Criminal Quilts Case Study – Caroline Pulley

Criminal Quilts is my an exhibition, research project and book.  The textiles I have created are inspired by the stories of women who were photographed on release from Stafford Prison between 1877 and 1916.

I was fascinated when I first saw the photographs from the 1870s where the women have their hands on their chests. This was in case of missing fingers which would be used for identification. This is the first time prisons took photographs of prisoners to identify them if they offended again. They are usually photographed in their own clothes so we get to see what they really looked like. Photographs of working women are rare so these are very special images of women who wouldn’t normally have photographs taken. Original images and documents courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office.

Find out more in the online exhibition of Criminal Quilts including a film and all the exhibition text. My Criminal Quilts book covers the photo albums in detail, includes many more case studies, a background to women in prison in the 19th century and is illustrated with my textile works. It is available in my online shop along with cards, books and artworks.

This is the second in a series of case studies of some of the women recorded in the prison photographs.

Caroline Pulley appears four times in the photograph albums. The first was in 1879 when she was 29 years old and unmarried. Caroline was from Brockmoor, Brierley Hill (Dudley) and was 5ft 3in, with brown hair and grey eyes. This record is shown above.
She had been sentenced to six months hard labour for stealing iron, presumably to sell on for food and essentials. She was also given one year police supervision. She was a repeat offender, often in and out of prison and was photographed for the prison records in 1884, 1885 and 1886. In 1885, she refused to show her hands as required for which she would have been punished. The poor state of her clothes in 1884 shows the state of her poverty. She was sometimes recorded as a charwoman (a cleaner) or labourer, but often had no employment. Most of her crimes were thefts of iron or coal, including 60 pounds of coal from a canal boat. Caroline also appears in a prison record for HMP Wakefield in 1883 and in various other prison records for Staffordshire.

Caroline’s 1884 photo was one of the first ones I used as inspiration when I made the first series of miniature quilts. I haven’t used her photos very much but this quilt (below) now in Staffordshire Museums collection, was named after her. I think it’s time I created Caroline another quilt of her own, with her determined and powerful face.

Criminal Quilts Free Activity Sheets

I’ve recently created an activity pack around Criminal Quilts for community workshop participants who I can’t currently meet up with. I’ve made a couple of the worksheets free for anyone to try. Download the free PDF here. You could use the case study of Fanny & Ada Riddle or Caroline Pulley as your creative inspiration.

The full pack of 16 activities plus resource sheets and background information is now available in my shop for individual use. If you are interested in using this pack with schools, groups or creative workshops please contact me to discuss options.

Find out more in the online exhibition of Criminal Quilts including a film and all the exhibition text. My Criminal Quilts book covers the photo albums in detail, includes many more case studies, a background to women in prison in the 19th century and is illustrated with my textile works. It is available in my online shop along with cards, books and artworks.

Criminal Quilts Case Study – Fanny and Ada Riddle

Criminal Quilts is my an exhibition, research project and book.  The textiles I have created are inspired by the stories of women who were photographed on release from Stafford Prison between 1877 and 1916.

I was fascinated when I first saw the photographs from the 1870s where the women have their hands on their chests. This was in case of missing fingers which would be used for identification. This is the first time prisons took photographs of prisoners to identify them if they offended again. They are usually photographed in their own clothes so we get to see what they really looked like. Photographs of working women are very rare so these are very special images of women who wouldn’t normally have photographs taken.

Find out more in the online exhibition of Criminal Quilts including a film and all the exhibition text. My Criminal Quilts book covers the photo albums in detail, includes many more case studies, a background to women in prison in the 19th century and is illustrated with my textile works. It is available in my online shop along with cards, books and artworks.

This is the first in a series of case studies of some of the women recorded in the prison photographs.

Fanny and Ada Riddle

Sisters Fanny and Ada Riddle were born in Rutland to a family of labourers. In 1881 they were both at school but later worked as servants in Handsworth, Birmingham where some of their family also lived. They seem to have lived in Loughborough at one point but by 1895 were living in Birmingham. Both were able to read and write which is very unusual in the records of women prisoners.

This photograph was taken on 1st January 1895 when they were both released from Stafford Prison. Fanny was 21, Ada was 20. Fanny was convicted of obtaining money by false pretences. We think Ada was convicted of the same crime at the same time. Over a few years they were often convicted together for thefts of food, clothing and other small items for which they received sentences of 21 days to 3 calendar months.

Despite their respectable clothing and jobs, life was clearly difficult for them. Our research shows that their mother died in 1888 when they were 15 and 16 years old which may have been when the went out to work. By 1901, they were both in the Wolverhampton Union Workhouse, and Ada had a one year old illegitimate baby son with her, called Victor. Both of them worked as laundresses in the workhouse. Their family are quite easy to trace and both of their older brothers worked as postmen and were married with children. Sadly it seems their family were unable to support them and keep them out of the workhouse. I can’t trace either of them after 1901 but Ada’s son Victor does appear in records as emigrating to America as an unaccompanied child and seems to have family in Canada too. Fanny and Ada’s father remarried and had another young family in Handsworth and one widowed son lived with them too, but there is no sign of Fanny or Ada returning to live with them. They may have been cut off from their family because of their criminal records.

I have made a couple of small commissioned pieces featuring Fanny and Ada by customers who were touched by their story. I am happy to make commissions using other photographs from Stafford Prison or your own family photos.

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.

Visit Criminal Quilts (online)

While my Criminal Quilts exhibition is behind bars (in boxes), I have created a free online version of the exhibition. I’ve included lots of high resolution images including details of embroidery, quilting and showing textures and stitches as much as possible. All the exhibition panels, labels and other resources are also on my website for you to explore. There’s also a digital version of the exhibition display book which includes some case studies and historical information. The only thing missing is the surreptitious touching of textiles which you aren’t supposed to do! It also includes work which is now sold and no longer in exhibitions and pieces which haven’t been in all the versions of the touring exhibition. Very soon there will be some brand new work added which is currently in my studio awaiting photographs.

 

 

Don’t forget to visit the gift shop after your visit… There are copies of the Criminal Quilts book, greetings cards with my original digital designs and a handful of postcard packs available too.

There’s also a virtual donation box if you would like to support my future work.

 

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.

Hand stitched textiles – creating cloth with meaning

I am hosting a new three-day course at the lovely West Dean College, this June, one of only three workshops I am running this year.

This art textiles course aims to be a relaxed and enjoyable adventure into creative textiles following the studio practice of textile artist Ruth Singer. Over the course of three days you will explore a range of slow, thoughtful textile practices to create cloth with meaning.

The course begins with an exploration of antique and personal textiles, the stories they hold and how you can use them to tell personal narratives. You will experiment with simple, effective hand stitch to add pattern and text onto fabric, as well as fabric manipulation techniques such as reverse appliqué, shadow work and trapunto quilting to add texture and structure. Also experiment with using found objects, scraps, natural materials and vintage haberdashery. You can choose to create samples during the course or keep working on a piece to make a finished artwork, such as an heirloom pin cushion. 8th – 11th June. Book here£383.00 for the course, plus accommodation.

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

LSA Exhibition Prize

I have three pieces in the Leicester Society of Artists Annual Exhibition at New Walk Museum, Leicester, until 7th December 2019.
I’ve also been awarded a prize for one of these pieces, Pierced. The Artist Magazine sponsored this prize which was selected by independent judges:

Elizabeth Hawley-Lingham – Director, East Midlands Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN EM)
Dayle Flude – LSA Honorary Member
Jamie Scott – Senior Lecturer in Art, De Montfort University

Portrait photo by Lisa Hill

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!