A week or so ago, on Wednesday evening, April 3, in the newly refurbished St Ives library, I listened to Jo McIntosh as she presented the story of her life, in particular highlighting the last twenty years since graduating from Bath Spa university and becoming a textile artist. Jo's main focus was on the project - The Wharf Road Tapestry - that has excited the imagination of more and more people within St Ives and now - thanks to cyberspace - artists across the Pond too.
I'll begin with a general photo credit for all the images in this blog-post - my sincere appreciation to Carolyn Saxby, Leo Walker and St Ives in Stitches.
|The Cabin - detail from the Wharf Road tapestry created under the guidance of Jo McIntosh|
The story of the St Ives Tapestry project begins in 2016 when Jo first encountered the work of Lisa
'THE CRICKHOWELL HIGH STEET STITCH UP - Collaborative Community Project
Arts Alive needed a community project, and so this was my idea, to stitch the High Street … I came at this project as a complete novice. Where did that come from? It must have been from a visit back to my hometown of Glasgow around the year 2000; I was lucky enough to see the Keeping Glasgow in Stitches project hanging in the Art Galleries. I've never been the same again.
I could see the High Street finished in my head, and knew how each person could contribute. I had to give out pieces to accomplished stitch-workers but also needed to include areas where people could learn basic stitches and do some quite 'freestyle' work.
I love the juxtaposition of incredibly skilled work sitting alongside the naïve. The contrast brings the work alive and actually works in a complementary way. The variety of workmanship leads to a character in the overall work that I think represents the variety of character and characters that make up a community.'
I am sure Jo McIntosh would say much the same about the overall effect of the Wharf Road tapestry but I know that Jo from the outset allowed each stitch-worker to follow her own vision for the representation of the building they had chosen to display.
Here is an image from the Crickhowell tapestry:
|Detail from the Crickhowell Tapestry created under the guidance of Lisa Hellier|
Jo was now inspired to repeat the idea for St Ives, taking the buildings of Wharf Road as the focus. Using squares of calico, all of the same size, those participating would choose a building in this waterfront road and create their own piece of textile art to illustrate what was seen.
|Wallis House - detail from the Wharf Road tapestry|
The very first meeting at the Island Centre had an attendance of five. A start had been made.
|Jus Desserts - Wharf Road tapestry|
|Sloop Inn - Wharf Road tapestry|
By September 2017, after more groundwork, twenty people gathered in the Salvation Army meeting hall on Wharf Road in what was to be the first of the monthly meetings where tea was made, cake was eaten, chat was exchanged - and the stitching happened.
|Beach Restaurant - Wharf Road tapestry|
|The Pilchard Press - Wharf Road tapestry|
By August 2018, the tapestry was complete. It was in sections: two banners each 25 feet long, made up of calico squares each one stitched by a member of the 20-plus group of St Ives women.
|St Ives stitch-workers - group photo (Jo McIntosh is in the front row, 2nd from right)|
A book for comments was kept at its exhibitions in St Ives and is filled with remarks that praise the skills and the imagination and the sense of community that are so apparent in this historical record of part of St Ives that is so familiar but also so subject to commercial change. Personally I - and others - would love to see this tapestry of life in St Ives find a permanent home in the town where it can be conserved and displayed for future generations.
What next? Thirty people met recently at the inaugural gathering for the Fore Street project. Another road in St Ives is about to be imagined and displayed in stitches under Jo's leadership. Inspiring developments!
|Group photo - Creating the banners - Jo and some of the St Ives stitch-workers|
Jo talked of the importance of bringing people together and quoted another textile artist: 'Sewing is our way to make our mark in existence.' The St Ives stitch-workers have done just that.
|Working together - a community project|