Exhibition Visit: The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Yesterday I was up at the Fringe Festival with my husband, attending three shows, but managed to find an hour or so to visit the new galleries in the Museum. Here are a small sample of the textile and other pieces that caught my eye.

Unfortunately for me, the lighting is very dim in these galleries so the photographs are equally dark.

Phoebe Anna Traquair and Hilda Traquair, Three Embroidered Panels (Featuring The Red Crosse Knight and Princess Una), 1914

The first-mentioned artist was part of the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland and became the first woman member of the Royal Scottish Academy.

The stitch on these large panels was beautiful, with couched gold threads, other threads (they had the lustre of silk) were stitched in one direction to form a solid background, then given added detail by overstitching across them in another colour. A very romantic and decorative piece.

Joseph Fuchs for Desfossé & Karth, Scenic Wallpaper, L’Eden, c. 1861 – 72.

This sumptuous scene is block printed by 3,642 separate blocks – only affordable for the very wealthiest of households. I can’t imagine ever making something so complicated and detailed, but the result must have looked stunning in a beautiful 18th/19th century room. It would have been quite the talking point. I like the asymmetry of this scene and the many small details that only become visible on closer inspection.

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Cushion Cover, 17th or 18th century England (silk, metal, cotton, glass and ceramic beads, pearls)

This piece featured so many textures, details, raised areas of stumpwork and three dimensional embellishments, that it must have taken months (if not years) of work to complete. The accompanying label points out that needlework was used to keep women busy and ‘out of trouble’; the subjects depicted often revolve around happy family lives, subservience to one’s father, virtue etc. Nonetheless, the skill and charm of this embroidery was irresistible and gives a window into the life of the maker.

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Headdress made from blue kingfisher feathers China, Qing dynasty, 19th century

This piece interested me because of the beautiful colour – very iridescent and light-reflecting. The use of unusual materials is interesting, but although I might use ‘found’ feathers in my own work, I must doubt that these were all obtained that way. The object just seen at top left is part of a garment made from beads of bamboo, sewn into a net-like grid. The use of locally-found, unusual materials was featured in this display. It is perhaps a lesson to look around my own environment to see what found materials I might be able to use in my own art work.

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William De Morgan design, Sands End Pottery Tiles, Bedford Park Daisy Design, 1888 – 98 (glazed earthenware).

The tiles are inspired by Middle Eastern patterns, these in an ancient Persian style. I love these striking patterns of stylised flowers. It is interesting to see how they look when grouped – some of them might be a bit too overpowering en masse, and need blending with some plainer tiles to give the eye some respite.

I took many photographs at this exhibition (more on my personal blog) as there were lots of interesting exhibits – both from a design point of view, or from the materials used (including a case of sustainably made objects, such as biodegradeable coffin and urn, and a guitar made from reclaimed wood and composite made from wheat straw. The many techniques of surface decoration and transformation are a useful feed into my current coursework on paper and textile manipulations.

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