Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Mount Stuart Archives

Updating my blog seems the perfect activity at the moment, as the recent snowfall causes us all to stay inside. The last month has been a busy one: a four day trip to the Isle of Bute, coordinating a student conference and reading my way through a small mountain of books.

Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute
The archives for Dovecot, pre-2000, are mostly at the Bute Archives in Mount Stuart. The private archives are a treasure trove of correspondance, meeting minutes, designs for tapestries and, most important of all, tapestries themselves. I have been very fortunate to have been allowed access. Our first day spent unrolling and inspecting tapestry after tapestry. Working our way through the 20th century, we began with The Ducchess of Gordon a beautifully fine woven tapestry made in 1926 and design by Skeoch Cumming. In it, the rather manly Ducchess sits on her horse, kissing favours before handing them out to the army recruits. Next was The Admirable Crichton designed by Alfred Priest and woven in 1930. This large landscape-style tapestry looked like a snapshot from a 1930s movie set: groups of figures organised around a long low table, immaculately dressed in period costume. Having spent much of my time around contemporary tapestry, I am always awed by the fine nature of the weaving on these early works.

St Matthew (detail), designed by Sax Shaw, 1955. Bute Collection.
We moved forward a number of decades to look at some of the more recent tapestries in the collection, including Through the Garden Wall designed by Adrian Wiszniewski, St Matthew by Sax Shaw and Cats Playing by Elizabeth Blackadder.

Looking through the tapestries was, as Elizabeth Cumming put it, a good opportunity to key in my eye. Having spent a number of weeks reading books, away from Dovecot's weavers, it was invaluable to get an opportunity to remind myself why I decided to do the PhD in the first place!

The archives as usual provided a wealth of information relevant both to Dovecot's centenary exhibition and to my thesis. Of particular interest is a set of correspondance between Lord Colum Crichton-Stuart and Sax Shaw, donated by Shaw's widow. The great friendship between the two men came from a mutual understanding of colour, not only in tapestry but in the natural world around them.
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