The Occupation Tapestry
The Liberation of Jersey from the German Occupation has been celebrated every year since 1945, but one of the major anniversaries was the 50th in 1995, and the States of Jersey were determined to mark this with a lasting tribute to those who lived through the war years in the island.
An Occupation and Liberation Committee was formed and eventually a decision was taken to create a tapestry, doubtless influenced by the famous Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy, which commemorates William the Conqueror's conquest of England. The story was told in the 1995 edition of the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise by Cynthia Rumboll, who, as a States Deputy chaired the Tapestry Design Subcommittee.
The following is based on that article:
- "The Committee came up with the idea of 'a tapestry using local skills to show life during the Occupation'. A canvas tapestry measuring eight feet by three feet was envisaged and it was thought that such a tapestry would take five years to complete."
The committee recruited 'embroideress' Marie Mourant to provide expertise and asked the States for an initial budget of £10,000. Soon they began to elaborate on the original idea, intending to involve the whole community in the project. By March 1989 the idea for a single tapestry panel had been transformed into what was to become the largest single community project ever undertaken in Jersey.
It was decided that there should be 12 panels, one to be produced by each parish. The response from the parish varied from wholly entthusiastic to somewhat muted, but the project went ahead and Wayne Audrain, the Jersey Museums Service designer volunteered to act as designer for the whole tapestry.
- "During 1990 the sub-committee battled with an array of competing ideas for the twelve panels which would capture, adequately and accurately, the flavour of life during the Occupation. This was not an easy task but, by April 1990, the sub-committee was confident enough to make a public presentation. The story line was set more or less and it was decided that the panels should start with the 'Outbreak of War' and finish with the Liberation and that they should depict:
- Outbreak of war
- Everyday needs
- School and work
- Social life
- Sent overseas
- Red Cross
- "Meanwhile Waynew Audrain produced the first visual design for 'Outbreak of war' based on the brief produced by the sun-committee and discussed and approved by it. Much of the design was baseed on photographic reference but this was, of course, in black and white, so that one major part of the vetting process by the sub-committee's panel of experts was to check on the colour of clothes, buildings, uniforms etc. Historical accuracy was absolutely essential for a project of this kind and, where mistakes were made, that part of the Tapestry had to be reworked. Once the research was completed and the desi9gns agreed, Wayne drew out each panel to its full size and, with the assistance firstly of Lesley Arnold and later of Clarissa Maine, the outline was traced on to the canvas. Broad colour guides were pencilled on to the master templete but the stitchers were left to use their own artistic talent on areas such as the sea and the sky so that it did not become 'tapestry by numbers'.
Despite the initial reluctance of some parishes, each parish appointed a co-ordinator and a draw took place in the Members' Room of La Société Jersiaise to allocate the panels to the parishes. It had become obvious by then that the designer could work only on one panel at a time and, also, that there was an exceptional amount of work involved in transferring the small visual design to a full-scale accurate and detailed template. Consequently each co-ordinator hoped to draw one of the first panels and to have four years to finish it rather than one or two. The luck of the draw was with Trinity and the last of the panels fell to St Clement, who did not begin stitching until November 1993.
The size of the panels was agreed as 6ft by 2ft 10in and frames were produced on which the fine canvas could be stretched. There would be 7,520,256 stitches in the twelve panels.
By January 1991 the first three panels had been designed and work had begun on transferring them to the canvas. Computing the amount of wool of each colour required and the ordering of supplies was undertaken by Oscar Mourant.
- "The areas marked out on colour-coded boards had to be translated into the appropriate number of hankls of wool. In all 275 shades of 52 colours of Appletons crewel wool were used. For the twelve parishes a total of 1,418 one ounce hanks of wool was purchased, February 1991 saw the official launch of the first |tapestry at Trinity Parish Hall when the first stitch was put in by the Bailiff, Sir Peter Crill.
- "The enthusiasm in the parishes for the tapestry was astonishing: volunteers from every section of the community, many of them doing tapestry work for the first time, found themselves completely hooked on the project. Teams of up to 24 per parish worked in shifts of six at a time, in most cases in a room set aside in the Parish Hall.
- "Each stitcher worked a specific area - a figure, an animal, a building, etc. The more artistic attempted the more difficult areas - too many colours gave faces a leprous appearance and red skies needed the most careful gradations of shading. A healthy rivalry developed between the parishes: the average time spent per canvas was 2,488 hours and two parishes managed to achieve that in under a year, whilst all twelve panels were completed by Christmas 1994.
- "Following the untimely death of Marjorie Dart in 1992, Marie Mourant was joined by Mary Cornish and together they supervised the quality control and the development of the last eight parishes, as well as specifically looking after Saint John and Saint Clement respectively. Wayne Audrain, as designer, paid regular visits to each team of workers checking on the details and ironing out the problems. Most parishes invited their local schools to participate and held open days so that anyone might put her or his stitch into this historic piece of work.
First to finish
The parish of Trinity finished the first panel, 'Outbreak of war', in May 1993, after two years and four months of stitching and, shortly afterwards, Cynthia Rumboll and Wayne Audrain took the completed panel to the Textile Conservation Centre at Hampton Court Palace for stretching and mounting. This is a highly complicated technical process involving the removal of distortion in each canvas and the mounting of it on boards and fabric designed to last.
The question of a permanent home for the tapestry had long been exercising the mind of the sub-committee. Representations were made by Cynthia Rumboll to the Waterfront Advisory Group to have a site within the Abattoir Development - highly suitable for its proximity to Liberation Square, but by February 1992 it was apparent that this site was unlikely to be available by May 1995. Other options were examined and in December a store adjacent to the proposed site for the Maritime Museum on the New North Quay was suggested. This was eventually approved by the States, with Jersey Heritage Trust offering to fund the capital and running costs.
- "In the autumn of 1994 the architect's design for the conversion of E Store into a permanent Tapestry Gallery was well under way and work was due to start on 1 January 1995. A project management team with expertise in museum displays has been set up and the result should be a home for the tapestry displaying this unique creation to its best advantage and, simultaneously, capturing the essence of life under the German Occupation. It will bring back memories to those who were here between 1940 and 1945 and will help succeeding generations and visitors to understand something of this unique period in the history of the Island. Not only will the Occupation Tapestry be a permanent reminder of the Island's history but it will be, in its own right, a part of Jersey's heritage."