Criminal Quilts : Creative Residency

Alongside my research and workshops at Staffordshire Record Office, my Criminal Quilts project also includes a creative residency in the Fashion and Textile Department of Wolverhampton University. I included this in the project so I could work with students and staff to help develop the creative work and have access to their amazing studio facilities. I am in the process of setting up a student brief for students across art and design to make work for exhibitions based around the information and data which is growing from the archive research.  I hope that working alongside a practicing artist on a live project with exhibitions and publications will be a great experience and some exciting and innovative work will be produced.

Personally I am working closely with Senior Lecturer Jan Wrigley and Professor Fiona Hackney on both the practical, creative side and on completely new (for me) outcomes for the project including a symposium at the end of 2018 and academic papers. When I devised the project plan and funding application I intentionally created new ways of sharing the project beyond the usual exhibition and am excited by the possibilities which have developed to share and record the project in so many ways.

I also get the chance to experiment with the equipment and facilities at the University including digital print and tufting, all of which is completely new to me. The screen print workshop has much larger capacity than I am used to as well so I hope that I will be able to make some larger scale work rather than my usual tiny, detailed hand stitched work. I even got to have a go with the embellisher in the machine room on my last visit and hope to use the Cornelly embroidery machine on another session.  I was also charmed to find pages from my books adorning the machine room for student reference!

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Emotional Repair Exhibition

I am currently working on a new exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall Textile Collection which is in an amazing National Trust building in Lancashire. The textiles there are a private collection assembled by Rachel Kay Shuttleworth (1886- 1967) who lived in the house and opened it up to share her collections and her knowledge.

 

I first visited the Gawthorpe in 2015 to look at their pincushion collection  as inspiration for Memorial Pincushions,  which celebrate the life of my beloved aunt. The first half of collection were included in my Narrative Threads exhibition in 2015  and some in Salisbury Textiles Open in 2016. Emotional Repair will be the first time all 46 (each one representing a year of her life) will be displayed together and alongside the original inspiration pieces from Miss Rachel’s own collection.

 

Late in 2016 I began talking to Jenny Waterson, curator of contemporary exhibitions and learning at Gawthorpe Textile Collection about showing this piece and others in a solo exhibition which is now confirmed for 28 March – 24 June 2018. Over the last year I have been developing new pieces of work and groups which will form this exhibition. I also returned to Gawthorpe in the autumn to look at more textiles, this time selecting pieces about mourning and remembrance, as well as unfinished pieces which I consider very poignant and full of potential stories of loss.

Emotional Repair covers a wide range of personal and emotive subjects focused around loss and remembering and includes work made over the last two years as well as brand new pieces currently in development.  Much of this work is deeply personal and touches on subjects which are hard to talk about so it may seem strange that I want to share them in this very public way, but we all know just how healing and cathartic it can be to make things when having a tough time. Textiles have such strong associations with domesticity, personal lives and family memory that they are the perfect means to express emotional stories. For me this works so well with the Gawthorpe Textile Collection, although Miss Rachel didn’t collect with this emotional response in mind, it is still one woman’s personal selection and it is displayed and preserved in her family home which brings an intimacy and personality beyond most museum collections.

The exhibition opens 28th March and continues until 24th June 2018.

Criminal Quilts : Sketchbooks

In between archive visits I have begun working on a sketchbook to gather my thoughts and ideas for the new work I intended to make for the Criminal Quilts exhibitions starting in summer 2018 – which is suddenly really quite soon!
I’ve created a sketchbook for sharing with people when I do talks about the project and during archive workshops starting in January. It is very much a working sketchbook; a gathering of ideas, inspiration, notes, thoughts, colours, textures and details but it is also intended to be shared, used and probably included in exhibitions so I have taken care to make it look really nice!

I’m working in a large format spiral bound sketchbook with brown kraft paper pages which is robust, easy to display, has capacity for expansion and the colour fits with the project. As I discussed in a previous post, I am finding the photo albums themselves very inspiring – the layers of papers, the damaged leather bindings and the marbled endpapers which feel like a little incongruous in their luxurious feel.

I’m also working on colour palettes to bring through the work, much of it inspired by sepia photos, cyanotype prints and my early pieces taking colours from the Shire Hall court buildings themselves and most recently I have been working on ways of creatively interpreting the data which the research is uncovering.  My next post will explore the growing data collection in more detail.

You can keep up to date with the project on Twitter @criminalquilts or on my personal Instagram feed (which also includes a lot more besides!)

Criminal Quilts: Cataloguing the photo albums

During November I went through all eight photograph albums from Stafford Prison to record all the women featured in the photographs. The photographs begin in 1877 and continue until early 1916. The style of photography changes dramatically during this period as does the clothing worn by the women. The first set of images 1877-81 are all pasted alongside a written record giving details of each individual and a little information on their crime, trial and other convictions. The women are shown sitting down with their hands in their laps or enveloped in a large shawl.  Many of the women in this album are photographed wearing a medallion with their prison number. Apart from the prison number medallion, these images look more like informal portraits than any of the later images.  There about 100 records of women in this album. All the later albums just have photographs with a name, prison number and date of photography with no further details.

The album covering 1883-1887 contains the images which I used as inspiration for my previous Criminal Quilts, focussing on the hands, which in these photos are placed on the chest. It seems that hands were included prominently in prison photographs for a few years as hands, particularly damaged or missing fingers, could act as identifying features. This album has 12 photos per page including  about 130 women in total.

