Around a dozen village children aged around twelve came to visit Ramses and Sophie at the workshop. They received basic instruction in weaving techniques from two of Ramses earlier pupils, then were encouraged to weave whatever designs they chose. From the start the children received regular wages which were essential to convince them and their families that weaving was a serious occupation. His aim was to ensure that:

"these young artists have only their own conception of their work, drawn from their own experience...They know nothing of the hesitation of sophisticated artists... who are continually tempted to express themselves in the style of some other artist."

Instead he noted:

"The continuous effort of working directly with the material leads to a constant change in the work of these young artists. The free play of their creative power starts at the mysterious moment when the child seizes instinctively, and in a flash of joy, the idea for the picture that he or she intends to create."

 

"Turkeys", 1983

wool tapestry,

1.5m x 1.2m

by Ashour Messelhi

(born 1948)

Although the Wissa Wassefs did not direct the subjects to be woven they tried to provide the boys, and a smaller number of girls, with inspiration. Yoanna Wissa Wassef writes:

"Whenever my parents thought a child was beginning to copy others or get stale, they would talk to him about different subjects, sometimes taking him out for a ride in the car to look at new things, all the while regaling him with stories. Each summer Ramses and Sophie took the young weavers to the sea at Alexandria, to widen their horizons and stimulate their imaginations. From Harrania they made trips into the desert, to oases, to date-palm plantations, to the zoo and to the city of Cairo."

In keeping with Ramses' theory of innate creativity three rules were maintained: there should be no copying, no preliminary designs, and no adult criticism. Most of the weavers remained at the school into adulthood, continuing to explore their craft and forming the group known as "First Generation" weavers. The experiment was not confined to weaving as ceramics and batik
were added to the activities from the sixties.

 

Ramses Wissa Wassef first exhibited the tapestries in Egypt in 1957, with the first overseas showing taking place the following year in Switzerland. Since then numerous exhibitions have been held in many European countries, the USA and the United Kingdom, and tapestries from the weavers of the Wissa Wassef Art Centre have entered the collections of museums and private collectors worldwide.

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