A new tapestry by Alberta Whittle and Dovecot Studios reimagines maritime histories in bold, thought-provoking ways
With its array of colours, striking design and text, it’s hard not to be taken in by this vibrant tapestry.
Feeling Blue is a brand-new commission from Royal Museums Greenwich. It was created by multidisciplinary artist Alberta Whittle and Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh.
Currently on display in the Queen’s Presence Chamber in the Queen’s House, the tapestry is rooted in maritime traditions.
“The title for the tapestry – Feeling Blue – is derived from a nautical saying,” Whittle explains. “When sailors would pass away at sea, the crew would paint a blue band on the hull of the ship or wear some kind of blue.”
Head to the Queen’s House to see Feeling Blue for yourself – and read on for the story of the tapestry's making.
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Weaving together themes including migration, melancholy and mythology, Feeling Blue responds directly to Royal Museums Greenwich’s sites and collections.
“I wanted to think about how collections speak to us as audience members, and how artworks talk to each other,” Whittle says.
The tapestry responds to specific artworks within the Queen’s Presence Chamber – a room where the monarch traditionally would have presented themselves to an audience.
Cultured freshwater pearl beads are woven into its design, referencing the jewelled gown depicted in The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I, and the ‘Drake Jewel’ shown in the portrait of Sir Francis Drake.
The tapestry’s blue colour scheme also provides a nod to the interior of the Queen’s House itself.
“Blue is a special colour for the Queen’s House,” says Katherine Gazzard, Curator of Art (Post-1800). “You can see it in a lot of the original 17th century decoration, including the ceiling of the King’s Presence Chamber and the balustrade of the Tulip Stairs.”
“In the 1670s, the Dutch artist Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son, Willem van de Velde the Younger, had a studio space in the House and were designing tapestries here,” she adds.
“As a contemporary tapestry, Feeling Blue is a fantastic response to and continuation of that history that we have in our sites in Greenwich.”
Featuring more than 150 different colour combinations, and incorporating materials such as rope, Feeling Blue showcases the versatility of tapestry weaving.
“The tapestry is woven mostly in cottons and linens,” explains Naomi Robertson, Studio Manager and Master Weaver at Dovecot Studios. “We’ve used a lot of different techniques in this tapestry including knotting, double weave, as well as other interesting materials.” Scotland’s only working tapestry studio, Dovecot collaborate with contemporary artists to translate their artworks into woven tapestries.
Robertson worked alongside weaver Elaine Wilson for six months to create Feeling Blue. As with many of their projects, the weavers worked closely with Whittle to develop the tapestry.
“We do a lot of talking; we like to find out what the artist wants from the work,” Robertson says. “We do a lot of sampling and experimenting to find out the language of the tapestry and to capture the artist’s handwriting within that.”
For Whittle, this collaborative approach has been especially rewarding: “Feeling Blue has been shaped by the conversations I’ve had with the team members from Greenwich, and the incredible folk from Dovecot Studios,” she says. “The commission has been a wonderful opportunity to think deeply about maritime histories and consider the powers in place that decide how these histories are portrayed.”
Feeling Blue at the Queen's House is free to visit, but you're welcome to book free entry tickets online in advance. Pick your date and entry time, and you'll receive an email with more information to help you plan your visit.
The tapestry is on display in the Queen's Presence Chamber of the Queen's House, situated next on the first floor. Download a floor plan of the House to help you find your way, or simply ask staff for directions when you arrive.
The Queen's House is home to an internationally renowned art collection, with more than 450 works on display. This includes a select number of contemporary artworks that respond to the historic collection.
A major exhibition, The Van De Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea is also open to all visitors to the Queen's House until 14 January 2024.
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Tapestry by Dovecot Studios
2023, cotton, linen, synthetic yarn, cultured freshwater pearl beads
Tapestry woven for Dovecot by Naomi Robertson, Master Weaver, and Elaine Wilson
Displayed on powder coated steel gates made by Glasgow Sculpture Studios
Purchased with assistance from the Contemporary Art Society
Image credits: Artwork: © Alberta Whittle and Dovecot Studios. Photos: © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Entry to the Queen's House is free, but you must have a ticket to visit. Book online to guarantee entry. For full tickets and prices click here.