The 1893-1896 album shows a change in the way prisoners were photographed. The early photos are taken face on but with a side mirror intended to capture the woman’s profile, though this is fairly unclear in most of the images. Their hands are still shown but by the end of the period this album covers a new style of photography has taken over with a profile image alongside the facing front photo, without hands. These photos, although less intriguing and personal than the ones with hands, still show clothing, and particularly hats with great clarity. These are black and white rather than sepia so also show a change in photographic technology. In most of the later (side on) images, women are shown without their hats and many are wearing prison uniform as shown below (arrow showing on her shoulder in the profile image).

Two albums cover 1897-99 and only contain 21 photographs of women. Why there are so few remains to be discovered as I do more research. These images are similar in style to the previous album although most of them are wearing hats.

Moving into the early 20th century the style of profile and face on images continues and the wearing of hats varies. In the last album 1911-1916, the hats are so impressive and stylish it is easy to be distracted by them and forget these are prison photos. A number of women are wearing similar outfits of gingham apron and mid-colour shirt with white collar and checked neckerchief which is surely prison uniform. A few older women are still wearing a Victorian bonnet rather than the modern large brimmed hat.

 

In all there are around 500 photographs of women in this collection of albums. I had initially intended just to focus on the earlier, Victorian-period albums where the hands are shown but I have decided to extend the research to all the women in these albums right up to 1916 as they are so intriguing and fascinating. A handful of women also appear across a number of albums and add depth to the stories I am aiming to tell with this project.

In the next post I will be showing the other side of the project – my own creative work developing alongside the research. You can follow the project research on  Twitter @criminalquilts where new blog posts and snippets about the project will be shared.

 

Work on paper – new exhibitions

This week I’ve installed and launched the exhibition of our joint McFarland & Singer artist residency in the Genetics Department of the University of Leicester. The work on show is very different from my usual work and includes work in glass and on paper as well as the amazing collaborative petri dish project.
My own work for this exhibition includes new work on paper including prints and drawings including pieces inspired by our research in the university herbarium combined with drypoint printing. I have also used scientific equipment to make textured patterned pieces. The exhibition also includes collaborative pieces Gillian and I have made together combining print, puncturing and stitch. The exhibition is now open daily 7am – 10pm until 22nd December and then again 2nd – 12th January at the Charles Wilson Building (Foyer) at Leicester University and is free to enter. Works in the exhibition will be listed for sale later in the year. A catalogue is available for £3 (+p&p) on request.

 

 

 

I also have other print-based work on show in Leicester Society of Artists exhibition at New Walk Museum from 17th November t0 16th December. These new pieces are created using patchwork, print and stitch. These pieces are part of a new ongoing series of work exploring textile processes and the stages in production of stitched work. These pieces were included in my recent Fragments exhibition.

Criminal Quilts research blog : photo albums. 

The photographs which have formed the source material for Criminal Quilts are held in bound albums in Staffordshire Record Office. The albums are part of a large collection of archives from Stafford Prison and I’ve been working my way through each one in the last couple of weeks. The images I am working with date from 1878-1915.

As well as the intriguing photographs of women, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the albums themselves. They are large bound books with hundreds of pages. Some have damaged spines showing the binding. Some covers are badly damaged too, showing layers of leather and board.

The albums have marbled endpapers and indexed pages, buckled pages and damaged corners. The materiality and weight of these albums adds another dimension to the stories of the women whose images are contained within. 

I am hoping to bring in the physicality of the albums into the new work in make as the project develops, in the form of artist-made books with hand printed and stitched pages.

 

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Criminal Quilts research – October 2017

The research and development phase of Criminal Quilts is now well underway. I have been spending time in residence at Staffordshire Record Office exploring archives and finding out what resources I have to explore during this project and planning what the workshops for volunteers and participants will involve.

Stafford Prison photograph albums from the late 19th and early 20th century form the basis of the entire project. For several years I have been creating work around a handful of photographs of women with no additional information about them at all. One of the aims of this new funded research project is to explore the full collection of photograph albums and trace stories through the records.

There are 10 different albums dating from 1877 to 1915 which gives me a broad window of exploration beyond the Victorian and well into the 21st century. I have begun by cataloguing the women who appear in the photographs. The albums just contain photos, and in a couple of cases, indexed pages of named but very little detail. Each image is marked with the prisoner’s name, a date (of photograph, I assume) and a number. In this first phase I am making lists of all the women (about 10-15% of the total in each album I estimate) and noting name, date, number, approximate age and a detailed description of the photograph. I’ll then be able to cross reference between the albums to see who features more than once and then find out more about them via the written documents which I have yet to explore.

Already I can see women who appear several times over the years. I have identified prison uniforms and what I suspect is prison-issue clothing. There’s also a very clear timeline of fashion, particularly in hats which almost all of the women are wearing. These photographs are known to be a rare record of working class women’s clothing but I am already realising it is going to be difficult to be sure what is prison issue and what is personal property, particularly in the later images. There are also some really lovely shawls appearing which may well inspired new work.

I have a lot of additional research to do about the background to prison identification photography, about prison uniforms and a lot of cross referencing to fashion history in general before I can draw any conclusions about what their clothing says.

The albums themselves are impressive and inspiring objects with marbled endpapers, damaged spines and hand written text. I’ll be exploring the albums in more detail in the next post.

 

There are still spaces for volunteers to work with me on this project during 2018. Find out more here.

Criminal Quilts exhibition is available for touring in 2019 onwards.

Images of archive material courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office. Project funded by Arts Council England with Staffordshire County Council.

 

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