RUTH HOLT // weaver

Orkney Show Review by Carol Dunbar

Ruth Holt’s woven scarves, shawls and hangings are an extraordinary evocation of the many landscapes that she observes and records. Through thoughtful and detailed analysis of photographs and sketches, a palette emerges that is both subtle and sophisticated, and much more than a simple translation or abstraction.

Sensitive selection of yarns, some hand-dyed expressly, are matched with exceptional weaving skills; when coupled with the creative concept, these bring layers of meaning to her work. The fabrics comprise a poetic response not only to the subject matter, but to the unique qualities of the yarns and fibres that go into their construction, and to the creative techniques involved in that making.

A good ten days before national lockdown, I set off from my home in Orkney’s West Mainland to St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay, the county’s most southerly connected isle, to attend the opening of Orcadian Inspiration – woven textiles rooted in Orkney, a new exhibition of Ruth’s work at the Loft Gallery.

The 40-minute journey couldn’t have been more idyllic, on a sunny and unseasonably warm March morning, driving past fields recently ploughed, a sense of spring already in the air. South of Kirkwall, the road allows varied glimpses of Scapa Flow, a vast natural harbour, and in wartime, a strategic British naval base. What are now known as the linked South Isles were joined to the Orkney Mainland early in WWII, following the tragic loss of hundreds of lives when HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed by a daring German submariner.

The series of ‘Churchill Barriers’ that was thereafter built, with the assistance of Italian prisoners of war, now provides a vital transport link, and it is this roadway one must follow to reach ‘the Hope’. In the winter months, with a high tide and gales from the east, the crossing can be difficult in places, but today the ‘Flow’ is calm, blue and glittering, framed by a vast cloudless sky. Recalling a conversation from years before, I summon up the words I know for blue – azure, aquamarine, cerulean, sapphire, turquoise, sky, teal, cornflower………

……..but I’m little aware that as I wind my way up the spiral staircase to the Loft, that such colours, shades, hues and tones will sing, glint and sparkle off the crisp white walls of the gallery.

Looking at images of these works on Ruth’s website, remembering that now almost surreally recent pre-lockdown morning, I think I know what is at the heart of Ruth’s art – her capacity to capture a fleeting moment and a sense of place through a simple piece of cloth, to navigate the rigid structure of warp and weft and to distil it into something clear and pure, flowing, intense and beautiful.

Carol Dunbar, tapestry weaver and printmaker. She is currently Learning and Engagement Programme Manager at the Pier Arts Centre

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