Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Coventry

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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