What it means to be an artist in 2020

At the end of May 2020 I was offered the chance to share my images and words via the Instagram account of Contemporary Visual Art Networks – East Midlands. I created a week’s worth of posts exploring my experience of being an artist in 2020, both before and during the time of Covid. I have brought all these posts together here, along with the text of the interview questions I wrote for CVAN’s website.  You can also join me for a live conversation with the Director of CVAN-EM on Thursday 18th June 2020 at 11.30am. This is a free event, via Zoom. Book tickets here. 

Ruth Singer is an artist-maker with 15 years professional experience and a previous career in museums. Her work comprises exhibitions, projects and residencies as well as collaborations and commissions, mainly working in textile with print, mixed media and installation work. She often work with heritage and draw heavily on a previous career in museums, using the skills learned and concepts studied. She is also a writer, tutor, consultant and mentor.

 

Meet the Artist: Ruth Singer

The words ‘I am an artist’ are not always the easiest to say out loud. It took me a few years to feel confident saying those words. I started my working life in quite another sphere, but 15 years ago I left my job and started a studio practice alongside freelance teaching. Through that time I have been through radical changes in my practice from designer-maker producing handbags and cushions to comfortably calling myself an artist. The difference to me is that I now make what I want to make, in the materials and techniques that are appropriate to the story I want to tell or the research I want to explain. I work to exhibition deadlines not to fashion trends. I make what speaks to me and not what sells best in a craft fair. This change has given me the scope to explore personal stories of love and loss, to collective stories of genetics and human identity and historical stories of women incarcerated for stealing shoes. My practice explores and illuminates the hidden corners of our lives and our histories, all very much influenced by my previous career working in museums.


Garment Ghost. Photo credit: Joanne Withers

Garment Ghosts are created from badly damaged and irreparable antique clothing. The fragmentary cloth is brought back to life through trapping the disintegrating garment between transparent layers, keeping the outline but also opening up seams to take the fabric back to its original form. Garment Ghosts aim to make you think about how we preserve and present textiles, and what a garment might tell us about its past and the people who made, wore, kept and passed it down. Bodice, 2015. Hand stitched antique silk and lace between modern netting.

Studio practice

I don’t spend a lot of time in my studio. Even during lockdown I have hardly produced a thing. I create new work when there are deadlines, exhibitions to install, commissions to complete and book content to be photographed. My work is thoughtful and slow, contemplative and very extensively researched and explored before making. The actual making can be the fastest part, despite often taking weeks of intense hand stitch. The thinking process is what takes the most time and while I don’t have an exhibition deadline, my studio practice has taken a back seat to other work. COVID-time has made it harder for me to think of new work, to envisage the future exhibitions where this will be seen and to find a new research path which sits comfortably with me while so much is chaotic. Sitting with the stillness of my work space and slowly sorting, arranging, compiling and cataloging things is enough for now.

 

Tablecloth with stains of wine and tea stitched into with hand embroidery.

This piece: The Beauty of Stains, 2018. These embroideries are old tablecloths which I have placed in cafes and at gallery events to gather the marks of wear and use. I then embellish them by stitching the stains, preserving them like memories or tales being handed down through generations. Visitors and participants have a real impact on the work: it does not exist without their input. Llantarnam Grange Art Centre exhibition preview 2018. Hand embroidery and appliqué.

 
 

Public-facing practice

Until lockdown, I would have said that public-facing practice is a huge part of my work. Some artists and makers talk about teaching as a way of supporting their practice financially, and although that is often the case, I like to see public projects as supporting and growing my practice, as much as providing the necessary funds to enable it. I have chosen over the last few years to focus on funded community workshops, projects, residencies and socially-engaged practice and reduce the number of one-off adult workshops I run. Working in collaboration with communities and meeting their needs has enabled me to stretch my own practice in ways I would never have done if I hadn’t worked with them. Contributions from communities can range from work made by others (more of this next) or to shared stories like this memorial sampler of lost loved ones. This piece is now in Gawthorpe Textiles Collection Museum. Hand embroidered, 2018-2019, part of my Emotional Repair solo exhibition.

