Guest blog by Peter Bateson – Development Coordinator and Exhibition Curator for the Camphill Foundation…
A collection of vibrant pieces of textile art created in Camphill communities across the globe will be on display for two weeks in New Lanark’s visitor centre. After more than a year of preparation, and seven months of touring in England and Wales, Camphill Foundation’s World Wide Weave Exhibition arrives in Scotland for the first time at New Lanark where it will be shown from 23rd July – 6th August.
The 75 textile works have been created and collected to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Camphill Movement which began on 1st June 1940. On this date the first small group of pioneers moved into Camphill House by the River Dee at Milltimber near Aberdeen. Camphill communities provide schools and colleges for children and young people living with developmental problems and learning disabilities and communities for adults where everyone can live, learn and work with others in an environment of mutual respect and equality.
The World Wide Weave project has involved hundreds of people all over the Camphill Movement in 19 distinct nations and regions, with contributions created in 61 communities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Ireland, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Russia, USA, Canada, South Africa, India and Vietnam. The common theme was “Our community’s relationship to its physical and social environment”, but each place was free to develop its own original interpretation. The exhibition also includes a small number of special pieces contributed by individual master weavers and tapestry makers.
Every one of the 75 pieces is unique and has its own story to tell. For example, there is a beautiful felting of the Russian landscape from the Camphill day-centre Turmalin in Moscow, where at first they were not sure they could do anything at all and then completed and delivered a masterpiece in record time. There is an enchanting tapestry of Tapola in Finland, brimful of colour and details of the village and its life, and a similar brilliantly coloured creation from Kyle in Ireland. There is a matching pair of Spring and Autumn feltings from Corbenic in Perthshire, breathtaking in their artistry, colour and detail.
From Camphill School Aberdeen comes panel number 1 (quite rightly), a tapestry which incorporates a wealth of archetypal Camphill imagery and symbolism in one richly coloured and textured composition. In some pieces, for example from Mountshannon (Ireland), Rotvoll (Norway), Oaklands Park (England) and Loch Arthur (Scotland) it is the actual woven texture which is paramount, as the background to a symphony of colour which constitutes a whole world of experience in itself. From California there are two complementary semi-abstract pieces representing the wide panorama of the ocean and the majestic verticality of the redwood forest.
The World Wide Weave is an artistic endeavour, meant to be appreciated and enjoyed as such, but also it carries with it at least four messages. First of all, it embodies the principle of Unity in Diversity. Despite their huge variation in size, location and task and the incredibly rich mix of people who constantly interweave their lives and destinies in the network of Camphill communities, they all have the same set of core principles at heart. The exhibition expresses all the wonderfully varied and diverse characteristics of single communities coming together in one great artistic panorama of Camphill. Secondly, the exhibition carries a fundamental statement of equality regarding the potential of people with learning disabilities. The weavers, felters, tapestry-makers and embroiderers are artists and artisans in their own right and can place their work alongside that of mainstream artists and craftspeople.
A third element is that different individuals in a group have collaborated on a single piece of art, each contributing what they could towards the finished work. This has been a major feature in the development of the World Wide Weave. It has been a renewed experience of community cooperation and an example of social weaving along with the actual textile work. Many other people have also been involved in those pieces which incorporate other materials such as pottery, metal and wood, bringing together different workshops active in the community. A good example is the brilliant seaside image from Camphill Devon which has a colourful background of multi-textured weaving with felted and beadwork flowers, copper leaves, ceramic butterflies and wooden birds!
And fourth, most of the communities have used entirely home produced and in many cases also recycled materials in the World Wide Weave. A few of the exhibits are composed almost entirely of recycled materials. Caring for our natural resources, recycling and renewal is a special theme that runs throughout the exhibition.
The connection between New Lanark and Camphill goes very deep. The economic model of life in a Camphill community was strongly inspired by the work of Robert Owen and his efforts to establish a humane, just and fair economy in which everyone’s needs could adequately be met. He was seen by the founders of Camphill as a forerunner of their own commitment to the principle of brother/sisterhood in the economic sphere. In fact, Robert Owen is regarded as one of three ‘stars’ of Camphill, pioneering historical figures who laid the foundations for what were later formulated as Camphill essentials in education, social life and economics.
During the past seven months, visitors to the exhibition in England and Wales have been deeply affected by the range and richness of colour in the exhibits and the incredible variety and complexity of techniques on display. Through the texts and photos that accompany the exhibits they experience what they describe as a joyful, uplifting and life-affirming message. Last, but not least, they are deeply impressed by the skill and ability shown by the craftspeople and by the spirit of creative collaboration which is so much a part of that process. As one visitor in Bristol expressed it, “the best thing of all is that it so clearly comes from a living experience of community, and that’s something that we all need nowadays”.
Please come to see this spectacular show in the historic and very appropriate setting of New Lanark World Heritage Site. 23rd July – 6th August 2015, New Lanark Institute. 10am-5pm. Free entry!
You can follow the progress of the tour on the website www.camphillfoundation.net which will have all relevant information about the various venues, and also updates appearing regularly on Facebook/camphill-foundation-uk-ireland and Twitter @camphillFD.
The exhibition will move on to other venues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and in 2016 to Switzerland, Norway and North America.
Peter Bateson – Development Coordinator and Exhibition Curator