Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 14 To Stirling and Home

In Glencoe
On the last day of our tour Coach A traveled from Skye to Stirling through the stunning scenery of Glencoe glen. A number of movies, including the third Harry Potter, have used this area as a set. The tragic massacre of the MacDonalds of 1692 continues to give this area of natural beauty a tragic air. Much of the land in the glen is now owned and protected by the National Trust of Scotland.  The clouds parted briefly to see the top of Scotland’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, and we stopped at the Commando Memorial.

Our wee Rabbies mini-coach, second from the right, which can negotiate tiny 'B' roads and go places these other big beasts can not follow
 Coach B traveled south from Inverness and both groups met at Stirling Castle.
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.
Wallace Monument in the distance
 The Romans originally built the only road from south to north 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. We had a very keen guide this year who pointed out many fascinating details about the buildings, statues and history.
 Historic Scotland's website will fill in the details of this historic place.
Statue of King James V dressed as a commoner at the corner of his palace. At one point, all the buildings at Stirling Castle were painted the golden color of the great hall, seen at left.
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 and the Unicorn” based loosely on the weaving of the original tapestries.
Louise Martin, head weaver at Stirling Castle
Since records show King James had over one hundred 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. We were extremely lucky to see the 4 tapestries already completed are hanging on display at the Chapel Royal. Right after our visit, workers erected scaffolding to remove the tapestries. Later this week the tapestries will be clean and then rehung in King James Palace which opens to the public in early June.
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.
#1 'The Start of the Hunt' woven with 100 colours of yarn and a 'thousand flowers' backbround at West Dean studio.
 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.

#2 'The Unicorn at the Fountain'
 Weaving 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.

The third tapestry in the series 'The Unicorn Leaps from the Stream' is currently being woven at West Dean Tapestry Studio. The fifth tapestry in the series will be woven last at the Stirling studio.
#6 'The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle'  There are seveneteen dogs, 108 colours, and two scenes depicted in this tapestry
About 25 weavers total will have worked on the series by the time it is completed (including Joan Baxter whom we visited previously.) 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.
#7 'The Unicorn in Captivity'   Seven different colours of yarn are used in weaving the unicorn
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 or take pictures while they are at the loom. The weavers are currently working on fourth tapestry in the series, "The Unicorn at Bay” on which the weaving started February 6, 2008 and will be completed in summer 2011.

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 2013 when the whole set of tapestries will hang in King James V Palace.
The resident blogger
Travel is a wonderful teacher. We leave our framework of our normal, everyday lives, and are thrust into a culture, which may not seem so different from our own. But as we talk, eat, ride on ferries, visit museums, breath in deeply, we learn in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, that every culture has unique things they offer to the world. Scotland has always offered her friendly people and welcoming nature to me and I believe my travelers felt this too. 
At Skaill Bay, Orkney
We fly back home and leap back into our lives, but we are not the same. Our being has been touched and changed. I always come home so thankful for the affordable food, fuel and energy we are privileged to have in North America. And I’m reminded to give back the hospitality to visitors in our communities and homes that we received in Scotland. If you’ve felt Scotland calling you, I welcome you to come with next year April 10-23, 2012. I’ll have the updated tour information available on my website sometime this June. Thank you for blogging along on the journey!

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