Interactive Tour of Perry Green

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Aisled Barn

Aisled Barn

photo: Nick Bullions

In 1980 the timbers of a late medieval aisled barn were re-erected at Perry Green by local craftsmen. The Aisled Barn houses ten large tapestries woven in a collaborative effort between Henry Moore and the West Dean Tapestry Workshop between 1976 and 1986.

Prior to its extended collaboration with Henry Moore, the West Dean Tapestry Workshop ran training courses, which were one of many experimental activities to be undertaken by the Edward James Foundation. This was an art foundation set up in 1964 by the surrealist art collector Edward James, who wanted to preserve and help re-establish traditional craft processes in danger of extinction as a result of the new technological age.

It was a product of these original training courses that first engaged the interest of Henry Moore’s daughter Mary, whilst visiting an exhibition of the students work in London. The students had produced a series of tapestries under the guidance of Eva Louise Svensson, an experienced Swedish tapestry maker who acted as director of the West Dean workshop at this time.

Henry Moore was well acquainted with the idea of translating his drawings into tapestry. The Scottish weavers of Brose Patrick studios had executed an earlier set of at least seven interpretative works for him in 1971. Moore was extremely pleased with the results of this initial collaborative project and was keen to continue experimenting with similar partnerships. On his daughter’s recommendation he met with Eva Louise Svensson and embarked on what would be a ten year long artistic venture with the Weavers at West Dean.

Moore enjoyed this joint venture immensely, stating that the translation of his works into tapestry was exciting and appealing because each tapestry was different to the original drawing. They were ‘interpretations’ of his work in new media.

In fact this partnership would be as constructive for the West Dean Weavers as it was for Moore. The teaching studio was able to become a commercial workshop in 1976 following its first commission from Henry Moore, and flourished financially in subsequent years as a result of a continuous string of commissions from the artist and his family. This new monetary independence meant that that workshop could employ and sustain a team of highly skilled weavers on site, something which improved the standard of their work, and helped secure them a prestigious reputation in the art world.

This reputation was consolidated in 1980, when the first eight Moore tapestries - woven on the theme of ‘women and children’- were exhibited in a highly acclaimed show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This was a triumph not only for the weavers, but for the Edward James Foundation itself. The show revived the art of tapestry and made it accessible and exciting for a modern day audience - which was James’ original plan for his foundation.