Untitled [Table Cloth with Assisi Border]
Ngarita Johnstone, Embroidery and cross-stitch on linen, Date unknown. UC/MBL/2274
Based on a pen and wash drawing that is also part of the Johnstone collection, this Assisi-patterned tablecloth is an example of the intricate and skilful techniques that Ngarita Johnstone learnt whilst a student at the Canterbury College of Arts from 1946-50. As the daughter of James Johnstone, who was the Crafts and Design Master of Canterbury College, Ngarita had very little choice in the path her education would follow, and found it difficult to escape her father’s critical eye. In an interview with Ken Hall, she revealed that ‘‘He [her father] wanted me to be perfect, and everything I did, he said 'Ah, yes, dear, but...' He never once said anything was any good. He apparently thought they were, but he never said.’ This lead her to major in embroidery over metalwork, as it was the one subject that her father didn’t teach her in. This tablecloth features a variant of the Assisi pattern that originated in Assisi, the Italian hometown of St. Francis. It its distinctive in that it uses cross-stitch to fill in the background, and leaves the main motifs blank, yet still outlined. As St. Francis was the patron saint of animals, the majority of Assisi embroideries used animal motifs, which evolved into various and sometimes fantastical designs as they came into favour. Johnstone’s pattern follows these traditions. Set upon a red background, her tablecloth’s border is symmetrical both horizontally and vertically, and repeats the central motif of archers aiming their bows at deer, who leap away, followed by a trail of stars to the safety of pine trees. Behind these trees, birds stand to attention, as though watching the action through the branches. A sense of life and movement belies the pattern’s geometric borders, expertly stitched into extremely soft, thick and finely woven linen.
Ngarita Johnstone : A selection of artworks
Click on the thumbnails to discover more about this striking selection of artworks by Ngarita Johnstone. Images selected and written about by Alice Tappenden.