Current projects / Criminal Quilts

I chose to take 2020 as a quiet year, after producing 5 solo exhibitions in five years. This has turned out to be a collective action, as exhibitions, events and projects I might have been taking part in have of course all ground to a halt. My Criminal Quilts project is, however, ongoing, albeit in much changed form. The exhibition, which should have been touring all of this year, was first launched in 2018 following 18 months research residency at Staffordshire Record Office where I developed my previous work around Victorian Women Criminals. I created, developed and funded this project including a multi-venue tour which will continue to 2021 and a book of the project which I self published and will be printing a second edition soon. I have a second round of funding from Arts Council England which has included workshops with women in prison and on probation. The prison sessions are currently on hold but the probation workshops are now running through posted workshop kits and online chats via the supporting charity I have partnered with. The work these women create will be included in a zine I will produce over the summer.
This piece was created by my Criminal Quilts project research volunteers in 2018.

 

Collaborations

My own studio practice is very quiet and contemplative. Working with others gives me the chance to work in completely different ways, to expand my horizons and to try new things. I love working with other artists and makers, to see how they approach a challenge or issue and understand their way of thinking which in turn informs my own. I have a long-term collaboration with Gillian McFarland @gillianadairMcf and we worked together in 2017 on a residency at Leicester University Department of Genetics which was illuminating and exciting. I also work a lot with jeweller Alys Power @alyspowerdesign and we are currently completing a collaboration related to my Criminal Quilts project which I hope will be exhibited later this year. Working with makers like Alys and fine artists like Gillian gives me the chance to explore new materials and techniques too. Having started my career as a textile designer maker it is very easy to get stuck in a rut of thinking that there is a rule that I only use textiles. Collaborations have helped me see that my practice can be much more expansive and cross-disciplinary than just working with one media and idea.
Petri Dish project, created during the genetics residency combining work made by the two artists, scientific and admin staff and contributions from the wider public and other artists, 2017.

 

Ruth Singer and Gillian McFarland-Boyle artwork

Professional development

One of the real joys of my portfolio career has been the work I do in supporting other artists and creatives to be the best version of themselves. Over the last 10 years so so I have run training courses, business skills workshops, professional development events and mentoring. I have created exhibiting groups and paired artists with mentors, I have collaborated with organisations and universities to bring artists together to create exhibitions and networks. I really look forward to being able to bring creative people together in inspiring spaces again, and run the symposium I have planned for artists in socially-engaged practice and group mentoring events.
Luckily I have been able to continue my 1:1 work with artists and creative businesses, mentoring them to develop and flourish by meeting online and working with them to build their creative practice and find solutions to the business problems we are all facing.
I am also working with WebinArt, an online professional development programme formed by Creative Leicestershire. @webinart_uk is now including established artists and makers and I am co-ordinating this element, bringing together 30 artists to learn from each other and from industry specialists. The peer mentoring element which I have created from scratch is really exciting and I hope will create lasting support networks for artists who so urgently need help getting through these tough times.
I’m currently taking a break from leadership of Leicester Society of Artists while I focus on paid work but I hope to be back to this soon. I have been working on marketing and development plans for this historic society and look forward to getting back to future planning, seeking sponsors and partners and growing our partnership with Leicester Museums service.

What next?

Surviving as an artist through and beyond lockdown and the changed world will be a huge challenge. My carefully-worked out 5-10 year plans are up in the air as I contemplate the new landscape where group events, community project, residencies and exhibitions all seem unlikely in the near future. Funding looks like being even more hard to come by as many funders have made all their years budgets over to emergency grants and priorities will change radically over the next few years as we try to build our creative economy back up.
I am lucky that I have diverse income streams and don’t rely on just one source. At the start of the year, in a different world, I launched my Patreon membership and have a few loyal supporters already. This model of membership and personal support is likely to became more and more vital to artists who have limited access to their former markets and funding is reduced. In the short term I am sticking with a market I know and am writing a new book, my fifth. I had actually planned to spend Spring and Summer 2020 working on this new publication to launch in celebration of surviving 15 years as an independent professional artists. This book will be retrospective of my work over the last 10 years and a catalogue of my work for solo exhibitions over the last five years. I am also working on funding applications and ideas for very local community-based work looking at community cohesion and recognition of volunteers which has been inspired by my own volunteering locally. I hope that before too long I will be able to go back to exhibition launches, group events and residencies in partnership with organisations and communities in need of creative support.

