Going round a square to bridge a gap

Russell Square, London
[Secretlondon, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons]

When I wrote my last EAST blog post, the work I was developing for ‘Bridging the Gap’ was solely in relation to Isabella Montagu, the Duchess of Manchester (1706-1786), whose portrait hangs at the Foundling Museum. Since that time I feel I have been going around in circles, down cul-de-sacs and struggling to find something that worked. One aspect I was keen to explore was how the Duchess and I were connected, if not in time certainly in space. Her family home, Montagu House was located where the British Museum now stands. It is close to buildings where I work and study. The Foundling Museum is on the edge of the site for the now demolished Foundling Hospital which is the other thing that connects us. Looking at a map of London I could see that our paths may have crossed had we lived at the same time.

Looking at the map reminded me of a piece of work I accomplished in 2010. It was a stitched a map based on research into a mother (Margaret Larney) who had left two boys at the Foundling Hospital. It was a very tragic story, with a lot of loss but also a life that was saved. I have always considered it as a memorial to people who could so easily have been forgotten. I had also worked on some designs based on maps during EAST’s August 2019 workshop with Diane Bates. At the time I did not develop these further.

Map based on life and death of Margaret Larney (1724-1758) – detail

Perhaps these ideas were in my mind when I visited the exhibition ‘Eternally Yours’ at Somerset House (2022). It was a fabulous exhibition with many works (not all of which were textile) following themes of healing and repair. I was inspired by so many of the displays but the piece I found most compelling was Ekta Kaul‘s ‘Threads of Connection’. Like me, Ekta was trying to connect with a woman she had never met – in her case a very personal link with her grandmother. I think it was this work that convinced me that a map was the way forward.

Part of ‘Eternally Yours’ exhibition at Somerset House (2022) – Ekta Kaul’s map is in the centre of the display

As I started to work out my ideas on paper I could not help but mark places I knew as locations where other inspiring women had lived or worked. Like Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) in Store Street, a road opposite the entrance of my university. Or suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1929) and her daughter Christabel who lived for a time at Number 8 Russell Square on the university’s other side. Then there was suffragist, Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) who lived in Gower Street – just a short walk away. And also not to be forgotten, Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) who longed for a room of her own and access to the university library; something I take for granted. As I began to map these women (and others too) I started to collect quotes attributed to them. It was if they were asking to be remembered to.

Stitched maps – first trials

It was now a question of deciding on things such as the quality of line, the scale, the colours I need to use, so I am working on some samples. I prefer to hand stitch as it seems more historically connected but it also means I can think or listen while I work.

Further developments and samples

It is very much a work in progress, but I feel at least that by walking around a square I can begin to bridge some gaps. I no longer feel like I am going around in circles.

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