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Helen Kathleen R Whyte, or Kath Whyte as she was known, was the outstanding influence of her generation on embroidery in Scotland and, through her writing and teaching, made a major contribution to textile art in Britain and abroad.
She was brought up in a home where "real" things - hand-made textiles, books, pictures - were loved and appreciated. Some of her formative years were spent in India, where her father worked, from where the rich colours and exciting textiles obviously made a lasting impression. After attending Arbroath High School, Arbroath, Angus, Scotland, where the strength of design teaching in the art department developed her sense of direction, she went on to Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen, Scotland, where she took the Diploma Course in General Design. Two strong influences during that period of her life were James Hamilton, a colourful character and strong design teacher, and Dorothy Angus, who awakened in Kath her true dedication to stichery and textiles. After leaving art college she taught in schools in Aberdeen and organised craft classes for youth clubs during and after the war. Her influence on textile design really developed after she took up her post as Head of Embroidery and Weaving at Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1948, a position she held until she retired in 1974. She became part of the team of design lecturers there, earning great respect from her colleagues for her passionate and single-minded enthusiasm. She was also active in other forms of art education. She was part of a team appointed to validate the DipAD course in English art colleges. She was a much respected adviser on many of the English courses and continued her interest in them through the years as a friend. She was also an art advisor to the Scottish Education Department, so her influence carried on through to secondary school education. Kathleen Whyte was awarded the MBE in 1969 for her contribution to art education. Also, in 1969, her book, Design and Embroidery was published by Batsford and was also produced in the US and Holland with a second edition in 1982. In the introduction to the catalogue for her Retrospective Exhibition in 1987, William Buchanan said: "She is one of a great line of embroiderers at Glasgow who have practised and taught and written and proved that, along with the brush, the pencil and the chisel, used by the finger of an artist, the needle is a potent means of visual expression."