The Scottish Diaspora crosses the Alps as it continues to tour Europe, reaching the “most Scottish town in Italy”: Barga!
A trusty team assembled in Tuscany to assemble the exhibition, including friends from Veere in the Netherlands led by Hanneke de Vroe, Petra Wend from Queen Margaret University, and our own Gordon Prestoungrange and Sharon Beck. The scene for the display is the charming Conservatorio di Sant’Elisabetta, where the ribbon was duly cut and where the panels remain on display until 26th August. Thereafter they will be transported to Picinisco near Rome, which is also represented in the Tapestry.
Below you can read the words spoken at the exhibition opening by project leader Gordon, but before that we must share with you this fine review by Frank Viviano in the Barga News:
An Unqualified Masterpiece
by Frank Viviano writing in Barga News [11th August 2015]
images from barga (LU) Italy
‘As a foreign correspondent for four decades, I’ve attended cultural exhibitions and walked the halls of museums on six continents. Nothing I’ve seen is more stunning than this 305-part, 160-meter-long collective work of art — in the breadth of its narrative, in the exquisite skill of its crafters or in its sheer emotional power. It was executed by hundreds of volunteers, from every corner of the globe, many of them with ties to Barga. Woven images of Barga’s Scottish legacy lead off the stunning collection, which snakes through several rooms in the Conservatorio di Sant’Elisabetta, where it will be displayed until August 26.
‘Few people have played a more disproportionate role on the global stage than the Scots, whose population is only 5.3 million in 2015 — it was less than 2 million prior to the 1830s — but whose out-sized achievements in philosophy, exploration, science, economics, engineering and industrial development have generated major currents in world affairs for half a millennium. That role has been profoundly amplified through immigration, the “Scottish Diaspora,” which today counts an estimated 30 million people.
‘All of this is documented, along with the lives of “ordinary” Scots who were the extraordinary vanguard of the diaspora. Included, too, are the Barga immigrants who moved in the opposite direction, to Scotland itself, where they worked as farm laborers and fish-and-chips vendors. Their sons and daughters are simultaneously among the proudest of Scots and Barghigiani alike. You’ll see Paolo Nutini stitched among them, as well as the highly accomplished scions of the Zambonini, Piacentini, Capanni, Corrieri, Nardini, Bartolomei, Conti, Castelvecchi, Lunardi and Orsucci families.
‘In its larger frame, the tapestry literally circumnavigates the planet. Who knew of the Scottish communities in Scandinavia, Russia and Poland, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Portugal? The tapestry recounts this lost story, then moves on to South and East Asia — to the Scot-established foundations of modern China and India. It swerves both westward and eastward to document the immensely significant role of their cousins in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, where leaders of Scots blood have provided more presidents and prime ministers than any other ancestral nation. The present prime minister of Britain and both of his predecessors bear Scottish surnames. So have the prime ministers of independent Ghana in Africa, Vanuatu in Oceania, and nearly every Caribbean nation-state.
The exhibition may sound overwhelming, and it could hardly be otherwise given the subject. Yet the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry also moves the visitor deeply with its stories of individual heroism, in the fields of Flanders, in the surgeries of physicians confronting global maladies, in the classrooms where teachers battle ignorance. And above all, in the epic and endless saga of immigration.
‘The stitchers from Barga were the following: Maria Elena Caproni, Roberta Carradini, Marta Lanciani, Ornella Bianciardi, Stefania Gugliesi, Federica Caproni, Lucia Pieroni, Antonella Martinelli, Anna Biondi and Elena Biagiotti. Also not mentioned at the opening ceremony was the fundamental work in organising this event by Maria Elena Caproni who as usual put her heart, soul and professional ability into making sure that the event would reach its target. Thank you Maria Elena.
Gordon Prestoungrange represented the Tapestry Team at the Official Opening. He had this to say, which Petra Wend kindly if loosely translated into Italian.
‘Failte gu greis-bhrat diaspora na h’Alba: Welcome to the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. It was absolutely inevitable that it should come here to Barga for exhibition, not because you are our ‘twin town’ in Prestonpans, or because you are Italy’s biggest Scottish community, or because our most distinguished artist John Bellany lived and worked with you here for so many years. It is because without your embroidery skills here in Barga we would not have created the tapestry at all.
‘When we first had the idea for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry in 2011 we were not totally convinced it could ever be achieved across the world. To see what might be possible we resolved to ask you here in Barga, our twin town with such strong artistic links fostered by John Bellany, if you would have a go and stitch 6 panels telling something of your story. To our delight you said Yes, and you swiftly went on to stitch them so beautifully. It was that success you had, your enthusiastic and talented response to our invitation, that convinced us it could and indeed should be stitched across the world. And today, because of your example 33 other countries have added their beautifully embroidered tales to this artwork.
‘This exhibition, and those we have already made in Norway and The Netherlands, and will later be making in Picinisco and Paris and then across Australia, the USA and Canada in the next two years, are fulfilling our original ‘promise’ to all our stitchers. We promised we would ensure as best we could that all who joined us in this artwork’s creation should be able to share it in all its completed glory with their own community. To us it is one simple and we trust appropriate way to say Thank You.
‘Of course the reality is that such sharing requires us from Prestonpans once again to ask for the diaspora’s active support –ensuring such exhibitions have an appropriate venue and that the tapestry is cared for throughout its exhibition. Our sincere thanks from Prestonpans for all who have made that possible here in Barga from the Commune including the help we had ascending the mountain here with our exhibition boards!
‘Additionally we would all wish to thank both our itinerant friends from Scotland not least Petra Wend and Margaret Bellany and the gallant Dutch team here led by Hanneke de Vroe. As soon as they took the exhibition down in Veere they took the wheel to drive the panels and exhibition stands across The Alps and volunteered ‘as experts’ to help erect it again here. Finally, sincere thanks to our Picinisco diaspora in Scotland led by Cesidio and Marietta Di Ciacca for arranging the translation of the panel stories into Italian. As you will know the next exhibition in September is indeed in Picinisco.
‘Yet as they say, a picture tells a thousand words. And these beautiful embroidered panels from across Scotland’s world are ready to tell …’