Orkney’s Hoxa Tapestry Gallery marks 20 years in business

The Hoxa Tapestry Gallery in South Ronaldsay, Orkney, is marking its 20th anniversary this year.

The gallery was built in 1996 by Leila Thomson and husband Benny, to showcase Leila’s large hand-woven tapestries, inspired by the landscapes, folklore and heritage of the islands.

In 2012 the business expanded to include drawings and paintings by Leila’s daughter Jo, along with handcrafted rugs designed by both artists. Leila’s son Andrew now does all the framing of the gallery’s artwork and prints, making it a truly family affair.Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, Orkney.

The gallery is an original member of the Orkney Craft Trail, which was also launched 20 years ago. Situated overlooking Scapa Flow, the gallery enjoys stunning views, many of which are reflected in the work it contains.

Both Leila and Jo attended Edinburgh College of Art, graduating in 1980 and 2010 respectively. The light, landscape and rhythm of life in Orkney drew them home following their graduations and remains intrinsic to their lives and work.

Leila – the youngest of a family of six – was born and raised on a small farm at Hoxa Head, close the site of the gallery. All three of her older sisters also attended Edinburgh College of Art, as did two of her nieces, making daughter Jo the seventh member of the family to study there.

Leila’s tapestries are created using an upright loom made from builders’ scaffolding, with each large piece taking between two to four months to complete. The tapestries range from 13’ x 7’ in size, to 6” x 6” and are composed of cottons, linens and Shetland wool.

“Growing up I was surrounded by my sisters’ portfolios of artwork and spent most of my time pouring through their work and drawings in order to be as good as them,” said Leila. “When I first went to study art I wanted to be a painter. However, art college opened my eyes to the many mediums that can be used to create art, with woven tapestry the one which caught my imagination. It was a new way to draw, combining my love of drawing with my need for texture, form and colour.”

Drawing, meanwhile, forms the basis of most of Jo’s work, and she uses oils, inks and pastels to capture the essence of the landscape around her. Many of her works have developed through her documentation of walks, using a combination of sketches, photography and memory.

Jo and Leila Thomson, Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, Orkney.
Jo and Leila Thomson

“It was almost a foregone conclusion that I would end up going to art college, as growing up I was always drawing and helping out in the gallery,” said Jo. “I was initially drawn to specialise in printed textiles, but found that the painting department at ECA allowed me more freedom of expression, unhampered by briefs.”

Reflecting on 20 years in business, Leila added: “The gallery is looking forward to many more years of creativity and many more visitors over the doorstep. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the visitors to the gallery who have supported us over the years, especially all the local people who every year recommend us to their visiting friends and family.

“Indeed, word of mouth is our best advert. One gentleman from America told us he came because his dentist said if he was ever in Scotland he had to visit the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery!”

In addition to the original artwork for sale within the gallery, there is a range of prints and cards of both Leila and Jo’s work available to purchase.


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