Forget. Vintage handkerchief with rose embroidery as found, my hand embroidery in silk thread. 2017-18

 

Meet the Artist: Ruth Singer

Text from CVAN website, interviewed by CVAN-EM Director Elizabeth Hawley-Lingham

Ruth Singer is an artist-maker with 15 years professional experience and a previous career in museums. Her work comprises exhibitions, projects and residencies as well as collaborations and commissions, mainly working in textile with print, mixed media and installation work. She often works within a heritage context and draws heavily on a previous career in museums, using the skills learned and concepts studied. She is also a writer, tutor, consultant and mentor.

Find out more about Ruth’s work on her website and follow her on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

Where are you based? 

Urban central Leicester although my natural habitat is in the middle of the woods, miles from anywhere.

Describe your practice for us

My personal practice explores human experience expressed through thoughtful and emotionally- engaged making, mainly in textiles. My subtle and delicate work references loss, memory, fragility and damage in both the cloth itself and in our personal lives, and the places in which we gather memories. My background as a textile historian and museum curator is woven throughout my work; I create pieces with a sense of history and a look of antiques but with a powerful contemporary story.

I mainly use slow techniques of hand stitch and traditional textile processes to express ideas including hidden stories, creating visual records of ephemeral experiences, change and decay as well as intensely personal and emotive stories around loss and remembrance. I often work in collaboration with other artists and makers which allows me to be more expansive with my ideas and experiment with new materials and techniques to explore narratives.

My public-facing practice is more collaborative, working with communities to co-create emotionally-engaged artworks or to design projects which allow participants to express their creativity. My writing work is mainly around textiles as well as historical research projects. I am also heavily involved in artist development and support through various consultancy projects, mentoring and running professional development courses.

How long have you been practising and by what route did you come to your practice?

I’ve been fully self-employed for 15 years, after seven years working in the museum sector. I haven’t followed a traditional route into artist practice; my university education was in medieval history followed by an MA in Museum Studies. I worked in museum curatorial and learning roles for several years before setting up my own studio aged 30. For the first half of my time working as an artist-maker, I was more maker than artist, creating products and stock for shops, galleries, interior designers etc. Over the years my work has changed dramatically so that now I create work purely for exhibitions, residencies, commissions and project and creating purely what I want to make.

How has your background in museums and heritage settings influenced or shaped your work?

I am fascinated by material culture, history and the power of objects in human lives, which is very much how museum curatorial / research practice operates. In my work I aim to explore and illuminate narratives about people, places and objects, and how we respond to and interact with things, tools, materials and the traces and stories we leave behind. My way of looking at the world, and particularly the way I research around a subject, seems to be influenced by my museum training. I also choose to work with museums, archives and heritage for projects because I love museums and what they stand for. We can learn so much about ourselves and our times from understanding the past. Art inspired by museum collections gives viewers a new way to engage with and understand history.

Tracery. Photo credit: Paul Lapsley

You’ve said of your work that you find yourself drawn to creating work with a narrative, often based around objects, history, people and places. Do you identify a narrative and select a technique to suit, or does a narrative come from using techniques such as appliqué, quilting, embroidery?

Usually with my work the research comes first, then I define the area or narrative I want to explore and the materials and technique choices come later. Sometimes the material comes first and sometimes the technique, but usually only when I am deeply absorbed in the subject I’m exploring and connections are made.

You work a lot with old, often damaged and worn, cloth. Do you reveal an intrinsic emotional value to the material, repurposing it in the objects you make, or are you creating a new value through the new work?

It’s more about revealing the hidden stories within the cloth. I don’t think about value or repurposing; it’s not about recycling for the sake of it. The story of the heritage or damage of the cloth is what I love about it and how we as humans feel about old and damaged materials which should be treasured. This links both to my belief in the value of museums to tell stories and allow us to learn from the past and to sustainability expressed through repair and reuse. I want to honour the resources, effort, ingenuity and skill that went into making cloth, rather than see it as a material commodity.

