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.
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.