Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 1 Stirling and Glasgow

Tuesday 21 April. Welcome to my blog about the third Scotland adventure I’m leading for weavers and spinners. I'm happy to be dancing, hopping, well mostly riding around Scotland once again. Folks ask why I do this trip. The simple answer is, I love the country and it’s people.In a nutshell, I spent the summer of 1997 in Scotland hiking and roaming, meeting farmers, weavers, felters, fiddlers, and singers. That is when I hatched my idea to bring folks who like music, old stones, and weaving to Scotland to meet my friends!It took 10 years, but in 2007 I brought my first group from North America over. I’ll keep leading this trip as long as people are interested in getting an insider experience into the spirit of this place and its people.

This group includes travelers from Florida, New Mexico, and California. Some of them have traveled together as a group before. For some it is their first time out of North America. Others are regularly on the road 3 months a year. I've found one hardy walker who can easily keep pace with me and several are certified deep sea divers! It is an interesting mix of folks that I already know ask excellent questions of our guides.

Day 1 we headed north out of the city for the first venue of the trip, Stirling Castle. Although the weather was like summer yesterday, we started today with some clouds and some rain. By the end of the day when we returned to Glasgow the sun was out. So that is how it goes in Scotland, just as where I live in the Pacific Northwest. If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. Stirling Castle is the site of many famous battles.It rises out of the lowlands as the entrance gate into the highlands. From the castle you gaze across fields where many battles have taken place in earlier history and look across to the Wallace monument. The Romans originally built the only road from south tonorth that ran right through this area where the Firth of Forth meets the River Clyde Basin. That is why it was a strategic site for holding or conquering the land. Many different buildings and fortifications have stood on this site since the 1200’s. The castle has been rebuilt at least eighteen times over the centuries. Historic Scotland's website can fill in the details of this historic place.

It was a busy and eventful day at the castle. The army was there to render a 21-gun salute for the Queen’s 83rd birthday. 3 guns were set up next to the display canyon on the castle wall facing Abbey Craig. At noon, the pipe band processed and played for the firing spectacle. Thanks to traveler Paul Causey for the firing jpg.

We have the current renovation of King James V palace to thank for the Unicorn tapestry project. Historic Scotland is working with the West Dean Tapestry studio to recreate the 7 tapestries in the “Hunt of the Unicorn” series. The originals with the blue background are in the Metropolitan's Cloisters Museum in New York City. The other series with the red background are the Cluny Museum in Paris. You may enjoy reading Tracy Chevalier’s excellent historical fiction book called “The Lady & the Unicorn” based loosely on the weaving of the original tapestries.Since records show King James had over 100 tapestries in his palace, very likely including a version of the Unicorn tapestries, the Hunt series was chosen to be made anew. Louise Martin, the head weaver of the project, gave us an in-depth look into the scope of this amazing project. The 4 tapestries already completed are hanging on display at the Chapel Royal include:"The Unicorn in Captivity#1"
“The Unicorn is Found #2”
"The Unicorn is killed and brought to the castle #6"
“The Unicorn in Captivity #7”

They are all 330 cm tall and various widths. Since my last visit, "The Unicorn is Found" woven at West Dean, was hung. Detail of "Unicorn is Found"

A temporary studio was built on the north end of the castle for this project. Visitors to the castle can view the weaving but are not permitted to talk to the weavers while they are at the loom. The weavers are currently working on "The Unicorn at Bay” which was started on February 6, 2008. A great delight for me is that I see the progress on the tapestry project each year.It is humbling to realize that it will take 3 highly skilled weavers working 7 days a week, 3 ½ years to complete this current tapestry. Another tapestry in the series is being woven at the West Dean Tapestry studio 500 miles away in England. The entire project will be completed in 2012 when the whole set of tapestries will hang in the newly renovated palace at Stirling Castle.

To render the full-scale design and cartoon, the head weavers go to New York to the Cloisters. They have access to within one millimeter of the original tapestries but cannot touch them. They figure out yarn colors and make a detailed plan for each figure and motif in each tapestry. Working from full size color copy, they make an acetate tracing of the tapestry. Then from this they make a paper cartoon. Samples are woven to work out specific techniques to achieve desired effects. The wool yarn is all dyed at the West Dean studio. Instead of silk, pearl cotton is being used for the shiny parts as it has longer color fastness. Historic Scotland requires that the materials being used in the tapestry hold up for 250 years.

Reweaving the tapestries is not a matter of copying. First, the new tapestries are being woven 10% smaller than the originals to fit in the space in the palace. They are weaving with fewer EPI (ends per inch) in the warp because it would take too long and cost too much money to weave them at the original finer warp set. (A patron in her eighties is financing the project.) Also, the head weavers have to train the weavers who come in to weave each tapestry. Although all experienced tapestry weavers, they need to understand the specific techniques and develop nuances of skill. There will be about 25 weavers total who have worked on the series by the time it is completed. Each weaver has to leave their own individuality and style behind and try to get into the mind of the original weavers as they work. Getting this inside look at the current project is really special. The scope, historical accurateness, detail, and dedication is amazing.

Back in Glasgow, we toured the Glasgow School of Art. There has been in art school in the city since 1845. This current building was completed in 1909 based on a design by Cahrles Renne Mackintosh. When he won the design competition for a new building, he was 28 years old, both working for an architecture firm, and attending school here part time. The clean lines and the influence of nature inside the school was influenced by Mackintosh's appreciation of Japanese design. Throughout the building the "Mackintosh Rose" symbol appears again and again. Margaret, Charle's wife, a fine artist, designed gesso plaques and had a great influence on Charle’s interior design. The tour ends in the new venue for the furniture gallery. A selection of chairs, tables, bed, dresser, cabinets from the school’s collection is on display.No photos can be taken inside the building.

Charles died in 1928, poor and virtually forgotten, and Margaret died in 1932. Their marriage was a true love story. Today, people world wide value the design aesthetic we today call "Mackintosh.”There are many other sites in the Glasgow area that feature the architecture and interiors of Charles Mackintosh. We ended the day at the University of Glasgow. Travelers were free to explore either the newly renovated Huntarian Museum or the MacKintosh House. When Charles and his wife Margaret MacDonald left Glasgow in 1914, one of his patrons bought the house. When the owner died, the family left the contents to the University of Glasgow. The actual house, located just a few blocks from the University, was torn down in the 1960’s. But in the early 1980’s, the museum built this addition to the gallery which replicates the rooms of the MacKintosh house. Each room is decorated with the furniture, light fixtures, artwork, textiles, and colors true to the original house. The sense of light and unity in the house gives a sense of sacred space. The popularity of MacKintosh and his designs today is amazing considering he died in London, almost entirely forgotten and poor.

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