Wissa Wassef Tapestries - The David Williams Collection
Over half a century ago, in a rural village within sight of one of the world's great wonders, a wonderful and valuable art form emerged from the imaginations of children, and with the help of a remarkable man. Ramses Wissa Wassef, Egyptian potter, architect and free thinker, was passionate about the need to create expression in the human experience. He saw an opportunity for the children of his adopted village Harrania, near the towering pyramids at Giza, to express their ideas through the ancient local craft of weaving. They had no paints, no colored pencils, brushes or even paper - and no experience of the world outside the village. They had never been exposed to art, just the local craft of weaving, plain carpets for only practical uses. "Perfect,"thought Wissa Wassef. Perfect because he was convinced that innate artistic talent is educated out of us by conformist and abstract school systems.
He opened a studio, provided threads and wool yarns colored with local dyes, and set three rules for his first group of willing 7 to 11-year-old volunteer pupils. No outside cultural influences, no copying or imitation (like working sketches), and no criticism from adults, including him!
The children took to the idea of composing on the loom and from these simple beginnings, grew a series of amazing freehand tapestries. Each reflected the richness of village life as seen by its children. Ideas emerged in tandem with the building images and growing expertise. Soon, a new art form had blossomed, to the interest of the world.
Many who began weaving as children in that seminal year of 1952 remained with the original Wissa Wassef workshop studio. They became affluent members of the community, their tapestries commanding prices as high as you would expect for the work of successful artists anywhere in the world.
The success of this "new" tradition inspired a thriving cottage industry and now many weavers operate in and around Harrania. Some adhere to the same rules that define the Wissa Wassef tradition and their work is of fine quality. Other weavers..do not. In any case the word is out, and people from around the world visit Egypt in search of the now famous tapestries.
Prized examples from the Wissa Wassef family's private collection have been declared Egyptian national treasures and it's easy to see why. There is as much freshness and vitality to these works as in the priceless treasures of an earlier Egypt, and they articulate similar vivid images of village life.
David Williams, entrepreneur and engineer, was captivated by these images on a visit to Egypt in 1963, and has become one of the world's leading experts and collectors.