Archie Brennan

Anna Byrd Mays, Curator

Work In Series
Artist Statement
Early Work Foretelling Series
Dersu Uzala


Weaving came to Archie rather than the other way round. As a 12-year-old he knew he wanted to be either an artist or a pilot. It was 1942 and it was beyond him why everybody didn’t want to become a fighter pilot. But at the same time he was drawing and painting as a family thing. He learned from his elder brother when he was 15 that he could enroll in evening classes at the art school in drawing. Apprentices from the Dovecot Studios (Edinburgh Tapestry Co.) were also attending these evening classes as part of their apprenticeship. He was invited to visit the Dovecot and was asked to join. He was 16 at the time. It was the only workshop in the UK and ½ mile up the road from his home and he saw this as access to a life as an artist.  So in 1948 he became an apprentice at the Dovecot and has devoted his life since then in one way or another to tapestry, spreading his love of the medium, his curiosity, his skills wherever he goes while also maintaining a great love for dry-fly fishing and tennis. He has a great curiosity for art history, literature, politics, the world around him. His apprenticeship lasted until 1954 after which he traveled and studied in France until 1956 and did graduate and post graduate studies at Edinburgh College of Art from 1958 until 1962. From 1962 to 1977  he established and developed the Graduate and Post Graduate Department of Tapestry and Fibre Arts at the Edinburgh College of Art and in 1963 became Director of the Dovecot. During all that time  he was teaching, involved in endless committees, traveling, doing workshops, holding personal exhibitions, became Acting Chairman of the British Crafts Center and President of the Society of Scottish Artists. As Director of the Dovecot Archie continued weaving independently while also working with artists in the designing of tapestries for the workshop and as an independent designer for the workshop and as a weaver along with the other workshop weavers.

1975 found him at the Australian National University where he could concentrate on his own tapestry. There he got involved as consultant in the establishment of the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne. Eventually he moved on to Papua New Guinea and the new National Arts School. He was asked to lead the design team for embellishing New Guinea’s new parliament building and became involved with mosaic, wood, metal, textiles, painting but very little tapestry.

He was now ready to switch gears and decided to go some place where he was unknown and could just settle down and focus on the making of tapestry. In 1984 he resettled in Hawaii “not to teach, not talk tapestry, just to see where tapestry might go.”

Since 1993 his base has been New York City where he continues to weave, teach, travel and generally spread his love of the medium in as many ways as possible while continuing to ask himself  “I wonder what would happen if . . . ” It is that question that his head has always asked and that continues to propel him forward.

About the Curator

Anna Byrd Mays trained in mathematics and has been weaving since 1982, earning Master Weaver certification from her local guild in 1989. Her multimedia work has been exhibited in juried and solo shows in the US since 1994. Since 1998, she has focused on tapestry, and she has been exhibiting with The Wednesday Group since 2001. The text presented here is based on several interviews with Archie in his NY studio in 2008 and 2009.