The New World Tapestry was the result of a discussion between Tom Mor, a graphics designer and owner of a Advertising Agency in Plymouth and John Watson, the Vicar of St Andrews Church in Plymouth. They were discussing the use of the Prysten House and engagement of members of the local community. They came up with the idea to create a tapestry that could be embroidered while visitors would be able to watch. They started in 1976 and worked on a number of tapestries, one of which still hangs in the Prysten House but sadly cannot be seen as the House is no longer open to the public.
So many came and watched and said they would like to be involved that Tom had to come up with another idea. His love of history and local connection to Plymouth led him to consider the discovery of the New World. Together with other like minded people he started to research the background and history and at the same time started designing layouts that could be transferred to canvas for stitching.
Over the years the project just grew and grew until 24 panels were created covering the period 1583 to 1642. They took a total of 20 years to complete and in the end over 250 people in nine centres had helped put almost 39 million stitches in the complete tapestry. The Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles had all put a stitch in it, as had direct ancestors of some of the separatists. The research ran to literally hundreds and hundreds of ring folders of typed and handwritten notes. Everything was checked and cross-checked for accuracy. Every one of the herbs and plants was drawn from a live sample.
The complete tapestry was put on show for a few years but by 2008 it had been placed in storage for safe keeping by the Bristol City Museum. Since then it has never been seen by the public.
As part of the Mayflower 400 project (1620 – the date the Mayflower sailed to America – is a panel) we decided to track down Tom and see if we could interview him. Now aged 90 he was very happy to help our virtual exhibition project. Tom dusted down all his research papers and for each panel wrote a script that explains some of the key areas in each panel and highlights one of the many coats of arms and herbs shown on each panel.
We recorded him and added his audio to a video of each panel and matched the camera movement to the areas he is discussing.
The images were supplied by Bristol City University who had photographed each panel before it was put in store. We also loaded a copy of that as a still image with a ‘roll-over’ image enlarger (think magnifying glass) so the panel can be seen close up.
The web site with the panels can be seen here.
An interview with Tom can be watched here.