Tapestry as a Fine Art

The Tapestry Department at Edinburgh College of Art started in a fairly ad hoc manner in 1963 with two College lecturers Sax Shaw and Archie Brennan as the influences behind its inception: both had studied in France, were Artistic Directors of the Edinburgh Tapestry Company and Archie and early Tapestry students like Maureen Hodge were students in the Stained Glass Dept run by Sax.

From the outset, Tapestry in Edinburgh was heavily indebted to the French Gobelin tradition, where the content is always more important than the mere manipulation of the yarn. Technique was always a means to an end, not an end in itself. The students recognised that Tapestry was about both art and craft; about the marriage of content, concept and construction, and that their individual interests and handwriting were paramount. It was believed that if you had something to say you would find a way to do so, which was a wonderfully liberating attitude, and the freshness of this approach was reinforced by an openness to what tapestry could be, rather than teaching how it was and ought to be. Later the awareness that the first computer had been the jacquard loom led easily to the concept that a pixel was a latter-day equivalent of a tapestry bead and the parallel concentration on new media with its transferable skills.

Another important aspect of the Tapestry Dept. was the emphasis on drawing as both a discipline and a way to develop ideas. In 1977 Robert Callender drew this to people's attention in the introduction to the catalogue of the important show Scottish Tapestry - Loose Ends, Close Ties and Other Structures - the Way Ahead. He wrote - "The realisation of the importance of Drawing made the subsequent progress possible. A more analytical approach towards drawing as a whole, combined with a genuine curiosity regarding structure allowed tapestry to flower and produce images which are extremely potent."

These elements are the important defining characteristics of Scottish tapestry. The work lies at the intersection between a technique or concept called tapestry, a fine art practice and an aesthetic value that is not constrained by the genre or by such notions as craft or cliché or postmodernism.