Macrogauze 306, by Peter Collingwood

Peter Collingwood

(2nd March 1922 – 9th October 2008)

Peter Collingwood was born to Bertram Collingwood – professor of physiology at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School – and Grace Wilkinson, a classics scholar, in London on 2nd March 1922. Following in his father’s footsteps, Peter qualified from medicine at St Mary’s, going on to serve as an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Despite this, he had always had an interest in the arts, even attending night classes at Farnham Art School at one military post.

Collingwood’s curiosity in weaving was piqued by small floor looms in the occupational therapy department of the hospital he worked at. He crafted his own loom from two deck chairs to discover their mechanisms, because it “puzzled [him] as a machine”, according to The Financial Times. On this loom, he weaved numerous scarves for his fellow officers’ wives, often while riding in the back of an ambulance. His passion for weaving was fully realised when he went on to work for the Red Cross in Jordan, where he received a Bedouin tent-hanging as a gift. Although he had never been fully committed to medicine, during this trip he decided his passions lay within textile art.

In 1952, Collingwood opened a new workshop in Archway, North London, where he wove multi-shaft rugs on another hand-made loom that consisted of eight harnesses, with keys “like a piano” for each harness, says Rosie Lesso from The Fabric Store’s blog. He then cycled to shops such as Liberty and Heal’s, to sell them for £4 – £5. The bold colours and geometric patterns of Peter’s weaving seemed to take a lot of inspiration from the ancestral Bedouin weaving he saw while on tour.

Collingwood was a world-renowned weaver, who was best known for creating over 300 of his sculptural Macrogauzes, which he weaved on his one-of-a-kind loom, created in 1962. This loom freed the warp, which is the first layer of thread to be stretched across the loom, to sit in any direction, rather than exclusively parallel to the weft, which is the second layer of thread to be woven. These Macrogauzes have been lauded as testament to his precision and innovation. Freddie Robins, Professor of Textiles at the Royal College of Art, hailed him as an “inventor,” as well as “subversive and a disruptor”. She went on: “Peter took what I saw as limitations, pushed against them, at times even bursting through them with his adaptations to the loom and inventions of new weaving systems, to produce extraordinary and innovative structures which could be woven quickly and at a large scale”.

The piece exhibited here at The Art Station, ‘Macrogauze 306’, was woven from linen thread in 2005 and attached to steel rods. The identification plaque on the lower right makes it clear that this is one artwork, comprising two separate weavings joined together. The plaques traditionally denoted the back of the artwork although unusually in this case it is shown on the front. An Essex-based couple who also owned a smaller work by Collingwood, loaned it to The Art Station in 2021. They had directly commissioned ‘Macrogauze 306’ from him because they wanted a larger piece to display over the staircase of their house. After moving to a smaller house which would not accommodate it – when it spent months rolled up in an attic – they generously loaned it to The Art Station on a long-term basis. Not only was there enough space here for the work to be displayed to its full potential, but the donors felt as though this mid-century building, which echoes the period and architecture in which Peter developed his Macrogauzes, was an appropriate setting. They also felt that it was fitting for the weaving to remain in East Anglia.

In 1968, Collingwood was celebrated as a master weaver during an exhibition in Colchester, later going on to be awarded an OBE in 1974 for his “efficient production methods which accompanied his aesthetic triumphs”, according to The Guardian. David Whiting, from Oxford Ceramics Gallery, said that Collingwood created a new language for textile art to be realized through. Because of this, Peter was world-renowned, and reputed as one of the most influential weavers of all time.

During the post-war movement, craft artists began to explore the formal qualities of art production, with Peter’s innovation playing a seminal role in this. Weavers like Collingwood moved away from traditional production methods and functions for textile pieces, instead opting for self-expression to signal hope and new beginnings, after bleak times and hardship of the war. Mass production was rife in the aftermath of the war since production became faster and cheaper than ever before. Craft artists like Collingwood rebelled against this, focusing on creating unique artisanal pieces instead. Freddie Robins said his work “embodied the modernist ideals of affordability, and non-elitist availability. Peter achieved through rationalising his production methods, the use of appropriate, hard wearing and often new materials (such as his use of stainless-steel yarn), the embracing of technology plus a willingness to repeat works as many times over as there were buyers”.

At the peak of his popularity, his work became very collectible and sought after by private collectors. John Black, Director at Fine Art Auction House, Sworders, told Bishop’s Stortford Independent that the importance of Peter Collingwood’s practice lies within its role in the British post-war craft revival, alongside that of ceramicists Hans Coper and Lucie Rie.

Collingwood’s works are highly sought-after collectibles, having been sold at auctions for between £1,200 and £20,000. One Macrogauze was sold in May 2022 by Sworders for £20,000, with proceeds going towards the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

In an interview with Bishop’s Stortford Independent, The Great British Bake Off’s, Prue Leith, revealed that she sold her own Macrogauze which she received as a Christmas present in the 1970s, at Sworder’s in 2022. She said she was an avid collector of modern art, and noting that she ‘particularly likes the clean, elegant lines of Collingwood’. Despite their strong visual appeal and popularity, the Macrogauzes inevitably required a lot of space to be displayed to their full potential, many previous owners, such as Prue Leith, have had to sell their piece whilst downsizing.

In January 1969 the Victoria and Albert Museum presented, ‘Collingwood/Coper,’ as their latest exhibition. This exhibition featured Collingwood’s famed rugs and Macrogauze wall hangings, and ceramics by Hans Coper, a leading figure of studio pottery and another highly influential figure in the post-war craft movement. In 1958, Collingwood acquired his flat and workshop at the Digswell Arts Trust, where he met Coper who also had a studio there. Their joint exhibition at V&A went on to tour the UK until August 1969. Other notable Collingwood exhibitions include a group exhibition at Frieze New York Viewing Room, Richard Saltoun Gallery in May 2020, and a solo exhibition of his rugs and wall-hangings at Christchurch Art Gallery in New Zealand in 1984, where he was also crowned guest of honour at the National Woolcrafts Festival Queenstown. Peter’s Macrogauzes were also featured in another touring V&A exhibition between 1965-67, ‘Weaving for Walls,’ which focused less on his earlier industrial works.

Peter Collingwood wrote five seminal books on the intricate process of weaving – themselves also collectable items and are often sold online for over £50.

He was also known for his “gracious mentoring,” not only in Britain, but by running international workshops across North America as well. Many of his students have described him as full of wit and wisdom and have acknowledged his immense influence on their practice.

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