Stretched. Photo credit: Paul Lapsley

What is important to you in maintaining and motivating your practice? 

Well, I am 100% self-supporting, so making a living is my main motivation in keeping going!  In terms of creating my own work, I am very goal-focussed, so I am most productive when I have an exhibition or a deadline. It’s the same with writing projects or workshops – I prepare for what needs delivering next.  With a more long-term view, I look at developing my practice through exploring stories or issues that intrigue me and playing around with how to make those narratives into a cohesive body of work or engagement project. I am always thinking about the next project even when in the middle of one. Until recently I was very focussed around funding application deadlines and thinking 2-3 years ahead, though now I am concentrating on what I can get done in the next few months and how I might be able to finance projects again in the long term.

What have been your biggest achievements since establishing your practice?

The most personally important thing has been changing my practice from designer-maker to exhibition-led artist practice. I found my right place and voice, and have found a way to make a living from that practice. To have survived 15 years is a huge achievement too. Externally, I have won a significant prize (with big impact in the textile world) which gave me a huge boost to push forward with my Criminal Quilts project. I’m very proud of the way I have grown this project over several years, toured the exhibition to a lot of galleries and museums and sent the project book across the world.

In the studio. Photo credit: Geoff Broadway
Sewing Box. Photo credit: Paul Lapsley

What have been the biggest challenges to your practice?

Funding is of course the biggest challenge in the way I work from project to project. I have been successful with a number of funding applications over the years but for each success there are twice as many (if not more) failures. Rejections are a huge challenge both emotionally and financially and I have had to abandon some brilliant ideas which is really disappointing. Applying for funding takes a huge amount of time as well as mental energy and successes are the tip of the iceberg with the hard work and failures going unnoticed under the surface. It’s impossible to know the future of arts funding now so I have an even bigger challenge going forward.

What is the most interesting or inspiring thing you have seen or been to recently, and why?

At the end of February I had a trip to London to visit both Collect, the Crafts Council fair and Fine Cell Work’s exhibition at Sotheby’s. Both were interesting and inspiring in very different ways. Collect showcases some of the best contemporary craft from across the world. There’s very little textile which I find frustrating (it is often at the bottom of the pecking order in craft) but there was lots of amazing art jewellery which I love. Fine Cell Work commissioned a number of well-known fine artists including Ai Weiwei to design textile pieces which prisoners then stitched. The finished works were to be auctioned by Sotheby’s to fund further work with prisoners. The sales catalogue has interviews with artists, prisoner-stitchers and volunteers which was fascinating.

Which other artists’ work do you admire, and why?

My preference is always for artist-makers whose work tells a story or has a deep-rooted meaning or research behind it. I enjoy purely decorative too, but I am often left wanting more. Edmund de Waal is by far my favourite because of his writing about his work and the importance of objects in his non-fiction writing. Cornelia Parker also explores issues I find intriguing and I have grown to love her work over the years. In the textile world I have huge admiration for my friend Alice Fox who works closely with nature to create intensely thoughtful work.

Where do you see your work in the next 5 years?

I hope to be able to continue creating socially-engaged projects, working with communities and sharing stories. I have had a lot of solo exhibitions in the last 5 years so planned a break from that for a year or two but I will be working on the next body of work for a new show in 2-3 years, all focussed on social justice which will be even more relevant and important post-pandemic.

Who would you most like to have visit your studio?

At the moment, any visitors would be exciting! I would love to be able to have a group of artists to visit and to be able to talk about my work, my planned work and my ideas with other people who understand where I am coming from. Collaboration and peer mentoring are a huge part of what I do, so keeping in touch with other artists is really important to me while I can’t exhibit or work in groups.

Where can we see your work? Have your plans had to change as a result of measures taken in response to coronavirus?

