Thoughts on Week 7 Lecture & Resources
I’ve been looking at a wide variety of magazines to gather inspiration for how I could approach the design and layout of my visual culture essay as a publication. One which particularly piqued my interest was Pressing Matters, a journal dedicated to all things printmaking. It has real visual appeal and an interesting range of approaches, including photography, illustration and has a modern take on a niche, subject-specific magazine.
Visual Culture Essay: Making History
Below is the first draft of my essay.
In the heart of the Scottish Borders, nestled in the valley of the Gala Water, is the town of Galashiels. This is a town steeped in textiles history, so it seems fitting that it will be the new permanent home to the Great Tapestry of Scotland, a large-scale narrative embroidery telling the story of Scotland.
The tapestry was conceived by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, who was inspired by the Prestonpans Tapestry which was on display at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, a world-renowned tapestry studio established in 1912. In a similar vein to the famous, historic Bayeux Tapestry (which depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066), this embroidery told the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.
McCall enlisted the help of artist Andrew Crummy (who designed the Prestonpans Tapestry), and historian Alistair Moffat to bring the story to life. Together with Dorie Wilkie, brought on board to oversee the creation of the individually hand-stitched linen panels, they set about translating key moments in Scottish history into textiles, beginning with the Ice Age and ending with the Scottish Parliament reconvening in 1999, many years after its demise following the Act of Union in 1707. Holyrood is also the place that the completed embroidery was first unveiled by the Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick, a Member of Scottish Parliament, in 2013.
In the words of Andrew Crummy, the artist who designed and illustrated each of the individual panels: “The Tapestry is a timeline starting with the formation of the rocks that would become Scotland to the present day. It was designed in a way, that although it is stitched in many communities, when it is brought together, it should become one artwork. The grid that underpins the design means that it is split into 10cm squares within the 1 metre square design.”
The tapestry is one of the world’s longest, at 143 metres in length (more than double the length of the Bayeux Tapestry), a metre high, comprising 160 panels and 300 miles of wool – a length of yarn long enough to stretch across the entirety of Scotland from the Border with England, right up to the furthest tip of Shetland in the North Atlantic.
Dorie Wilkie has a keen interest in textiles, studied at Telford College gaining a City and Guild qualification in Art, Design and Embroidery, as well as undertaking further studies at Leith School of Art. Her key role involved advising on sewing techniques, running workshops, co-ordinating the raw materials and over 1,000 volunteer stitchers from across Scotland who helped to create the embroidery, ranging in age from four to 92.
There is a long tradition of storytelling in Scottish culture, and the country is known for its Celtic myths and folklore. The tapestry celebrates some of Scotland’s well-kent writers and poets, both contemporary and historic, including Robert Burns, Liz Lochhead, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edwin Morgan and Alasdair Gray. An entire embroidered panel is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, one of the best-known Scots storytellers, a man who loved the Scottish Borders and made his home, Abbotsford, on the banks of the River Tweed. He shaped and influenced how people worldwide – even Queen Victoria herself – viewed Scotland, with a spellbinding blend of historical fact and fiction in his romantic novels and poetry creating much curiosity and sparking the beginning of tourism.
Music also plays a part in shaping Scots culture, and famous figures such as Evelyn Glennie, Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, Lulu, Donovan, Annie Lennox, along with bands like The Proclaimers, Runrig and Capercaillie are all immortalised in the stiches of the tapestry. There is also a nod to Glasgow’s iconic Barrowland Ballroom, one of the country’s most loved and best-known music venues, affectionately known as “The Barras.”
Scotland’s creativity has not been overlooked either – the output of Scottish artists and designers is illustrated vividly in the tapestry’s woollen stitches. Familiar names like Henry Raeburn, Alison Watt and Charles Rennie Macintosh, who designed the distinctive Glasgow School of Art, appear.
Scottish contributions to the silver screen include a huge variety of films like Chariots of Fire, the Wicker Man, Whisky Galore, Gregory’s Girl, Trainspotting, the 39 Steps and Local Hero. Ewan McGregor, Sean Connery, Robbie Coltrane, Brian Cox and Deborah Kerr are among the film stars noted from this small nation on a whimsical panel featuring a film reel entitled “Scotland at the Movies.”
As a country, Scotland is steeped in history, which is in itself varied and can sometimes be quite dark. There are tributes to tragic and painful moments in the country’s past, such as the brutal Battle of Culloden, which saw the culmination of the Jacobite Rising in 1745 and left approximately 1,600 men dead.
A deep history of textiles has also been acknowledged on the hand-stitched panels of the tapestry. There is one dedicated to the intricate knitters of the Shetland Isles, where Fair Isle patterns and beautiful delicate lace wedding shawls continue to be made.
The Great Tapestry of Scotland will be housed in a purpose-built new museum in Galashiels, designed by award-winning architects Page\Park, and is due to open in 2021. This unique visitor centre features a striking roof with strong geometric forms that evoke the town’s pitched roofs, towers and stone buildings. The custom-made facility also incorporates the nearby Post Office, a two-storey category B listed building dating from 1895, which will accommodate spaces for staff, retail and education. When developing the design for the new facility, the architects carefully considered the exterior to appear at once modern but sympathetic to its surroundings, whilst also hinting at the building’s contents with a rhythmic, textured façade that echoes the act of weaving fabric.
Visual storytelling has long been used as a form of recording human endeavours and folklore, beginning with earthy cave paintings depicting scenes of early man. It’s a powerful form of narrative which has a real sense of immediacy and can often tell a story without the need for words. This is something that would have been incredibly important as a method to convey an idea or message in times when literacy was not high. You can see evidence of this in many cultures.
Overall, it is a compelling way to tell the story of a nation which may be relatively small in scale, but it would be fair to say that Scotland has certainly left its mark on the world and made an impression on people globally in numerous ways.
Reflection on the week
Abbotsford: The Home of Sir Walter Scott [online]. Available at https://www.scottsabbotsford.com/ [accessed 17/03/2021]
Alexander McCall Smith. Alexander and The Great Tapestry of Scotland [online]. Available at https://www.alexandermccallsmith.co.uk/off-the-page/the-great-tapestry-of-scotland/ [accessed 27/02/2021]
Bayeux Tapestry. Victoria & Albert Museum [online]. Available at http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O118171/bayeux-tapestry-photograph-cundall-co/bayeux-tapestry-photograph-cundall–co/ [accessed 10/03/2021]
MCALL SMITH, Alexander. April 2013. A stitch in time. New Statesman [online]. Available at https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/docview/1351879532/fulltextPDF/901B2E1FBE5C44D4PQ/1?accountid=15894 [accessed 04/03/2021]
Page\Park. Great Tapestry of Scotland Gallery [online]. Available at https://pagepark.co.uk/project/architecture/tapestry/ [accessed 04/03/2021]
The Great Tapestry of Scotland [online]. Available at http://scotlandstapestry.com/ [accessed 16/03/2021]
Travel Trade Factsheet: The Great Tapestry of Scotland. Live Borders [online]. Available at https://www.liveborders.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Travel-trade-fact-sheet.pdf [accessed 17/03/2021]
Where Scotland’s story begins. Live Borders [online]. Available at http://www.liveborders.org.uk/culture/the-great-tapestry-of-scotland/ [accessed 14/03/2021]