A new documentary on BBC ALBA, Riches of the Loom / Trusadh - Beairteas na Beairt, combines a fascinating glimpse into the history of Harris Tweed with an insight into the unique imagination of Sharmanka, the Russian art group, as they create a new artwork using a loom from Harris.
In early 2016 a family of Russian artists, Tatyana Jakorskaya, Eduard Bursedsky and their son Sergey, arrived in Lewis to begin a fascinating artistic journey. Together they are Sharmanka, a group which creates art installations comprised of moving sculptures accompanied by sound, music and light. Roddy Murray, Head of Visual Arts and Literature at An Lanntair, commissioned Sharmanka to create one of their famous kinetic theatre pieces using a disused Hattersley loom, to give their unique artistic take on the story of Harris Tweed.
Roddy Murray said: “Harris Tweed has been the most significant industry in the islands apart from fishing. The Hattersley loom was synonymous with Harris Tweed from the 1920’s onwards. I remember hearing the clicks of the Hattersley looms in so many houses on my way home from school. This was a tradition of the islands but it was also an important source of jobs.”
By the 1980’s the industry was in sharp decline, until a turnaround began in 2007.
Today Harris Tweed is exporting to 50 countries and the fabric is in great demand for exclusive products from shoes and handbags to sofas, soft furnishings, artworks, phone covers and high fashion clothing. Designers including Vivienne Westwood and Sandra Murray are using Harris Tweed for their creations. Every metre of the fabric is still woven by hand and every process in the manufacture of the fabric must be undertaken in the Outer Hebrides.
The resurgence in the use of Harris Tweed coincides with a renewed interest in and appreciation of craftsmanship in the UK and internationally, particularly in Japan and the US. Rosie Wiscombe is one of many crafts people who has set up her own business, using the fabric in designs for a younger generation of consumers. She has now created a range of Harris Tweed hoodies, making the most of its soft and tactile qualities. Alison MacLeod also runs her own business selling designs made from Harris Tweed; she says that children today are taught about the industry at school, and it is much more celebrated now than when she was growing up in Lewis.
Sharmanka selected a loom which hadn’t been in use for 30 years, very carefully dismantled it and transported it to their workshop in Glasgow, where they re-assembled the parts, added their own hand-made sculptures and re-interpreted it as an original artwork. They then returned it to Lewis to go on public display as a fantastical Sharmanka creation – a magical celebration of light, sound, and movement.
Riches of the Loom / Trusadh - Beairteas na Beairt, is on BBC ALBA on Monday 20th February, from 9.00pm – 10.00pm.