Archie Brennan (1931-2019) and the time he made me cry
Archie was one of my teachers in the Tapestry Department at Edinburgh College of Art in the 1970s, along with Maureen Hodge and Fiona Mathison. He was there less often than they were but he was a strong force, highly regarded for his abilities as a teacher, artist and promoter of tapestry.
One cold December day, a Friday the 13th as it happened, Archie decided to do a crit of all the work in the department. A crit was always a bit scary, since it is a criticism of your ongoing work, something you have invested time, effort and even your soul into. Archie was softly spoken and so it could merely be a case of ‘Have you thought of…?’ or help with some technical issue. But on this occasion, Archie had decided that he was going to try an entirely different tack. Whether because it was near the end of term or late on a Friday afternoon, I was one of few students left in the building. Nevertheless Archie went round all the work on the looms, with the remaining students and Maureen following, and told us all what was wrong with each piece. He got to mine near the end of the exercise. I can’t remember the details after all this time, but he curtly described why my work wasn’t up to standard. While the group continued on to the couple of remaining tapestries, I remained beside mine and quietly started to cry.
Later Archie and Maureen gave me a lift home. In the car, Archie didn’t apologise, but tried to make sure that I took note of the criticism, all while speaking in a kinder manner. I have come to realise that he may have been wrong-headed in thinking this was a good method for training potential artists, but he was doing it for the right reasons. He cared about us students and was trying to help us become better artists. I was always more critical of my own work after that.
Since then I have seen Archie only sporadically and not recently. I will always remember his wisdom on the subject of tapestry and other topics, I will continue to admire his work, and most of all, I will remember all the many things he taught me, as exemplified by that day in December. Archie, it was a privilege to be your student.