ARUNDEL: Manhattan inspires masterweaving duo

Manhattan is both inspiration and title for the exhibition of hand-woven tapestry Katharine Swailes and Caron Penney are offering at Arundel’s Zimmer Stewart Gallery from June 6-27.


The master weavers, who live in Slindon, have exhibited together before alongside other people, but this is their first joint show with just the two of them – the product of successive years visiting New York City, always going back to the same hotel.

Caron, who worked for many years at West Dean College where she was head of tapestry, said: “We have both been very taken with Manhattan’s urban landscape and street architecture, for me the ebb and flow, the migration of the traffic, both the cars and the people. I just really, really enjoy it. I am quite a country girl at heart. When I first went to New York, I thought I would hate it, but I have become really quite consumed by it. It’s an amazing place. It is so vibrant as a city, and the scale really hits you. Everything is like it is on steroids. The buildings are huge. The cars feel bigger and wider. As an artist, I am really interested in system and pattern and balance. It feels like the flow of the migration across the city is paralleled by the warp and the weft of tapestry. You think of the system that is put in place to hold back the traffic and let the people go and then let the traffic go and hold back the people, and it is something that feels as if it is actually on a knife edge. I am mimicking that in my tapestry.”

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Katharine responds similarly to the city: “I have worked in textiles all my life, even before I left home. I worked firstly making costume for film and TV and theatre, and there was a lot of research attached to that. It was historical costume. But when I came to West Dean, I did the postgraduate course in tapestry weaving. I found myself sidelined into the studio, working on historical tapestries, which meant going back into the world of looking at museums… and that kind of barges its way into my personal work.”


For Katharine, New York is a vertical city: “Around the same time as travelling to New York, I was trying to settle myself in the far north of Scotland, thinking I wanted that kind of large-scale landscape. But I found the far north of Scotland was a vast, wide landscape. I found the tall landscape that I wanted was in Manhattan. I had never wanted to go there. New York would have been bottom of my list of places I wanted to go on holiday, but when I went there I was just blown away by the verticals which is what I was looking for. But also what really surprised me was the earthy quality of Manhattan. You have got buildings on stilts on top of rocks, and you are aware of the geology.”

Katharine suspects – as does Caron – that even though they have now finished their Manhattan project, Manhattan will continue to inform their work in subtle ways: “I feel Manhattan will keep coming back!” Katharine says.

Katharine has created textiles for over 20 years, specifically working in tapestry for the last two decades. She specialises in both flat wall works and smaller three-dimensional, sculptural pieces, as well as large-scale commissions at West Dean Tapestry Studio.

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