Criminal Quilts exhibition is now open at the University of Wolverhampton. I will be giving a free talk and tour of the exhibition on Weds 21st November at 5pm.
The exhibition continues until 18th January 2019. Please check opening hours and Christmas / weekend closure dates here.
I am also working on a symposium for artists, archives and academics to explore the crossing points between heritage collections and contemporary craft practice. This will take place on Friday 18th January at University of Wolverhampton and will be free to attend. We are also looking for presentations and activities to form part of the day, please get in touch if you would like to talk about this. There is more information below – bookings will open soon.
Curious Things Symposium
For artists, museums, archives, academics, creative practitioners, makers, curators and others with an interest in how curiosity and things can create amazing projects and research.
Curious Things Symposium aims to celebrate and explore the potential of cross-sector collaborations between artists, archives and academics. This event has grown from Ruth Singer’s Criminal Quilts project in which she has brought together archive research, volunteering, contemporary textile practice and academic partnerships to explore the stories of women photographed in Stafford Prison 1877-1916. A tour of the Criminal Quilts exhibition will be part of the programme for the day.
The day includes presentations from artists, academics, students, museums and archives about projects bringing two or more disciplines together, discussion panels and group sessions to stimulate potential new collaborations and hands-on activities to create conversions and creativity.
Artists are welcome to bring along display materials and work related to their projects and archives / museums to bring handling collections or other resources. Project films will also be shown and ample opportunity for networking and sharing of ideas over tea.
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!)
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.
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.
You are invited to join me at Staffordshire Record Office for the launch of a new phase of my project Criminal Quilts on Friday 8th September. Find out more, see artwork from 2012-2015 and explore the original archive photos.