Obviously there is nothing in galleries at the moment. Criminal Quilts was due to be touring this summer but the next pencilled-in date is for September, with more planned dates into next year which I hope will go ahead. I have created an online version of the exhibition which will give people a taste of the work. I am still working in collaboration with three artists to create new work for the eventual exhibitions and I will add images to the website as soon as they are completed. I also have a couple of films about my work on my website, one on Criminal Quilts and one more general about my practice, plus plenty of images of my work. I also have a membership community on Patreon where I share my behind-the-scenes work through blog posts and I also produce a mini digital magazine every month with studio stories, textile history, exhibition reviews and other things that interest me.

I am continuing with engagement work with the project too and am currently putting together resource packs for participants to work at home, and eventually their work will be incorporated into a Criminal Quilts zine which will be available from my website.

Freelance-wise, I am currently working with WebinArt to develop the Establish professional development programme for mid-career and established artists.

Ruth was interviewed in May 2020.

Interview with CVAN East Midlands

There’s an interview with me (done at the end of April) up on the CVAN East Midlands website.  I’ll be taking over CVAN EM Instagram from 25th May too, sharing my thoughts on what it is to be an artist in 2020.

I’m doing a live Zoom interview with Elizabeth Hawley-Lingham, Director of CVAN-EM on Thursday 18th June at 11.30am. Please book free tickets here.

Step By Step

One day at a time

Not too long ago I had a wall planner diary for the whole year, I was waiting to hear about a 12-month project so I could fully schedule in my 12-18 month work plan around my holidays, teaching away from home, deadlines and exhibition touring schedule. I always have teaching and exhibition plans up to 2 years ahead in my diary and a plan for what work I will be doing from month to month, usually quite detailed for 6 months or more ahead. I like planning. I love knowing what’s coming up and what I need to do to keep up to speed with both the work and the time off. Obviously that’s all had to change. Instead of long-term plans I have a blank diary with some pencilled-in possible things later in the year if things get better and an income planner which is less encouraging every day.  Like all self-employed artists, I’m having to rethink a lot of what I do and how I do it. I am incredibly lucky to have some ongoing paid work which will keep me afloat while everything else is in chaos, and I have a safe home to be in and the great blessing of a home studio.

 

Over the last few years I have travelled thousands of miles for teaching and exhibitions and spent far too much time away from home and it was my 2020 plan to spend more time at home and get on with some self-initiated projects. Not all of those are going to work out so I am still doing ongoing rethinking about what I can do to keep my business afloat, even as I ‘celebrate’ 15 years as a wholly self-employed artist / writer. I am incredibly proud to have made it through 15 years, including the last hard 10 years of Tory austerity which has radically cut arts funding alongside so much more. Part of this year’s plan was to figure out how to pivot my practice so my work would support my social justice values whilst still making me a living. Some of that thinking work is still ticking over, some of it is going into (modified) practice and I am exploring new routes to making that happen. However, I was turned down for 3 lots of funding for this work in January which has made it even harder to see the route through, and which is only getting more difficult now. But the work itself, using art to make lives better for those most severely disadvantaged, is even more important now that the inequalities in our society are being shown so starkly.  This will continue to develop, but at the moment I need to focus on supporting community action where I can and concentrating on making a living so I can still be ready to rise up and work for and with other people when the time is right. At the moment I am creating resource packs for Criminal Quilts work with women on probation, in place of workshops I was due to run in May. I will be doing a lot more like this I think, finding ways to get creativity and self expression into the lives of people who need it the most without being able to meet with them in safe, creative spaces.

If you would like to support my work, you might like to take a look at my Patreon membership where for just $10 a month you will get a digital mini magazine about my work, textiles and whatever interesting things catch my eye. You could also get a monthly print of my work – this months are just about to go out and May’s will be ready soon. Subscribers are a vital life line for artists and creatives who normally rely on teaching income or public-facing work which we just can’t do at the moment, and every single one of you makes a huge and very real different to me at the moment, and always.

Creating Community

I’m always being asked what inspires me, where I get my ideas from, how those ideas go from thoughts to textiles, how I create exhibitions, what my next project will be and so much more…  With this in mind, I have come up with a behind-the-scenes mini magazine where you will be able to find out just those things, and even see inside my studio every month. I’ve created  subscription community in Patreon where you can join up to get monthly updates about what is going on in my studio and in my working life and support my creative practice at the same time. I hope to create a space where I can share more about what I do with the people who are really interested. You can ask for particular themes or stories in my posts and in the magazine. The April issue will cover the development of Criminal Quilts and where that project has come from and where it is going. There’s a sample mini magazine section here to download {patreon news sample} and much more to look at on the Patreon page itself.

