Kirkcaldy Galleries tapestry theft remains a mystery

The panel was stolen while the Tapestry was on display in Kirkcaldy Galleries.
The panel was stolen while the Tapestry was on display in Kirkcaldy Galleries.

It was a shocking crime which dumbfounded the nation but, two months on, the identity of Kirkcaldy’s notorious tapestry snatcher remains a mystery.

On the morning of Thursday, September 10 the thief visited Kirkcaldy Galleries in the final days of the Great Tapestry of Scotland exhibition.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland Rossyln Chapel panel was stolen. Picture by Alex Hewitt.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland Rossyln Chapel panel was stolen. Picture by Alex Hewitt.

The display, which featured 160 panels, had been a phenomenal success, bringing in 50,000 vistors from all across the country, but that morning had been unusually quiet.

Away from prying eyes, the thief took their opportunity and, in a move which has spawned a multitude of Da Vinci Code-type theories, stole a section depicting the famous Rosslyn Chapel.

As a police investigation continues, Dallas Mechan, museum and heritage development manager with Fife Cultural Trust, told the Press they were no nearer to solving the crime.

“Not a peep,” she said.

“Every time I meet someone, it’s the first thing they ask me about,” she said. “There are lots of theories because of the subject matter.”

“I didn’t think any one piece of the tapestry would be at risk from theft because, although the tapestry is incredibly popular, it was not of high financial value,” explained Dallas.

“I still can’t understand why it happened – anybody who took it would not be able to display it properly, much like a valuable painting stolen to order. Did somebody really admire it, so...?”

Naturally, staff were upset by the theft and didn’t wish the incident to reflect badly on Fife Cultural Trust.

“The tapestry panel were not framed because that would damage the fabric,“ Dallas continued.

“It’s not the sort of thing you can screw to the wall and that gives it a lot of vulnerability.

“The system we used to display it had also been used at all the other venues, as agreed with the Great Tapestry of Scotland project.”

Kirkcaldy’s last art theft occurred in 1992 when a Peploe oil painting entitled ‘Evening’ was snatched from Kirkcaldy galleries and later found by a member of the public wrapped up in a B&Q polythene bag.

That painting was then valued at £14,000 but works by the Scottish Colourists, of which Kirkcaldy Galleries boasts one of the country’s best collections, has risen rapidly since.

A current insurance valuation reveals the region’s entire art collection is worth £18 million.

Securing the collection’s safekeeping is a responsibility which Fife Cultural Trust takes extremely seriously.

“It is extremely rare for anything like this to happen,” said Dallas.

“The 1992 incident led to a major rethink of security, which we have reviewed regularly since.

“If we want to borrow works, we have to inform the lender of our environmental and security arrangements. We’ve shown the McTaggart exhibition in 2010 and, through the Tate, Diane Arbus earlier this year. They wouldn’t lend unless they were reassured.”

The tapestry panel was designed by artist Andrew Crummy and lovingly stitched by seven volunteers in Midlothian, who took around 500 hours to complete it.

“We had so many supportive comments afterwards,” said Dallas, “including from the ladies who had stitched that particular panel. That was really magnanimous of them.”

Another version could, in theory, be recreated but Fife Cultural Trust hopes it won’t come to that.

“I thought it might turn up but the longer its out of sight the less optimistic I am about it,” said Dallas. “But I’ve not lost hope completely.

“If somebody was to bring it back, it would be the best Christmas present we could hope for.”

The central image on the panel features the Apprentice’s Column at Rosslyn Chapel which, so the story goes, was created by an apprentice while the master mason was away elsewhere.

When the mason returned, he was so jealous of the standard of craftmanship, he killed the apprentice.

The medieval Rosslyn Chapel, which famously featured in the ‘Da Vinci Code’ book and later film starring Tom Hanks, is also closely associated with Knights Templar and Masonic history.

At the time of the theft’ author Alexander McCall Smith, co-chairman of the Great Tapestry of Scotland’ said: “This is a terrible blow for a project that had brought so much joy to so many people.

“Words cannot express how shocked I am that somebody should damage in this way 
what is now widely seen as a national treasure.”