Back in 2009, EAST produced an exhibition of contemporary work based on textiles, objects and other items from the Warner Textile Archive, based at Braintree in Essex. My interest in history led me to this furnishing fabric that probably dates from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Produced in France this printed cotton would have been a fashionable addition to the home of a very middling-sort of couple. I even speculated that it was the sort of item deemed appropriate as a wedding gift.
Gifts, as we know, often come in boxes and I therefore decided to translate the design on the cloth into a 3D object. This meant that I could incorporate another aspect of the story behind the fabric – an often unacknowledged or hidden history. A Dark Secret Behind a Thing of Beauty was the title of my response. I wanted to make a comment that it is all too easy to look at a piece of fabric and think of it just in terms of its design or its beauty – less so about the tragedy behind its manufacture. It was particularly important to highlight how what seemed quite an innocuous item was very probably the product of slavery.
Inside the box I created a copy of an image used by the abolitionists, along with the words ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ Designed by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) and turned into cameo brooches in the 1790s, these items would have been worn by the many women supporters as a means to raise awareness of this abhorrent trade. It took several decades to end the transportation of slaves, but even that did not end slave labour – and sadly it still continues today, in many forms. Slavery is often, but not always associated with race, but even when it is not, it is always about inequality and power.
In May 2019, EAST members held a drop-in weaving workshop at Braintree District Museum as part of the Warner Textile Fair. We set up three sets of warps and asked visitors to weave fabric and threads using the colours green, white and purple. These were the colours associated with the Suffragettes and the weavings were a commemoration of three Courtauld women who strongly believed in women’s rights over 100 years ago.
Now the story of these women are part of a much wider exhibition about the family open at Braintree District Museum (until 30 May 2020). The main narrative is the story of a family who escaped persecution as European refugees, came to Britain and eventually developed a major textile industry. The Courtauld’s brought prosperity through employment to Essex and Suffolk, including Braintree, in the nineteenth century. The family were also major art collectors, forming the foundation of the now famous Courtauld Gallery in London and supporters of this exhibition in Braintree.
This is just an introduction to the three women commemorated by the EAST led weaving – to find out more you need to visit the Museum.
Katherine Mina Courtauld (1858-1935), was the eldest daughter of George Coutauld III. She was a farmer, parish councillor and Secretary of the North West Essex branch of the National Union of women’s Suffrage Societies. On the 1911 census she wrote (in red, to ensure her feelings were known) how she strongly resented being denied the privilege of parliamentary franchise despite being a householder and ratepayer. Katherine was also instrumental in the establishment of the Women’s Land Army during WWI.
Catherine Courtauld (1878-1972) was another campaigner for women’s right to vote. She designed posters which were used by the Suffrage Atelier – a collective that created propaganda for the Votes for Woman campaign. Incidentally, she and her husband were also later responsible for the saving and restoring of the Cutty Sark for the nation.
The last of these three remarkable women was Dr Elizabeth Courtauld (1867-1947) who qualified as a doctor as early as 1901. As principal anaesthetist she worked at the largest British voluntary hospital on the Western Front during WWI – the only one run by women (Royaumont Hospital). She spent most of her working life at a hospital in Bagalore, India.
Although the EAST hanging is just a very tiny part of this major exhibition it is nice to think that we honoured women who went against the grain, who stood up for their beliefs and enabled us, in this modern age, to follow our own dreams. However there are many more women’s stories – and plenty of stories of Courtauld men too – in the main display.
I would highly recommend Courtaulds: Origins, Innovations, Family (1816-1982) for a fascinating look at one family’s impact on a country and a county or for anyone with an interest in social history or the history of textile innovation. The display looks at the Courtaulds as inventors, explorers and people with creative vision. There is also a rare chance to see some original Gaugin etchings – which have been lent by The Courtauld Gallery. Gaugin is known for his colourful work so it is interesting to see close up, his work in a very different medium.
Entrance to the exhibition and the rest of the Museum is only £4 for adults (with concessions for seniors and children – under 5s free) – open Tuesday to Saturdays but check their website for more details – www.braintreemuseum.co.uk and look out for their walks, talks and other events on social media.
Although not a textile exhibition – certainly one to inspire. Previous EAST member Di Christopher did some beautiful work based on Chihuly some years ago. These are some images of Chihuly’s work from his current exhibition at Kew Gardens.
Chihuly: Reflections on Nature – continues until 27 October 2019.
