Saturday, November 13, 2010

West Dean College Tapestry & Textile Art--a grand adventure

When a dream comes true how does one write about it? I'm not quite sure but will begin and see where it leads me.

My dream to study tapestry at West Dean College began almost two decades ago when I first started hearing about the program. Was it in one of Archie Brennan & Susan Maffei's workshops where I first learned about West Dean and the tapestry course? I really can't remember exactly when and where I first became aware of it. Once I did, however, I began to dream. I wrote away for information about the program many years ago. I pored over the beautiful brochure I received--and I filed it away. I mentioned it to students whenever asked where to study tapestry on a longer term basis.

Years passed with West Dean as a distant tune playing in the back of my mind, even though I didn't even know all the words or even the melody. Whenever asked what I'd like to do to develop my tapestry abilities further, I'd always say I wanted to study at West Dean someday.

When I learned that a tapestry friend, Barbara Burns, was going to West Dean my interest really perked up. But... always I had the thought--could I really do it? Could I afford it, both in time and money? The program isn't inexpensive and being away from home and my responsibilities there for even the short time of six weeks--considering both things was daunting.

But, you know... there comes a time when one must say-- "Do it or shut up about it!" Earlier in this year I decided I'd pursue this dream--or stop dreaming it. I talked to my husband about it and, with his encouragement, I began the process of application.

Over the past six months I've had several conversations with kind folks who've helped me in my decision making process.  Barbara Burns, for instance.  She showed me her wonderful photos from her time here while we were at an ATA workshop in Santa Fe in the summer and gave me much advice about what to expect.  Cheryl Silverblatt, who I met in Lincoln, Nebraska during the Textile Society of America Symposium in early October, was also encouraging (she'd studied at West Dean as had Barbara).  Very important in my process of understanding about West Dean were Pat Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Visual Art and tapestry tutor; Diana Scarth, one of the tapestry & textile art students; and Sue Powell, the Academic Manager for West Dean.  Each one gave me encouragement, answered every one of my many questions quite thoroughly through e-mails, and all were instrumental in my making the decision to come for this study.

Some turns in the road caused me to reconsider along the way... but... on Friday evening I boarded a Delta jet heading, non-stop, to London ...

... and Saturday morning, November 6 at around 6:30 a.m. a non-stop flight from Atlanta, Georgia landed at Gatwick airport with me on board.

I found my way, with help, to the train for Chichester... and from Chichester, with help, I found the right bus to drop me off at West Dean (if you're interested, it's the No. 60 Bus to Midhurst, ask the driver to let you off at West Dean College).

I walked the 1/2 mile or less to the main house at West Dean with my rolling carry-on and was visually and spiritually amazed the whole way there. The South Downs are so incredibly beautiful and the Edward James Foundation is part of the heritage of the area. I'm just learning about Edward James and what his impact has been on art throughout the 20th century--and his legacy beyond. This estate is impossible to describe in words... I'll try to show images over the next few weeks of my time here--but these will only give a small sense of what I'm experiencing.

The main house

and the view from the house

My room...

... and my space in the studio... ready for work last Sunday!


  1. Oh my! You are on a GRAND adventure!!! Please blog often and keep us up to date! This will be wonderful.

  2. Wow! You're not far from me! I would love to actually meet you in person (we've interacted on Ravelry and I've followed your blog for a while). I'm near Cambridge, but will be in London next weekend. I'd be more than happy to show you around!

  3. hurrah, i look forward to following this wonderful adventure.

  4. What an exciting adventure! It's wonderful when a dream is finally realized and it is as great (or better) then you hoped for. I look forward to updates. How can you not be creative in such a beautiful place?

  5. What a wonderful arrival, Tommye. Alone, but not lonely, walking into your dream & soaking it all in step by step, with nothing to distract you.

    I am looking forward to reading everything you write about your time there!

  6. Oh yeah, I love the nice EMPTY table in the studio, how come mine never looks like that?

    I can see we're on the same page, I'm always saying "JUST DO IT" and you did!