Suffrage Exhibition at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre

Suffrage is a new exhibition at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre focusing on textile art and political expression to mark the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage. I am one of the exhibiting makers alongside Morwenna Catt, Eleanor Edwardes, Caren Garfen, Rozanne Hawklsey and Sue Shields. The exhibition opens Saturday 6th October 2018.

My piece, Prison Apron,  explores the prison sentences of suffragettes, expressed through stitch. Over the last year I have been reading accounts of suffragettes in prison for my project Criminal Quilts and considering the bravery of those women who knew their actions would inevitably lead to prison sentences. Over 1000 people, mostly women, were imprisoned for criminal activity related to suffrage campaigning in the early 20th century. You can also find out more about the exhibition in the online catalogue. I will be at the exhibition preview on Saturday 6th October in conversation with the curator and other artists. I am also running a professional development day for makers at the gallery on 20th October. The exhibition continues until 17th November 2018. 

Recently, I have become very interested in using data as a way of telling a story. For me, using data allows me to step back from the personal story and away from the more obvious interpretations to find a new route into the narrative I am exploring. I have chosen to work with prison sentence data to create this piece, looking at sentence records of women including the famous Pankhursts, Alice Hawkins from my home town of Leicester and Welsh women including Lady Rhondda and lesser-known Kate Evans. 

The apron is an antique piece, selected for its similarity to those seen in prison photographs and descriptions I have read in documents. Prison clothing was marked with painted-on arrows to show the items belonged to the government. Rather than paint on these arrows, I have hand stitched them on using threads in shades of grey. 

I have taken a series of prison sentences imposed upon suffragettes, ranging from 7 days to 9 months as the starting point for this work and created arrows using one stitch per day in prison. Each sentence is a different thread. One of the arrows is made up of 270 stitches of a single 9 month prison sentence, while the others are made up of numerous shorter sentences served by different women. 

The stitch is hand embroidered chain stitch, a symbolic choice, where each single stitch forms a connected chain which completes the whole. There are a total of almost 1000 individual stitches in this piece,  representing the 1000 individuals sent to prison. Hand stitching, and the slow, careful work it involves, reflects the time spent in prison doing repetitive labour including needlework. 

 

 

Llantarnam Grange Art Centre

St David’s Road
Cwmbran
Torfaen  NP44 1PD
Tel: 01633 483321
Email: info@lgac.org.uk

Opening Times

Monday to Friday 9.30am – 5pm
(Closed Bank Holiday Mondays)
Saturday 9.30am – 4pm
Admission is free

Criminal Herstories

Criminal Herstories is a local history display for Staffordshire libraries related to Criminal Quilts. The display contains a large book based on a prison photo album, of images and information about the prison photo albums and our research about the women appearing in them. It also includes a patchwork made by project volunteers and a new piece of work by me.

There will be a small launch event at Stafford Library on Thursday 31st May 2018 5-7pm. All welcome. The display is then at Stafford Library until 28th June and is free to access during normal open hours.

I will be giving a FREE talk at Stafford Library Tuesday 5th June 1- 2pm and another at Stone Library (where the display moves to in July) Tuesday 17th July, 2-4pm.

Talks and other event details here.

Display tour dates

Stafford Library 1st-28th June 2018

Stone Library 29th June – 3rd August 2018

Burton-on-Trent Library 14th August – 25th October

Wombourne Library 6th Nov 2018 – 10th Jan 2019

 

 

 

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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.

 

New Work :: New York

I’m slightly astonished at the amount of new work I am churning out at the moment. I usually work on one project at a time, but suddenly, this autumn, there are lots of exhibition deadlines which is pressured but wonderful. My latest completed work is for a Design Factory showcase in New York at the Textile Art Center.

The show opens on 10th October so please do go along if you are in the area. I won’t be there, I’ll be a the Knitting & Stitching Show in London that week. I’ll be spending the next week or so making new pieces for The Knitting & Stitching Show and for The Salon exhibition in October run by EC Arts, and then I have another exhibition at the end of the year at Llantarnam Grange.

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