There are three different membership levels including a monthly art print posted directly to you as well as the mini digital magazine at just $10 a month and the Cotton supporter level at only $5 a month. This is open to anyone in the world so I hope it will inspire you too.

 

 

 

Artist Development Work

Today I went to the launch of Leicester City Council’s cultural prospectus and strategy. It turns out that this wasn’t the launch of the actual strategy, it was the launch of the work to consult leading towards the strategy, which actually is good as there’s still chance to input in to the decision-making for how the city moves forward.  I have so many hats when it comes to things like this. I am an independent artist and this event was not aimed at me but I am also Chair of Leicester Society of Artists (an unpaid role) and occasional consultant and project lead  for Creative Leicestershire. I choose to get involved in events and conversations and activities around artist development and arts policy as I am professionally and personally engaged with the outcomes of them. And I LOVE a good strategy!

I was delighted to see that one of the key frameworks they are aiming to develop in the strategy is Workforce and Talent Development. From my perspective as an independent artist & cultural freelancer, I am mostly interested in how organisations and councils support and develop the creative talent of artists. But I am concerned that artists are expected to input their ideas (which is of course our means of making a living) into a consultation for which they won’t get paid, and won’t necessarily get credit.

Last year I completed a lengthy consultancy project called Made in Leicestershire looking at market development, networks and professional development for visual artists in the city and county.

 

This work has led directly into a new project for me, again working with Creative Leicestershire on their innovative professional development programme WebinArt, which will restart this spring (subject, as always to funding success). My element will be focussed on co-ordinating peer mentoring groups for mid-career and established artists in Leicestershire and surrounding areas. WebinArt is now taking expressions of interest for artists who would like to be part of the network and benefit from the professional development we will be offering. There’s no commitment required at this stage, you will be sent information about applying once its up and running. It really is a fantastic programme and I am really looking forward to getting artist together to do great things!

I loved working on Made in Leicestershire, getting to speak to artists and help create ideas and proposals to better promote and support them. The majority of the project funding was provided by ERDF, the European Regional Development Fund, just one of the ways in which being part of the EU was great, and is very much missed. I hope to continue developing artist support programmes, enabling creative people to thrive and to support their work in communities alongside their own creative practice.

 

Refocussing towards social justice

Last autumn, on one of my many long work-related drives, I was pondering what kind of themes I wanted to explore in my work in 2020 and beyond. Two major projects had been filling my brain for months; Criminal Quilts and my personal work exhibitions Emotional Repair and Textile Traces. All of these had powerful, emotive stories at their core, either exploring society and criminal justice (Criminal Quilts) or my own personal experiences in the other exhibitions. There is still more for me to say on all of these topics, but I was feeling very much that I wanted to take my work a step further on than illuminating difficult histories to encompass change and development. Some of my work has been closely engaged with other people, particularly around sharing and collectivism (such as with my Memorial Sampler, a collective memorial of lost loved ones) and exploring stories which touched many people deeply and personally. In my community practice work, the aims are always around improving lives, in one way or another. I love this aspect of my work although it is a lot more hidden and separate from my exhibition output. I have been working towards bringing these two disparate aspects of my practice together, but it is harder than I would have liked to do this.

On my long drive I decided that I had to make a fundamental change to the way I work, to concentrate on making my entire practice, not just my community work, fully engaged with making lives better for those that have their opportunities limited for so many different reasons. I was fired up and excited. And then there was a traffic jam and a roundabout and another hour of tiring driving and probably a distracting bank of wildflowers on the edge of the A50. And I forgot all about this plan. I was just too busy with what needs doing now to think about what I wanted to do in the future. I remembered having had a great idea on the A50, but somehow it had evaporated. I spent most of last winter in hibernation, having worked myself ill, and had 3 months off sick. By the spring I was back up and running but just running to keep up and there was no time for contemplation and imaginative thinking. Then in August this year I went to a talk by Giles Duley which was part of the brilliant Journeys Festival in Leicester. Suddenly, it all came back to me. I had to bring my values, my desire to improve social justice and my politics into my work.

