"Human freedom never has as much meaning and value as when it allows the creative power of the child to come into action. All children are endowed with a creative power which includes an astonishing variety of potentialities. This power is necessary for the child to build up his own existence."

In this brief statement, the late Ramses Wissa Wassef eloquently sums up what was for him and still is today at the heart of his unique artistic experiment. Born in 1911 into a middle class Coptic (Egyptian Christian) family Ramses Wissa Wassef studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He found the dull and outdated course stifling, leaving no room for his enthusiasm for indigenous Egyptian forms and spontaneous expression. After qualification he returned to lecture and practise architecture in Cairo. His award winning work drew on traditional building materials and vernacular forms, best demonstrated by the Art Centre at Harrania itself, shown above.

Ramses' interest in tapestry weaving began in 1941 when he was asked by a social welfare organisation to design a small centre in Cairo. While designing the building he asked permission to teach a small group of the children to weave, thus beginning his "experiment in creativity." Weaving seemed the perfect medium to bring together his appreciation for traditional craftsmanship with the innate creativity of children, which he believed was damaged by routine and formalised education. After apprenticing himself to a weaver to master the basic techniques and exploring natural dyes Ramses began to pass on these skills to a small group of the schoolchildren. Using a high-warp loom, similar to those found millenia before in Ancient Egypt, the children began to weave in local wool dyed with natural dyes such as indigo, cochineal, madder, and reseda. Encouraged by the success of these experiments in 1951 Ramses and his wife Sophie began building a workshop near the small village of Harrania, ten miles from Cairo. At that time no weaving was done in the area, although since the success of the Centre imitations have become widespread.

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