The Great Tapestry of Scotland returns to the Scottish Parliament for 2014 Edinburgh Festival
Scotland's history presented in an unparalleled work of collaborative art featuring 160 individually stitched panels from across the country
This article is from 2014.
One year in the making, the Great Tapestry of Scotland will be proudly housed in the Scottish Parliament until September. David Pollock learns that the project was an education for everyone
The Great Tapestry of Scotland is more than just an unparalleled work of collaborative craft. At 143 metres in length, with 160 panels depicting the history of Scotland from the formation of the rocks to the creation of Scotland’s parliament, it’s an artwork, a visual demonstration of where we came from and a story all in one. That last point is unsurprising, given that Alexander McCall Smith initiated the project, with artist Andrew Crummy creating the basic design (helped by Alistair Moffat’s research team of historians) which more than 1000 stitchers across the nation would contribute to.
This summer the tapestry will return to Edinburgh once more, having made its debut in the city last year and successfully toured around Scotland in the interim. ‘It was a large-scale community arts project,’ says Crummy of the tapestry. ‘From my design, people added what they wanted to about their area or their family.’ This ethos will go one step further this summer with the inclusion of the People’s Panel, where there will be an opportunity for people visiting the exhibition to add a stitch or two to a new panel which will eventually be displayed permanently in the parliament’s collection. ‘It’s a depiction of the building itself,’ says Crummy. ‘Hopefully, a few thousand people will have contributed to it by the end.’
The artist says his expectations for the work have been exceeded in terms of how it has engaged the public, with the highest attendance at the touring exhibition being 58,000 people in Aberdeen. ‘You can see every stitch,’ he says, ‘and you can tell the commitment shown by those involved was amazing. It tells a story, but it also demonstrates a huge amount of creativity from people all around Scotland. One of the comments you hear most is, “I didn’t learn a lot of history in school”, and I’ve heard stories of people crying by the end of it.’
Crummy says he still feels too close to the work to figure out what his emotional response is, but the process was a huge learning experience for him. ‘It changes your perspective,’ he says. ‘The big thing for me is that it shows you how connected Scotland is to the wider world. We all came here from different parts of Europe and beyond. I was the same as everyone else before this; all you get taught at school is Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden, but there’s a whole lot more to Scotland’s history than that. Sadly, a lot of people are ignorant of many different aspects of that past.’
‘Even on its return visit to Holyrood, this tapestry is breathtaking,’ says the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP. ‘It’s particularly fitting that this wonderful display of Scotland’s history opened on the day that we celebrated the parliament’s 15th anniversary. Each and every panel featured is testament to hours of effort that beautifully capture Scotland’s rich and diverse history, and I’m looking forward to welcoming the people of Scotland to the parliament to stitch their way into its history.’
The Great Tapestry of Scotland, Scottish Parliament, Holyrood Road, 0131 348 5000, until 13 Sep, free.