Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh : collaborative tapestries 1945-1970
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Dovecot Studios (also known as Dovecot) was established in 1912 by the 4th Marquess of Bute (1881-1947) for the purpose of weaving large historical tapestries for his many residences, primarily Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute. The tapestries produced were all woven by hand, using the traditional Gobelins technique, and were primarily intended as wall hangings. After the Second World War, the studio began collaborating with external designers, inviting well-known contemporary artists to submit tapestry designs. My overall research question has been: ‘How has a wide range of artists responded to the opportunity to design tapestries for Dovecot Studios?’ The thesis addresses this question using a chronological structure and focuses on the years 1945 to 1970, a period of flux, constant change and rapid development at the studio. The broader narrative is interspersed with case studies on particular artist-designers: Graham Sutherland(1903-1980), Sax Shaw(1916-2000), Joyce Conwy Evans (b.1929) and Harold Cohen (b.1928). These allow a detailed exploration of how four individual artists designed tapestries for Dovecot, and how their tapestry designs relate to their wider creative practice. The history of the studio during this period was also shaped by individual personalities in the roles of Director, Artistic Director and Head Weaver. In the 1940s the Directors chose to weave small panels for the wealthy domestic market but as big business grew in the 1960s so too did the studio’s ambitions and it began receiving large site-specific commissions for new and refurbished buildings. Throughout this period it is evident that the artistic decisions of the studio’s directors were underpinned by financial concerns as they attempted to establish Dovecot as a commercial organisation, against the backdrop of broader economic changes and cultural and social movements in Great Britain and abroad. This in-depth examination of the development of Dovecot Studios over a twenty-five year period reveals a complex organisation, in which the inter-relationships between artist-designers, weavers, patrons and studio directors changed and adapted. In particular, artists and weavers increasingly worked as partners, trying to find a balance between artistic control for the artist as designer and interpretive freedom for the weavers as creative practitioners. This working relationship required a delicate balance and its dynamics were sensitive to the different requirements of speculative and commissioned tapestries. The thesis argues that each tapestry must be viewed as the product of both designer and weaver(s), challenging the tradition of only attributing a tapestry to its designers, not its makers. The thesis also reflects on Dovecot’s relationship with tapestry practice in post-war Europe.