 

My first action was to build more of this social justice work into my next phase of funding for Criminal Quilts in 2020-21. This will be a test project, a move towards where I want to be and hopefully will achieve some of the aims I have set myself. I will be working directly with women in the criminal justice system and with campaigners, activists and others engaged with trying to improve the lives of women caught up in the criminal justice system today. I want to illuminate their stories to create understanding and to make a small difference to their lives through my work as an artist.

This autumn I have also submitted several funding / residency applications around developing this new strand of work and for me to work out how to have the impact I want to have and to create a sustainable business model for my long term creative future. As well as illuminating stories, I want to find ways to have an impact on improving lives, still create powerful, meaningful artwork, and a financial income for me to live on. It’s a challenge but one which I am very excited about. Last week, the day before the General Election, I shared some of these thoughts on my social media, both making a statement about my left-leaning politics and saying out loud that I am going to change the way I work and speak out more. Despite the gloom the result has caused to many in my creative circle, I have been bowled over by the response from other artists and creatives who felt inspired by my words and expressed a desire to shift their work or their life towards activism, social change or just improving things for others, or to be honest about how their political beliefs and values are part of who they are as an artist.

Being political or activist when you run a business which has not previously engaged with these topics feels risky. Should one be neutral? Will one lose customers or supporters? Will people be angry, complain or insult me for my opinions or values? No one wants to enrage social media trolls. But I want people to engage with my work, regardless of how they vote or any other aspect of their lives. I may lose the attention of some followers or fans, but I hope that everyone will stay with me to learn, to understand and to explore alongside me as I navigate this new path. It is not my intention to alienate anyone who does not have the same values or politics as me, I don’t want them to go away but instead I would love it we could all learn something new, see a different side to a story or issue and have our minds opened to new things through the wonderful medium of creative self-expression. Because that’s what art is to me, a way of seeing into different worlds and opening minds.

I don’t yet know what the new work and new business models will look like. I have a lot to learn still and a lot to work out. This will be an ongoing, long term journey. I will be sharing my thoughts on this from time to time on this blog so please join my mailing list for monthly reminders of what I am doing and what I am thinking about.

 

Ruth

Chair of Leicester Society of Artists

Over the last couple of years I have been working as a consultant for Creative Leicestershire, researching the future of the role of Made in Leicestershire, a network of local artists. Since this work has now finished, I have decided to try and take some of my recommendations forward through working in partnership with another Leicestershire artist network, The Leicester Society of Artists (LSA). In early October I put myself forward as Chair with the hope of taking some of my learning from Made in Leicestershire into this thriving, well-established group. I picked the busiest time of the year to do this, just before our Annual Exhibition opened in early November. The last few weeks have have been intense, with my focus being on the exhibition judges and prizes, the preview event, working with the museum staff and then some PR and marketing activity while the exhibition is open, as well as future planning with our President Lars Tharp and the LSA Council. The exhibition continues until 7th December and is open seven days a week. I have three pieces in the exhibition too and was awarded one of the prizes as well. But the best part so far has been handing over prizes to other artists, which is a joy – and can result in hilarious photos with Tim Fowler!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made in Leicestershire consultancy

Earlier this month Creative Leicestershire was awarded a grant from Arts Council England to enable us (me) to do more on my Made in Leicestershire development project. I’ve been working on research and consultation for Made in Leicetershire for about 18 months and this grant has allowed us to extend until the end of September and run some exciting new programmes for Leicestershire and Rutland visual artists and makers.

We are piloting peer mentoring for artists, beginning with training next week and then facilitated meetings over the next month. Those taking part will also have the chance to have a professional photo taken of them with their work and apply for a small professional development bursary. There’s still time to sign up to the peer mentoring programme which takes place on Monday 19th August.

We are also hosting a larger networking event on 24th September, where I’ll be launching a new printed report which will showcase some of the finest creative talent in the city and two counties. There will also be professional development talks and business support 1:1s for new and established artists. Tickets are just £5 and can be booked here.

