Posted by: ramblinrobert | May 26, 2008

Two contemporary tapestry artists

The trip provided good contrasts for weaving–traditional vs. tapestry; old tapestry vs. contemporary tapestry. We visited two contemporary tapestry artists and, although they both do somewhat abstract scenes, their styles do differ. In addition, their methods of working differ.

We first visited Joan Baxter, who lives in a small town along the North Sea, Brora. Actually, she and her husband live on a seven acre nature preserve next to the Brora River. It’s a lovely spot where she has her studio next to their home and he has his forge and garden behind the house. This visit was a trip highlight for me. If you’ve read my earlier post about why I went to Scotland, you’ll know that seeing one of Joan’s tapestries last summer was an inspiration to me. I was thrilled when Nadine said she had been able to contact Joan and add a visit to our tour. It was a double treat for many of us, because we also got to meet her husband and learn about his art, too. For me, it was a triple treat, because I also talked with him about his gardening.

To do her tapestries, Joan starts with a concept, then starts building up the tapestry, letting it evolve as she works. She doesn’t use the traditional method of drawing out the design ahead of time and placing a cartoon (drawing) of the design behind the loom while she works. This can result in interesting outcomes. She described one piece she was working on (see picture to left) when she heard about the World Trade Center being hit by jet aircraft on 9/11. This changed how she was thinking of her piece and the effect of the event is evident. She also showed how she is experimenting with integrating photographs into her work (see closeup image). All in all, it was a great opportunity to learn from her how she works and to see a few of her pieces. One question was about the colors she uses. She blends multiple colors in her warp threads, saying with a smile: “Why use one color when two will do?”

Her husband is a gardener and I was able to talk to him for a few minutes about their garden and orchard, and his use of their polytunnel. But, his real craft is that of bladesmith. He likes using salvaged materials; currently he is using Rover leaf springs for his blades. He gave a number of us a tour of his forge and explained his methods. It’s hard to believe that these beautiful knives come from an old leaf spring!

Leila Thomson lives on a remote part of Orkney, working out of her studio, Hoxa Tapestry. She uses more traditional methods, in that she plans her work out in advance and uses a cartoon. But her designs are far from traditional. She also does some pieces that are very large (one was about 8 feet high and 15 feet wide) and does some very interesting double-layered pieces that add a third dimension to them.

Both of these women live in rural areas of Scotland and it’s easy to see how their work is influenced by the natural environment.



  1. Hello ~ Thanks so much for this fun website! I am a weaver living in Niwot, Colorado. I have just joined a tapestry group which Joan Baxter is also a member(BTG), so enjoyed this blog. There are so many fun connections I am finding on these pages. Thanks ! I look forward to receiving more news ! ~

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