Textiles Inspired by Women Photographed in Stafford Prison 1877-1916.
Friday 24th July 2020 4-5.30pm BST
In this talk, I will look at the background to this project which I started in 2012, creating textiles about the stories of Victorian and Edwardian women prisoners. As well as showing the textile artworks from the touring exhibition, I will also share some of the historical research which the volunteer team and I put together, including case studies of several women and my own research into prison clothing visible in the photographs.
This talk will be live on Zoom with a recording available afterwards. You will be able to ask questions. Book here.
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.
Criminal Quilts exhibition returns to Staffordshire from 25th May – 7th July at The Brampton Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle-under-Lyme. The museum is free entry and is open Monday to Saturday – 10am to 5.30pm, Sunday – 2pm to 5.30pm, Bank Holidays 2pm – 5.30pm.
I will be giving a talk and tour at the museum on Wednesday 3rd July at 2pm.
This exhibition also includes the original criminal Quilts miniature pieces made for Staffordshire Arts and Museums service plus the new Prison Apron shown below.
The first five pieces of the collaborative Criminal Quilt have arrived! Thank you contributors. There are another 95 to come – hopefully. If you have one to make, please make sure it is back with me (or to Staffordshire Record Office) by 9th July. Full return details in this document collaborative quilt return form
The books will be printed at the end of July and posted out from mid-August. You can also collect at Festival of Quilts.
As well as the discount, your pre-order will help me pay for the massive printing costs for this book. I really appreciate you pre-ordering and will include your name (or another as preferred) in the back of the book. Please include your preferred name in the order.
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.
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.
My first series of Criminal Quilts is now on display at Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford. These pieces were inspired by photographs from the Staffordshire Archives of women criminals (below), commissioned by Shire Hall Gallery and later purchased for the museum collection and display outside the historic courtroom.
I’m delighted to announce that Shire Hall Gallery, part of Staffordshire Museums Service, are buying my whole collection of Criminal Quilts. The six textile pieces will become part of the museum service collection and will be displayed in the historic court room at Shire Hall.
As an ex-museum person, having my work preserved forever in a museum collection makes me ridiculously happy!
The pieces are on show now until 10th March and then they will re-appear sometime later in the year after being framed, in the court room.
Photographs used in the work are courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office.