After three years in the working world I have returned to the student life of seminars, essay deadlines and cold study rooms (I am wearing my coat as I type).
Introducing myself to other students and telling them what my PhD is focusing on has led to a variety of responses, ranging from 'Dovecot? I've always wanted to visit there.' to 'Tapestries? Do they still make them!?' The PhD sits slightly awkwardly in the history of art department - is it art or craft? Does it fit in with the focus on painting, sculpture, photography and contemporary artistic theory? My intention is to show that tapestry can sit comfortably in both 'worlds' and to bring academic rigour and an art historical context to a project which is above all about the creation of beautiful objects.
My initial research has focused on two artists who are of particular interest to me.
Harold Cohen worked with Dovecot in the 1960s and the early 1980s. In 1980 he wrote an article about the experience of working with the tapestry weavers - as far as I know he is the only artist to have written in such detail about their work with Dovecot:
“Mine? I thought it was the most gorgeous object I had ever had any part in, but it was ours, not mine.”
|BP Tapestry, 1966, designed by Harold Cohen, woven at Dovecot Studios, University of Hull Collection|
The respect Cohen has for the Master Weavers at Dovecot and their immense experience is evident in his article and shows how a mutual respect and understanding between artist/designer and weaver can create spectacular tapestries.
John Piper fascinates me because of the absence of loyalty towards any one tapestry studio - his tapestry designs were woven in Edinburgh, Sussex, France and Nigeria. Was producing tapestries key to his own artistic practice primarily as a painter, or were other reasons at work? I suspect large-scale tapestries were another way for him to satisfy the great public demand for his work.
|Five Gates of London (detail), 1975, designed by John Piper, woven at Dovecot Studios, Guildhall Art Gallery Collection|
My first month has been enlightening and less daunting than I had envisaged and I am already enjoying hours spent with my head in books. As for the chilly temperatures, I must buy some fingerless gloves...