The Scaynes Hill Tapestry illustrates the theme in St John’s Gospel: I CAME THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY.
I was initially asked to design a dorsal to hang behind the altar at St Augustine’s Scaynes Hill. However when I visited the site for the first time I realised that the beautiful little Arts and Crafts church needed something more than a dorsal to give full meaning to the church. There was no other art in the church and the east wall was just blank white plaster. It seemed to me that something to fill the whole space would give resonance and splendour to the whole building.
I therefore proposed a large tapestry, they wanted something that parishioners could be involved in the making of so some sort of textile work was necessary. They were enthusiastic about the idea of a work to cover the entire east wall. The theme was chosen by the parish and all the details discussed. I then prepared a 1-10 size coloured drawing of the work. This they liked.
I agreed to prepare the tapestry canvas for them providing that had a suitable person to co-ordinate the work. This they had. When all the different bodies concerned had given their approval I ordered the canvas and set it up on a wall of my studio. It just fitted. I then painted the entire work in full colour on the canvas. After which I chose the wools and hooked a strand of every colour into its place on the canvas. Thereby hoping we would have no mistakes. As a system it worked perfectly.
I wanted the entire background to be gold but this was too costly so the gold thread was mixed with various shades of yellow wool. This background was worked in little squares to resemble mosaic. I wanted the feel of a Byzantine mosaic as found so often in early churches. The faces of the people were worked in silk to give finer detail. There are several portraits in the work, including that of the vicar of Scaynes Hill.
The cost of the materials was considerable so I suggested that for a fee we would include portraits of parishioner’s dogs. We collected enough for all the materials very quickly. You can count the dogs… Would you call this public funding?
A traditional embroidery loom was set up in the church vestry. The work was made in three panels, each 2 metres wide. The vestry was kept open all hours so that anyone who had a little time could come in and stitch a few mosaic tiles. From time to time I went down to Sussex to check that all was going well. I have never met such a dedicated band of embroiderers. Of course it took two years longer than I had hoped, but such a fraction of time is nothing in what we hope will be the life of the tapestry. The parishioners’ technique was faultless and the materials the best. I was touched by their dedication to such an immense and meticulous work.
Now the tapestry has become one of the sites to visit on the Sussex tourist route. Already there have been many thousand visitors to see it and it has found its way into several guide books. I am proud to have been involved.
THE SCAYNES HILL TAPESTRY 10’ x 18’ 300cm x 540cm
Approximately 3 million stitches
The east wall of St Augustine’s Scaynes Hill, Sussex. The seven great signs from St John’s Gospel.
The Healing of the paralytic - John 5.ii
The Marriage at Cana - John 2.i
The Woman at the well of Samaria - John 4 vii
The Raising of Lazarus - John 11
The Feeding of the five thousand - John 6
The Healing of the man born blind - John 9
The woman taken in adultery - John 8 iii
The good news now is that this tiny Arts and Crafts church has thousands of visitors a year coming to view the tapestry. Coach loads from all over Europe. They buy postcards and teas and make donations, so the church has made a considerable amount of money. The tapestry has been such a success that the church is being given a large E.U grant to maintain the building and construct new tourist facilities, a tea room, loos etc, solely because of their tourist record. Best of all St Augustine’s has received Grade II Historic Building Listing. And all because they had the courage to commission the tapestry.
I am thrilled to have been able to make an artwork which is such a public success.
Polly Hope FEBRUARY 2008