Hunting George Bain’s Rugs and Carpets

It never ceases to amaze me how many of our visitors turn out to possess one of George Bain’s ‘Hunting’ or ‘Hebridean’ rugs or carpets. I can see why these two exhuberantly patterned, bright designs remain popular. However, we know that Bain made more designs for rugs and carpets. Groam House Museum volunteer Alastair Morton has been trying to track them down.

In the George Bain Collection there are quite a number of objects that relate to Bain’s work of creating Celtic designs for rugs and carpets.

Following the 1939-45 war Bain was approached by the Kidderminster carpet firm of Quayle and Tranter to produce some Celtic designs for rugs. In 1949 he agreed to become a special adviser and consultant on Celtic design. It suited Bain to also give the company the right to use the “guarantee” mark of his College of Celtic Cultures. It was used with every design that was commercially produced.

Blue and white carpet label featuring the logo of the College of Celtic Cultures and a description of the motifs included in the carpet design.

ROMGH.2005.5.8.95 An example of the label attached to the back of a Bain designed rug produced by Quayle & Tranter Ltd.

As a Groam House volunteer I have embarked on an informal project to expand as far as possible the museum’s knowledge and understanding of Bain’s work in this area. A good starting point seemed to be trying to achieve a complete inventory of all the designs he supplied and confirmation of which designs were commercially produced as rugs or carpets. Whilst the museum already possesses several examples of actual rugs, it would be good to know of which other designs it should be seeking examples to acquire in the future.

Red background rug covered in motifs from Celtic art such as interlace, deer, boar and hunters on horseback.
ROMGH.2010.8 An example of one of the version of Bain’s ‘Hunting’ design

Amongst the relevant objects in the collection are three handwritten lists by Bain of the various designs he supplied to the company. For the most part they concur but not completely. My work to date has been to take the list which seems most comprehensive and try to identify images of the designs described. This process has been made easier and more successful by the fact that the museum has photographs, taken by former curator Susan Seright, of items in the possession of Mr Cedric Quayle, the son of Stephen Quayle who dealt with George Bain in the 1950s.

handwritten list of carpet designs with names and dates
One of the lists of designs

So far, out of 22 different designs or design groups listed by Bain, 15 have been able to be associated with images, either definitively or with a good degree of probability – like those pictured below. The remainder may yet be identified either through further work on the collection or through further discussions with Mr Quayle. Already we are a lot further forward than we were !

A good example of the discoveries to be made during the project is the design which Bain describes as “Knotwork repeat with Ulbster stone etc. “ supplied on 22nd March 1948. While scanning drawings in the Collection for a digitisation project I recognised one as fitting the description. This drawing had not previously been associated with Bain’s rug designs but the annotations “No 14” and “Suggested title “Ulbster” ” now made more sense.

Tessellating interlace crosses alternating between white interlace on a black background and black interlace on a white background.
Posted: 29 March 2022
Categories: News, Research