Royal Museums Greenwich (RGM) unveiled a major new commission on Wednesday 4th October at the Queen’s House. Feeling Blue (2023) by Alberta Whittle and Dovecot Studios was developed in response to RMG’s large and varied collections, as well as the history and cultural significance of Greenwich.
The tapestry, measured at 160 x 155cm was woven by Naomi Robertson and Elaine Wilson over a period of six months. They used a variety of techniques and over 150 yarn colour mixes to add variety and depth to the piece, which is filled with evocative textures, symbolic shapes, and tropical colours.
Feeling Blue (2023), detail. Credit: © Alberta Whittle and Dovecot Studios. Photo National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
In the centre of the tapestry is the phrase ‘feeling blue’ which stands out from a background of blues and greens which resemble water in motion. Blue is immediately associated with oceans and seas, however, Whittle also chose to explore the emotional side of the term ‘feeling blue’, which can also be used to describe sadness or depression. While the exact origin of the term is uncertain, it has been suggested that it comes from the tradition of ships flying blue flags and officers bearing a painted blue band when a captain or officer died. Furthermore, in the Queen’s House, the colour blue is used throughout for decoration, notably the balustrade of the Tulip Stairs.
Artist Alberta Whittle next to her original watercolour. Credit: © Alberta Whittle and Dovecot Studios. Photo National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Drawing on her research of the British naval uniform, Whittle reflects on the legacies of British colonialism. From the mid-eighteenth century, the Royal Navy introduced a uniform for officers made from a deep blue fabric. The colour was achieved using a dye from the indigo plant that was native to India. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the indigo plant was grown, harvested, and processed by enslaved people on North American plantations. Indentured labourers in India and modern-day Bangladesh also produced indigo for the East India Company. Today, Navy blue endures as a colour of authority from police to military officers, though the history of the colour and its connection to colonialism is little known.
Feeling Blue is the second collaborative tapestry between the artist and studios. The first, Entanglement is more than blood (2022), was woven by Dovecot Master Weavers Naomi Robertson, Emma Jo Webster, and Weaver Ben Hymers. The artist’s design for the piece, a watercolor, is currently on display in Dovecot’s exhibition, Scottish Women Artists: 250 Years of Challenging Perception, until 6 January 2024. The tapestry is made with cotton and linen threads, whaling and fishing rope and adorned with Venetian trading beads, children's hair clips, manillas, and cowrie shells. Entanglement is more than Blood was co-commissioned by Scotland+Venice and Dovecot Studios and has been purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland with assistance from Lesley Knox in 2023. Like Feeling Blue, this tapestry was hung on a set of gates which are an important component of Whittle’s work. Gates usually symbolise containment and restriction, however, Whittle has used them to liberate the pieces and allow viewers to see the tapestries from both sides.
Image 1: Entanglement is more than blood, Alberta Whittle and Dovecot Studios. Credit: Photography: Christiano Corte.
Image 2: The reverse of Feeling Blue (2023). Credit: © Alberta Whittle and Dovecot Studios. Photo National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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
ZBA9711 | Purchased with assistance from the Contemporary Art Society