/interior/tourist/product design markets the availability of new printed fabric options. From our research we will write an article for a peer reviewed journal. With Erub Erwer Meta we will curate an exhibition of printed fabrics, photographs and documentation with an exhibition catalogue to present in the ANU School of Art Foyer Gallery in 2016. This will increase the profile of Indigenous printed fabrics.

Our research project is timely due to the increased popularity of printed fabrics, their role in cultural maintenance, and their impact on employment in the arts industry.

Tapestry for Ceremonial Settings

The Brian Schmidt Tapestry for University House, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

In 2011 Professor Brian P. Schmidt was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics (with Professor Saul Perlmutter and Professor Adam G. Reiss) “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observation of distant supernovae”. Soon after, I received a phone call from the Master, University House, The Australian National University, asking me to weave a tapestry to celebrate the award and add to the House’s collection of four tapestries I have previously woven marking the achievements of the university’s most recognised scientists.

University House is the beloved, ceremonial heart of our university. It was conceived of as an “Oxbridge in the Bush”[1], designed to provide a venue for students, staff and visiting scholars to come together for important occasions, academic exchange, social gatherings and key lectures. Generations of visiting scholars and postgraduate students have stayed at University House, enjoying dinners, quiet time in the library or lively conversations in the bars or beautiful gardens surrounding the building.

From its opening in 1954, after the Depression and the War years, there has been a sense that University House is a place of refined academic endeavour and culture. It was advertised as “something of a museum of Australian Contemporary art”[2] in its early years as the new University was able to focus on design and the inclusion of significant artworks giving the building an ambiance of modernity and good taste. Commissioned and gifted paintings, a large scale mural, sculpture, furniture and other objects were integrated into the public areas and landscaped grounds. The house continues to have a sense of good design and integration of artworks into the whole environment.

Professor Brian Schmidt, born in Missoula Montana USA, is an astronomer at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University, formerly known as Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories. He works in several areas of astronomy, most notably with exploding stars called supernovae. But he also chases after Gamma Ray Bursts, and is heading up a project to build a new Telescope which will map the Southern Sky called SkyMapper!

My first meeting with Brian Schmidt was in his office at the top of Mount Stromlo where the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics Observatory is located, just outside of Canberra. We discussed his work and I tried to learn about the complexity of his project, what was important to him and what the tapestry image should project. It was an awkward meeting as I felt out of my depth in the physics and astronomy discipline and Brian commented that he did not know anything about tapestry. I reassured him that he did not need to be familiar with tapestry – I needed to understand his work to be able to work on a design concept. He gave me over 300 pages of his PowerPoint presentation and I took this back to my studio to absorb. There were many pages of text, diagrams, charts and an occasional picture of scientists doing funny things, but no visual material I could work with. I tried to work creatively from my imagination with the ideas we had discussed but felt the results were disappointing and unconvincing - so I set up another meeting. This time I went armed with a set of questions and the answer to each had to be an image. It was vital that the design should reflect the concepts underpinning the work so that the image would have meaning for scientists and public alike. For me, it was also important that I was satisfied with the aesthetic qualities of the design and tapestry.

VK “Is there an image that sums up your project?”

BS “Yes”, he turns to the computer and brings up an image of the universe from the Hubble telescope.

VK “Was there an image where you knew you were on to something – an ah ha moment?”

BS “Yes”, more computer searching to locate 4 images of his first discovery, Supernova 1995k.

After more questions and image answers I was satisfied that I had enough material to work with and returned to the design process. There were many speculative drawings considering the subject, the given dimensions and space for the work to hang.

The final image incorporates an ultra-deep-field, high-resolution digital image of the cosmos which was printed out to scale for the tapestry cartoon. This has a red grid superimposed to represent the advancement in digital photography which was vital to the discoveries. An area of coloured squares drawn in watercolour reflects the light colours in the picture of the universe and has the key images of Supernova 1995k embedded in it. At the bottom right there is a sliver of the earth with equations capturing the thinking that goes on in Brian’s head.

The tapestry was woven (on its side for technical reasons) over a three month period. The complexity and depth of the cosmos is achieved by plying up to 12 strands of weft together to mix colours and a black yarn with tiny flecks of colour was added in to create the illusion of infinite space.

Professor Brian Schmidt unveiled the tapestry on 14 June 2013 saying in his speech that if he was to conjure up an image in his mind to represent his work, this would be it.

I started the project with a very tight brief and restrictions of scale and arriving at the finished design seemed to be a difficult task, but I was satisfied I had created an original artwork that represents the scientific work well and fits within the well-established environment of University House. The audience for tapestry is increased as many conference delegates, international students, academics and visitors spend time at University House. This series of commissions for University House has been a highlight of my career, enabling me to work on a large scale in tapestry and to extend my research, communication and design abilities.

Valerie Kirk

1.      Jill Waterhouse, University House as They Experienced It ( Pirion, Canberra,2004), 51
2.      Jill Waterhouse, University House as They Experienced It ( Pirion, Canberra,2004), 284


 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT.

ANU University House, Canberra ACT

Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, NT.

Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, Canberra, ACT.

The ACT Legislative Assembly Art Collection, Canberra ACT.

The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, NSW.

The Ararat Gallery , Victoria.

The Warrnambool Performing Arts Centre, Warrnambool, Victoria.

Riddoch Art Gallery, SA,  

Artsloan, UK,        Cumbria School of Art and Design

Edinburgh College of Art Collections


Updated: 28 January 2016/ Responsible Officer:  Head of Office / Page Contact:  Web Publisher