Tuesday, 22 March 2011

'Boundaries?' Conference, Bristol

The full programme for the forthcoming postgraduate conference 'Boundaries? New Histories of Art, Architecture and Design' is now available here. I will be giving a presentation on Dovecot's participation in Claire Barclay's quick, slow (2010).
Tapestry element in progress, for Claire Barclay's quick, slow (2010)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Upcoming Pairings Conference

More details about the forthcoming Pairings conference in Manchester are now available here.


My recent tapestry road trip finished with a day at the Graham and Kathleen Sutherland Archive at National Museum Wales, Cardiff. The archive was a rich source of Graham Sutherland tapestry designs and I was helped by their AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award student Rachel Flynn, who is studying the archives. It was such a good opportunity to chat with someone who is interested in the same research area, and also a chance to share our experiences of the AHRC CDA process.

Buried in the archive was an intriguing note written by Sutherland. It had originally been archived with correspondence relating to Sutherland's design for the Coventry Cathedral tapestry, but we were able to re-date it to the 1970s. In it, Sutherland gives Fred Mann, Master Weaver at Dovecot Studios, very specific information about the colours used in his design for Form Against Leaves, woven in 1976. In it he writes:
'The question of tone or value (weight) of tone. It is important that not only should the colour be rights but that the weight of tone, one next to another, should be very exact.'
As far as I am aware, it is the only piece of existing correspondence in which Sutherland gave instructions to Dovecot's weavers regarding their interpretation of the tapestry.

Unfortunately, I do not have a good image of the tapestry, but here is a snapshot of a transparency:

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Next stop on my recent trip was Oxford. I had arranged to go and see a set of tapestries at St Catherine's College, with my parents in tow. They were designed by Tom Philips and woven by Dovecot in 1979-1980. There are six tapestries in total, featuring Latin quotations and emblematic depictions of wheels, references to the way in which St Catherine was martyred. The tapestries were commissioned for the dining hall in which they are situated. As with the tapestries I saw in Coventry, these are site specific. As well as being decorative, they perform an acoustic function in a room which has bare brick walls.
St Catherine's College, Oxford
I am always drawn to works of art featuring text, no matter what the medium. Perhaps this has intensified since meeting my partner, a graphic designer with a special interest in fonts. The style of lettering in the tapestries is immensely complex: different coloured letters overlapping each other.
We also had a look around the newly renovated Ashmolean Museum. The newly designed galleries are beautiful, although some cases are so crammed with items it is difficult to take it all in. The world-wide collection of textiles was fascinating and it was lovely to see so many textiles on display in one institution. I was particularly attracted to a tapestry fragment from Egypt, AD 600-700.

Tapestry Fragment, Egypt, Akhmim, AD 600-700


The benefit of studying an area which includes works located in the UK is the opportunity to provide study trips with family visits. In the past week, I have not only viewed a number of beautiful tapestries, I have caught up with friends and relatives far and wide.

My first stop was Coventry - not only did I have an appointment to see a recently discovered Dovecot tapestry, I also wanted to see Coventry Cathedral and the immense tapestry designed by Graham Sutherland and woven in France. The Sutherland tapestry has a history with Dovecot: it was originally hoped that it would be woven in the UK at Dovecot's Edinburgh workshop, but the commission eventually went to the Pinton Freres in France. It is a long and convoluted drama best kept for another time!
Coventry Cathedral, designed by Basil Spence, view of the altar, incuding Christ in Majesty (designed by Graham Sutherland and woven by Pinton Freres, France)
The Cathedral was breathtakingly beautiful, both the ruins of the bombed building and Basil Spence's 1960s design. The new cathedral epitomises the concept of combining architecture and design. Everything in the cathedral was designed to suit it, from the door handles to the stained glass. The Chapel of Christ the Servant and Jacob Epstein's sculpture of St Michael Slaying the Devil were my personal favourite parts.
Sutherland's tapestry design is awe-inspiring and I was particularly drawn to the seated figure of Christ. In the afternoon I was fortunate enough to see a selection of his designs for the tapestries in the store of the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery. His sketched for the seated figure were created according to a number of gridlines and mathematical calculations. It was surprising to see such technical care being taken by an artist whose paintings have a free and immediate feel to them.
My priority in Coventry was to see the Cappers Tapestry. In the 1950s, under Sax Shaw's artistic direction, a large number of tapestries were woven at Dovecot to his designs. There is little information on these in the studio's archives and most of their whereabouts are unknown. Whilst looking through the Basil Spence Papers at the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland in Edinburgh. Some of the correspondance between Spence and the studio referred to a coat of arms designed and woven for the Cappers Company at Coventry Cathedral.

The Cappers Meeting Room was the only room to survive the WWII bombing of Coventry Cathedral, excluding the tower. In the early 1950s it was repaired and Edinburgh Tapestry Company was commissioned to design and weave a commemorative tapestry featuring their coat of arms.

The tapestry has survived in good condition, but is sadly rarely seen. Reaching the room requires climbing up a very narrow, dark staircase - not suitable for large numbers of people! Despite it's location in a rather chilly, unused room its colours are still as vibrant as they originally were and the design has Sax Shaw's distinctive style about it.
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