I love working with artists and it is great to be able to provide development opportunities and work on ways to make the network stronger in the future. It would be great to be able to expand this area of my work into other counties and regions and to work with agencies to create support networks. Hopefully Made in Leicestershire will take flight in the next few years and be the brilliant showcase I want for this creative county.

 

Museum Purchase

Two of my recent artworks have been purchased by museums this year. I started my professional career working in museums, after doing a Masters Degree in Museum Studies. Museums are still my favourite places to spend time, particularly in textile and social history collections. I left my museum career aged 30 in 2005 to pursue my ambition to make a living out of textiles. Over the subsequent 14 years, I have worked in partnership with museums and heritage collections many times and still get a thrill of excitement when I discover new objects, collections, personal and community stories and buildings. I have created commissions using archive materials for Harefield Hospital Centenary Quilt, made textile collections inspired by my own family history and used antique textiles to tell the stories of how we do and don’t treasure historic clothing in my Garment Ghosts series. Museums and heritage suffuse my work, they are inseparable to who I am as a person and as an artist. Having work in museum collections, to be preserved forever and accessible to researchers and historians and textile enthusiasts is a real honour.

Memorial Sampler: Gawthorpe Textiles Collection

I am particularly delighted that Memorial Sampler has been purchased for the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection. I have spent time at Gawthorpe doing research in their collections several times and exhibiting there in 2018 was a highlight of my professional artist career. The Memorial Sampler is a deeply emotional piece of work, gathering the names of loved ones who have died. I started with a couple of my own and then asked on social media for contributions. I added these to the piece during the exhibition when I worked in the gallery on Meet The Artist days. I also asked for contributions from visitors to the exhibition over the 3 months it was on show, and after the exhibition I slowly stitched in all of those names too, adding up to over 100 personal memories. It has been an honour to be trusted with these precious memories and to be able to bring together all those lost loved ones. It seems fitting that this piece will be preserved in the collections which inspired it.

 

Criminal Quilts, Repeat Offender; The Brampton Museum

Criminal Quilts is a textile and heritage project created by me in partnership with Staffordshire Record Office. The project is centred around the stories of women photographed in Stafford Prison 1877-1916. Our research project gathered together over 500 mugshot photographs of women and I created a series of textiles inspired by the stories. This project grew out of an earlier commission for Shire Hall Gallery which has also been purchased by Staffordshire County Council museum collection.

 

Repeat Offender is a screen-printed textile piece, printed on vintage cloth, created with the support of University of Wolverhampton Textiles and Fashion team. Purchased by Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council for the collections of The Brampton Museum, Staffordshire. This piece is part of Criminal Quilts and was purchased for this collection because the woman featured, Agnes Herrity was from Newcastle-under-Lyme. Agnes quickly became one of the stars of the Criminal Quilts project, as she features several times in the prison mugshots.

This quilt is made from screen printed cloth using an image created from this 1897 photograph of Agnes Herrity. She was photographed (on release from prison) five times between 1897 and 1910. She lived in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. Agnes clearly had a hard life, living in slum housing and making a meagre living. She was convicted regularly of drunkenness, theft and assault. I have used screen printing because it uses photographic process which reflects the historic photographs. The use of repeating images refers to Agnes’ repeated prison sentences. Screen printed by hand on modern linen, antique printed cotton, vintage cotton and new cotton hand printed with marbling design taken from the endpapers of one of the prison albums. It is backed with an old shawl, reminiscent of those seen in many of the photographs. 

 

 

Selvedge and Embroidery magazines

I’m really chuffed to have articles about my Textile Traces exhibition in both Selvedge and Embroidery magazines July issues.
Selvedge (below left) is a short review article while Embroidery magazine is a 6-page feature (detail below right).

I’ve got a couple of copies of Embroidery to give away to a newsletter subscriber so join my mailing list here ( or on the top right of my website) and follow the instructions in the next newsletter to be in with a chance of winning one – UK only.

The exhibition continues at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre until 20th July. I am looking for galleries to tour the exhibition to in 2020 so please do get in touch if you know somewhere suitable for a large textile show.