What 1,256 Visitors thought of The Prestonpans Tapestry ...
There’s a Simple but Overwhelming Conclusion – ‘Our’ Tapestry is Bigger than All of Us!
The Prestonpans Tapestry’s Parade through the Highlands and East Coast, along the route the Prince took 265 years ago, drew more than 10,000 visitors in 27 days, an average of 370 per day or 62 each hour. More than 1000 of these visitors offered their comments on what they saw in our Visitors’ Book.
The Trust took this extraordinary artwork back to the communities that had stitched it, pitching up in Village, Community and Sports Halls, Cathedral, Museum and Castle to let our volunteer stitchers thereabouts and their friends and many more see what together had been created. Arran Johnston, Executive Trustee with the Battle Trust was ‘on the road’ from late July / mid September assisted firstly by Fiona Campbell and latterly Andrew Allcorn and the East Lothian based stitchers. Everyone owes them all a debt of immense gratitude for spending so many ‘enjoyable’ hours in such a way.
Our Tapestry has still to be seen in its full and proper glory, displaying Bonnie Prince Charlie’s entire story from Rome to Prestonpans in a single, world class phantasmagoric round. The Appeal for funds to allow that to happen is shortly to be launched. But we have now seen it in its improper ‘community’ glory, double banked not always with too much room to stand back or manoeuvre around the Hall but bursting with colour and admired by all who entered. This is a distillation of what 1256 visitors wrote down.
“This Tapestry is a seminal moment in community art – and we’ll be celebrating it centuries from now.”
One bemoaned the paucity of superlatives in the English language to describe what they saw but most did their repetitive best!
“Awesome, wonderful, brilliant, magnificent, beautiful, marvellous, fascinating, phenomenal, interesting, intriguing, lovely, fabulous, incredible, unbelievable, mind blowing, breath taking, spectacular, impressive, imaginative, creative, extremely good, well done, tour de force, out of this world, brill, bit of alright, first class, world class, amazing, sublime, what a treat …”
“A wonderful sight as you walk through the door.” “Probably the most remarkable display I’ve ever seen.” Never seen anything so amazing.” “A fantastic community art project. Prestonpans, be proud!” “Wonderful to pass to future generations.” “A triumph of art, research and perseverance.”
“Hugely ambitious and successful. Great concept. Brilliantly executed.”
Many, they must be stitchers themselves, realised just what a gigantic labour of love it had been.
“A staggering amount of skilled work it’s hard to credit.” “Seeing is believing. Workmanship second to none.” “No words can describe this fantastic feat.”
“The most amazing achievement.” “Quite staggering.” “Warms your heart to see such work.” Stunning collaboration. Can’t believe the work that’s gone into it.”
“Crazy idea. Great artwork. Wonderful outcome.” “Well done the stitchers. Very consistent.” “…and the little personal tweaks everyone has put into their individual panels are great.” “Details, expressions, wow ..”
“A truly significant artwork for the Scottish nation and a wonderful example of the embroiderers skill.” “The outfits and landscapes are amazing.” “I could walk through the redcoats.”
“A truly stunning work of art, heritage and personality. The finest.” “Delighted to see so much talent in this day and age.” “ Marvellous to see natural materials and stitching in this age of technology.” “Skilful. Mightily impressive.”
“Superb project. The sheer enjoyment of work and design shines through.”
And amongst all these tributes to the stitchers, again and again Andrew Crummy’s design of the entire project drew plaudits.
“The scenes all link together so effectively. They become one piece of work.”
“So artistic, delightful outstanding design – and witty!” “Masterpiece.”
“World class history lesson. I’m inspired”
“This is HISTORY – absolutely marvellous.” “A delight to walk through history. The design and execution are amazing.” “You’re making history.”
“Fantastic retelling of the story of Prestonpans.” “I wish I had been taught my history this way.”
“A ‘new’ Scottish treasure to be enjoyed in perpetuity.” “Truly spectacular – and an heirloom.”
“A history lesson and an appreciation of tapestry.” “Vive the Auld Alliance!”
“Exciting political narrative.” “Fantastic guide and timeline.”
“Great piece of Scottish history. Well worth celebrating. Good ending!”
“History retold, clever referencing.” “Great for all ages.” “Thought provoking.”
“I’ve learnt to embroider, laughed more, slept less, learnt Scottish history”. “A great community effort. The true history comes to life. Nothing like history lessons at school.”
“Deserves a special place. Shows all the community’s hidden talents.”
As the Trust’s own preferred answer for a ‘permanent home’ begins to emerge, the visitors voiced their own feelings.
“It merits a wonderfully designed special building to house it.” “A privilege to see it.”
“Needs long term display to appreciate it.” “Deserves national and international exhibition.”
“Please find a permanent home for this marvellous work.”
“Which panel was best? Every one is superb. Hope it’s the start of a long exhibition.”
“Bayeux can no longer rest on its laurels!”
