sat 25/11/2017

h Club 100 Awards: Art, Design and Craft - weaving magic at Dovecot Tapestry Studio | reviews, news & interviews

h.Club 100 Awards: Art, Design and Craft - weaving magic at Dovecot Tapestry Studio

h.Club 100 Awards: Art, Design and Craft - weaving magic at Dovecot Tapestry Studio

Introducing one of this year's nominees, from a shortlist packed with talent

Weavers at work: a team of five spent two and half years making Chris Ofili's tapestry 'The Caged Bird's Song'Dovecot Tapestry Studio, Edinburgh

Art, design and craft is such a broad category that it is no surprise – even less a criticism – that most of the nominees comfortably inhabit just one of these areas of endeavour. Nominated principally in recognition of The Caged Bird’s Song, made in collaboration with Chris Ofili over a period of two and a half years and the star of a recent exhibition at the National Gallery, Dovecot Tapestry Studio is unique in answering happily to art, design and craft and can genuinely claim its place as a leading light in each.

Designed by one of our most celebrated contemporary artists, The Caged Bird’s Song (pictured below) not only demonstrates the exceptional technical, creative and interpretative abilities of the five weavers who produced it, but nods to the allure of tapestry for artists through the ages, too. The mythological subject matter of The Caged Bird’s Song alludes not only to the medium’s ancient associations with magic and storytelling, but also to an artistic lineage that includes Titian and Rubens, Goya and Raphael.Chris Ofili, The Caged Bird's Song, 2014-17, © Chris Ofili. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London, The Clothworkers’ Company and Dovecot Tapestry Studio, Edinburgh. Photography: Gautier Deblonde

The distant and imaginary past echoes through this project, and Ofili’s challenge to the weavers, to capture in fabric the inherently fugitive qualities of watercolour recalls the seemingly impossible tasks encountered in myth and fairy tale. The story of the tapestry’s genesis is true to the spirit of medieval and Renaissance workshop practice, from Ofili’s commission by the City of London’s Clothworkers’ Company to the contract drawing produced for the guild’s approval. At just a fraction of the size of the finished article, it was this drawing that served as the weavers’ main reference, from which they produced a cartoon enabling them to transfer Ofili’s design to the loom (main picture).

David Weir, the outgoing director of Dovecot StudiosFor all such romantic associations with the past, Dovecot Tapestry Studio has always been firmly rooted in the present and has a proud tradition of working with the artists of the day. From its beginnings in 1912 when Gordon Berry and John Glassbrook came from the William Morris Studios at Merton Abbey in Wimbledon, the Dovecot weavers have collaborated with a roster of artists including David Hockney and Frank Stella. In 2012 they worked with the designer Peter Saville to produce After, after, after Monarch of the Glen, a reinterpretation, via Peter Blake, of Sir Edwin Landseer’s famous painting of 1851, and recent years have seen the Studio engaged in projects including an operetta and a new ballet.

Such high profile projects allow Dovecot to defend its place in a world that puts an ever-growing selection of new tools and media at artists’ disposal. About to step down after 17 years as director, David Weir (pictured above right) has been instrumental in reinvigorating Dovecot Studios, overseeing the development of its new home in the previously derelict Victorian baths in Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street and restoring the Studios to prominence through collaborations with artists including Patrick Caulfield, Alison Watt, Peter Blake and Jim Lambie. These projects have proved essential not only to maintaining traditions and retaining links to an illustrious past, but by presenting the weavers with new challenges that allow them to constantly expand and re-evaluate the possibilities of the medium.

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