Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Bath Abbey in Stitch
Last week we had a mini-trip to Bath, our objective being the Abbey. Naturally, it being Bath, we found other diversions, but eventually we made our way into the glorious sanctuary and found plenty there to keep our attention. At the altar was the stunning stitched altar frontal, the details of which are below.
What a masterpiece of design and stitchery this frontal is: glorious, vibrant and rich in colour, texture and imagery.
Meanwhile, around the abbey are displayed no less than 35 diptychs such as the one below. They are all the work of Sue Symons and collectively entitled "One Man's Journey to Heaven: Thirty-five Episodes in the Life of Christ". The initial inspiration was attending a concert of St. Matthew's Passion when artist Sue lived on Vancouver Island, Canada. On returning to live in Britain some twelve years later, she decided to pursue this idea as a retirement indulgence, for her own creative gratification and did not intend exhibition.
The plan was to work on a series of panels representing Christ's life, and to work each as a decorated text (incorporating lettering, writing, pattern and intricate design work), while alongside would be a second worked in fabric and thread as a means her other interest in working in textiles.
She actually studied Calligraphy specifically for the project, having found a teacher who welcomed left-handers (as one myself, I can attest to how tricky this adjustment can be). She was clearly an excellent pupil as the written panels are extraordinarily accomplished and do not look like the work of a beginner. The textile panels are a subjective interpretation of the same episodes, abstract and using a personal symbolism. Originally envisaged to last perhaps five years, the project took over one - she started in January 2006. Eventually Bath Abbey and Wells Cathedral were approached regarding exhibitions, and responded positively, with the suggestion the panels were displayed as diptychs. Jennifer Skellet purchased them for Bath Abbey and here they are for the moment (until 26th September 2008), though may go travelling on exhibition elsewhere in the future.
A comprehensive book of the project is available, while more information about the exhibition is
here and images can be seen here.
These works are stunning but, and I feel churlish for saying this, I'm not convinced that displaying them as diptychs really works. To me, the different styles of work, symbolism, colours and pattern, fight each other, to the particular detriment of the textile panels, but to the disadvantage of both. These creations ARE masterful, however and, in my opinion, well worth a visit.