More than a few, including this webmaster, have marvelled at the Bayeux Tapestry both in France and its replica in Reading, but most who had were tempted to promote a claim that the Prestonpans Tapestry was in some manner ‘better’ Such vaulted judgements seem to have arisen from the sheer diversity that Andrew Crummy’s consistent style allowed and of course the colours and texture which are still so abundantly present. Such comments are flattering of course, but there’s no intention of being ‘competitive’ with Bayeux or Fishguard or Angers. Just longer than any of them and ranked ‘amongst them’ – and of course the sole exponent of ‘community art’.
“It’s on a par with Bayeux.” “Better than Bayeux – and certainly longer too.”
“Put’s Bayeux in the shade.”
Roots and from Afar
Visitors, particularly at Blair Castle, came from far and wide outwith Scotland’s borders e.g.
Ukraine, Thailand, Malta, Canada, Australia, Wales, Northumbria, Germany, USA, Yorkshire, Kent, Norway, Lancashire, France, Berkshire, Durham, Gloucestershire, Norfolk, Sweden, Denmark, Dorset, New Zealand, Spain, Lincolnshire, Austria, United Arab Emirates, Angola and Israel.
They also came from Bo’ness, Colonel Gardiner’s birthplace. Descendants of the Jenkinson sisters depicted in Duddingston and Tranent came too. A descendant of William Strange who designed the Prince’s banknotes received one of each of the Trust’s replica £10 and £5 notes. Shipping merchants from Greenock reported details of the foundation of the docks at St Nazaire by Scottish engineers – from which the Prince embarked on du Teillay. And a host of Jacobite descendants from the ’45 were present also.
Volunteers for the Future
More than a few of the stitchers already belonged to craft/ handiwork circles. But for many too it was their first experience of embroidery on such a scale. Already there are groups tackling new projects. But significantly the Visitors’ Book comments show that there are many across Scotland who are sorry they missed out on the Tapestry we’ve completed and want to volunteer next time around.
It’s probably too early to conclude very much on the many issues which the Tapestry will face in the coming months and years but it seems in order to give an interim summary.
1. The Tapestry has received an overwhelmingly positive reception as it has toured ‘interested’ communities. The acclaim has come for: [i] the audacity to attempt such a ‘national’ community arts project in the first place against such a timescale; [ii] Andrew Crummy’s integrated design concept; [iii] the imaginative and skilled craftsmanship of the 200+ stitchers; [iv] the ‘right’ thinking in taking the finished work into the heart of the Highlands and East Coast where the Prince travelled.
2. Everyone wants to know where its ‘permanent’ home will be and agrees it should be in Prestonpans. It has already become a significant component in the community’s ever growing sense of place in the post-industrial era. It offers the chance for most considerable synergy with the many other activities already helping regenerate the community.
3. Paradoxically, however, touring with the Tapestry is a magical although exhausting experience, and it should be sustained not only in the immediate future when there is no ‘permanent’ home but for the forseeable future – taking Prestonpans’ story to all who care to look and listen.
4. There’s universal agreement that it’s a great way to learn history – a picture speaks a thousand words. Maximum effort should be devoted to ensuring it achieves the best possible impact as a ‘history’ lesson for all ages.
5. The embroidery energy surge that created the tapestry should be encouraged and facilitated for ventures new, including getting more people started - at least half of those who stitched the Prestonpans tapestry were novices.
6. An iconic ‘national’ treasure for posterity has been ‘unwittingly’ created and proper care and attention must be given to ensure it retains its colours and textures and of course avoids damage.
Yes indeed, it’s bigger than all of us and we’re its stewards. Final words from the Visitors’ Book:
“It was only when during the final weeks when we were sewing it all together [3000 metres of thread were needed] that I fully realised what a marvel we have all created.” “What an adventure.”
“I was so delighted to have been able to contribute and thank all the stitchers, especially Dorie Wilkie, for their skill and friendship…and Andrew Crummy, without whose vision and inspirational artwork none of this would have happened. What a rare treat this has been.”
“Thank you to all those with the vision and courage to dare to succeed with this work of great historical importance.”
If perchance you did not see all of the venue reports from the Parade, you can link to them directly below:
July 26th: Stitchers’ Private Viewing - PRESTONPANS Part 1 HERE/ PRESTONPANS Part 2 HERE
July 31st/ August 1st: Village Hall, ERISKAY
August 3rd/ 4th: Astley Hall, ARISAIG
August 8th /10th : Naval Heritage Museum, INVERGORDON
August 19th/ 20th : The Nevis Centre, FORT WILLIAM
August 21st/ 22nd : Village Hall, GLENUIG
August 28th/ 29th : Smith Museum & Art Gallery, STIRLING
August 31st/ September 3rd : Blair Castle, BLAIR ATHOLL
September 5th/ 8th : The Salutation Inn, PERTH
September 10th/ 13th : Dunblane Cathedral, DUNBLANE
September 19th : Village Hall, GULLANE
September 19th : Kirk Hall, DUDDINGSTON
September 24th/ 26th : Community Centre, PRESTONPANS
[Ed. What the other 8,750 visitors thought about it all we shall never know!]
Published Date: October 5th 2010