Wednesday, June 4, 2014


It seems like ages ago that I met up with a group of friends in Melbourne. Time flys by and my blog has been on the back burner, as time is committed to other things. The tapestry, woven at the Dovecot in Edinburgh was on display at the Australian Tapestry Workshop. A special project to celebrate the Dovecot's 100 anniversary. The tapestry is woven from natural coloured wool, sourced from throughout the UK. It is a large tapestry, probably around 3 x4 meters. I was taken with the harshness of the landscape.
 The bare winter branches, the snow, the small crofts on the high horizon. A lonely figure wearing gum boots, coat and hat gives scale to the group of trees. It is a beautiful tapestry and my photo's don't do it justice.    

The tapestry design is taken from a painting by Scottish artist Victoria Crowe. A video of the making of the tapestry was playing in the gallery space. An image caught my eye as other paintings from the series 'A Shepherd's Life' were shown. The image of the old woman, looked just like my own Grandmother looking for something in her handbag! After I came home from Melbourne I bought the book 'A Shepherd's Life: Paintings of Jenny Armstrong by Victoria Crowe. A lovely little book with reproductions of the paintings in the series. Along with the story of her friendship with the shepherdess, Jenny Armstrong.
While I was looking at the tapestry I was pondering my own family. My Great Grandparents, Janet and James Herd came to Australia from Paisley in Scotland in 1854. As the surname Herd suggests, my family were shepherds-herdsmen. My own Scottish family probably lived in a similar croft. When they came to Australia James Herd worked as a shepherd until he was able to purchase his own land. My Grandfather Robert Herd was a shearer and sheep farmer and my own father Raleigh Herd like his father, worked as a shearer and farmer until he was called up into the army during the Second World War. When my father returned from New Guinea at the end of the war, he began working as a station hand at Allanvale. Allanvale is a large sheep station where some years they would shear up to 20,000 sheep. I spent my life until I was 16 living at Allanvale and moved into town just before my father retired. Everyone in my family were farmers and no one lived in a town. It was a culture shock for me to move, even into a small town. So I have spent a large part of my own life around sheep, Coen's grandparents have a farm as well. Maybe some time I will talk about what it was like to grow up on such a large property.
The similarity between the paintings in the book and my own Grandparents home have amazed me. The dark rooms. The wallpaper, everyday objects, even the Border Collie dog. So similar, yet worlds apart. I showed one of my cousins the book. He also was shocked by the similarity. There is another tapestry from the series of paintins of Jenny Armstrong that has been woven at the Dovecot, a photo is here. I wonder what my family thought of Australia when they arrived. The harsh summers, droughts and cold winters without snow. Trees that don't loose their leaves, all add up to a very different landscape.  
Yet looking through my own photos, there is a similarity to this photo after a fire with the bare trees and the ground covered with ash.

1 comment:

  1. My goodness, I love that tapestry; the detail in the shadows is amazing.
    And the sky seems to be brown; wonderful.
    It could also be Sakatchewan or Alberta in the long days of the year. Fran


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