Kate Davies Designs

New Lanark, the egg, and the naming of things


Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about the place called New Lanark.


Tom and Kate have been to this place many times, and are fond of it for many reasons. Kate particularly likes New Lanark because
1) it is the birthplace of Utopian Socialism and
2) it makes yarn.


As well as being an important World Heritage Site, New Lanark is a place where you can enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Falls of Clyde.


This was definitely the bit that interested me.


Up along the river banks and woods, there is much fun walking to be had. I smelt many interesting smells and went for a swim . . .


. . .I looked after the humans, hurrying them along the paths, and posing obligingly for photographs.


. . . I also heard some sounds that were new to me. For example, these icicles on the opposite bank made an interesting crrrrrrack and crrrrrash sound as they broke and fell into the river.


Then we came to a place called The Hide.


There was much excitement around The Hide because The Egg had just appeared in the nest of a Peregrine. The humans at The Hide had equipment through which Tom and Kate could look and see the Peregrine sitting on The Egg. Kate seemed quite interested in The Egg, but was perhaps even more animated by the colour of the Peregrine’s eyelids, which were apparently a very very very bright yellow. I was not allowed to look through the equipment, but I was very good on my lead and did not snaffle any of the Hide humans’ tasty meat-filled sandwiches while they were being distracted by the excitement of The Egg.


Now, I know and understand many human words — egg and chicken, for example, are two words that make a lot of sense to me. But two words that do not make sense are the words called Monkey Walking, which is what the humans shout at me with glee when I do this on a path with gaps in it:


The naming of things is perhaps the deepest of all human mysteries. For example, why is this crunchy, tasteless, pointless thing called Lichen when there is nothing to like about it at all?


Why is this piece of Scottish hydroelectrical equipment called YORKSHIRE?


Who named this bench BROWN LONG EARED BAT?


And which daft human decided that this fence should be called DONKEY?


Answers on a postcard, please . . .


See you soon, Love Bruce

Kate adds: A shout-out to Laura, the New Lanark ranger, who reads this blog and who we met on our walk today. Thanks so much to Laura and all her colleagues for their hard work maintaining this wonderful landscape for everyone to walk in and enjoy! xx

cloth and paper

I promised an account of the Whitworth, where we spent a lovely afternoon last week. I had really gone for the textile galleries, but we were distracted by a fabulous wallpaper exhibition. This showcased a wide range of examples from the Whitworth’s decorative arts collection, and you really got a sense of the range of ways in which wallpaper might define and transform an interior over four centuries. The displays paid careful attention to the history of technique, innovations in production, and the exhibition was very thoughtfully and intuitively set out.

Wallpaper often had surprising or unexpected functions and designs—for me this aspect of the exhibition was highlighted in the elaborate decorative schemes of the 1930s, in which ordinary middle-class parlours were transformed by being bedecked with paper vines and flowers hanging from ceilings and picture rails. But my favourite examples were the miraculously preserved wallpapers from the 1770s to the early 1800s:


I really think that the Jane Austen industry has left us with a version of the eighteenth century that is misleading in its pale muslin and Wedgwood-muted pastels. This anodyne, relentlessly tasteful, and terribly washed-out aesthetic is frankly more Nigella Lawson (aigh!) than Austen. This was an era of gaudy exuberance, when classical statues were enhanced with bright coats of paint, and interior decoration embraced colourful excesses. The busy patterns of this French paper seem completely alien to many popular conceptions of Georgian style:


but this is what the bourgeois Eighteenth Century looked like.

We also spent some time in the textile galleries, which were excellent. The Whitworth has one of the best collections of textiles in the UK, only a small fraction of which can be on show at any one time. What *was* displayed was arranged really judiciously. Rather than presenting a historical narrative, or separating the textiles by culture or locale, the curator had chosen several examples from different eras, places and moments to illustrate a particular function, theme, or idea. This approach worked well, allowing the viewer to get a sense of, for example the imperial aesthetics of British textiles by displaying Victorian shawls alongside the much earlier Indian designs on which they were based. The case displaying the original Japanese influences of familiar modern textiles (such as Morris & Co’s now ubiquitous willow bough) was particularly good.

I was blown away by the beauty of the embroidered textiles–those of the Middle East particularly. There were some wonderfully elaborate Iranian and Turkish examples from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. But, loving crewel work as I do, I have to say that the best thing I saw all day was this:


A crewel sampler worked by Doris “AR” (acquisition details of this marvellous panel can be found here). I think this is the most superb take on the traditional Anglo-American tree of life that I’ve ever seen. I just love the spirit and audacity of it – her bold modern take on traditional embroidery techniques; the way that every flower head and leaf explores a different stitch; the vibrant blues and greens of the wool against the linen, and the overall sense that this is the work of an accomplished needlewoman showing off her talent. The whole thing is a sort of crewel fanfare, a big “ta-da!” It says “look at me”, “look what I can do.” And yet, because of the nature of the art (a decorative panel for private or social display) and its small scale (appreciated by women who might observe or handle it close to) Doris AR is speaking the language of an aesthetic community rather than her individual ego. It is really quite exceptional. I may take inspiration from this for the panel I am planning to produce for Christmas but feel at the moment, rather too in awe of the original to attempt a design.