I may have left visiting ‘Christian Dior: Designers of Dreams’ at the V&A Museum to the last few weeks, but for me the timing was absolutely perfect. With no E.A.S.T deadlines, and approval from my supervisor that my university research was coming together well, planning a day off with a good friend (and fellow E.A.S.Tie, Susan) was just perfect. This was not an exhibition where I needed to make notes; initially I was not even going to get my camera out. Instead I decided I could just relax and admire the work on display. And event though we had it on good authority (from our group mentor, Anthea) that this was an exhibition well worth seeing, it definitely exceeded my expectations.
The display began with an introduction to Christian Dior himself, and the ‘New Look’ he first became famous for. Surrounding his classic version were ‘updates’ by the five other artistic directors that came after him – Yves Saint-Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferro, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. All through the display there was a combination of work from these six designers – sharing similar themes but often in very different ways. Yet despite their differences, elements of the original Christian Dior ‘style’ could often still be seen.
One of the first sections we came to was a selection of work inspired by history (see above) – in particular several items inspired by eighteenth-century court dress. I have written a little more about the ‘history’ display of this exhibition in my own personal blog, ‘Artistic Threads‘.
Other areas focused on themes such as ‘travel’ (see above) and ‘nature’ (or was it ‘floral’?). This second room, as well as some stunning dresses, included a backdrop of the most amazing paper flowers (see below).
One of the highlights was the diorama. A display filled with a rainbow of elements – accessories (hats, shoes, jewellery) and related aspects of design – fashion illustration and miniature versions of the gowns – moving seamlessly from one colour palette to another.
Another room focused on the creation of the garments – almost entirely in white this room was a cabinet of toiles (see below).
The display ended with the most fantastic ball room. Not only a room full of the most fantastic gowns and accessories, but again the way everything was displayed added an extra special dimension. Using lighting techniques, film, and scent no photograph can do this particular room justice. I have included just a couple of items from the display below.
This was an exhibition that was well worth waiting for. As well as there being some absolutely beautiful garments on display, I felt it also gave an real insight into haute couture and the work involved in putting together a collection. Many of the pieces had the most exquisite decoration – embroidery and beadwork was much in evidence. It may have Dior’s name on the door, but the creative team work was much in evidence.
However for me, I came away not just with admiration for the House of Dior and their amazing work, but also the people at the V&A Museum – their creative team should also be applauded for putting together a really interesting, beautiful and inspiring display.
Last month I was in the Kensington area of London with about 40 minutes to spare between appointments. What better place to visit than the Victoria and Albert Museum. There just happened to be an exhibition of natural dyeing in the Japanese Gallery with displays relating to one man’s search for lost techniques.
Videos not only showed some of the dyeing processes but also explained about some of the ceremonies that related to the practice – including the making of dyed paper flowers (see below).
Sadly the display has gone now and my images do not do it justice, but it just shows how even a half hour visit can be quite inspiring.
Oceania, is one of the current exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London (continues until 10 December 2018). This is a personal reflection of some of the issues and objects I found particularly interesting but especially those linked to textile art.
On entering the gallery you are confronted by an enormous blue cloth – stitched and slashed – made by the artist Kiko Moana of New Zealand. It seemed to me the perfect illustration for an exhibition that was considering the art and cultures of a region both connected and divided by water. As a modern work it was also a reminder that this is not about an art and culture from the past – this was an exploration of Oceania throughout its history.
The second art work was a film, Tell Them, by Kathy Jetnil-Kijna. It begins with a description of a piece of jewellery, leads to a discussion about Marshall Island and its people, and ends with their fears for the future. It was about the links between cultures. It was a reminder that actions in one part of the world impacts on others.
The exhibition continues with a vast array of items – canoes, figures, musical instruments, navigational charts each one telling just a little about a vast array of diverse communities. There were also plenty of textile items. There were many pieces of bark cloth but also pieces of patchwork. The relevance of Samoan fine mat was fascinating in that these precious items were also used in ceremonies of reconciliation.
In addition there were several pieces of jewellery.
Have a look at the link below and even if you can’t get to see the exhibition there is a good video showing many of the amazing banners.
Even though EAST does not have an exhibition on display this year, many of our members (and ex-members) are still involved with other events and exhibitions:
EAST member Melinda is also a member of the Chelmsford 93 Group which have an exhibition just opened at Braintree District Museum, Manor Street, Braintree, Essex, CM7 3HW. Ex-EAST members June and Anne also have some work on display here. This exhibition will be on display until 7 July 2018, and there are several accompanying activities to look forward to: