This has been the month for exhibitions. I know this blog is very late but much has been happening as you’ll see in next month’s blog. In the meantime….
I have delivered my touring exhibition, Pattern – A Universal Phenomenon to Childers Art Space. It will be opened on the 11th July and will run till 3rd September. This will be the last opportunity to view this exhibition. Its tour of 4 years is finally coming to an end. CHARTS is an interesting space with a glass wall commemorating the fire in the Backpacker’s several years ago where many lost their lives. That in itself is an interesting memorial to see. I will look forward to seeing how it sits in the space at the opening. Check out CHARTS at http://www.bundabergregionalgalleries.com.au
Also on right now is Stitched Up, an exhibition on at The Lock Up in Newcastle. It’s a group show which includes 24 National and international fibre artists as well as some local input. I was honoured to be asked to participate.
A section of the gallery space with my work on the left.
It has been a fascinating project and, for this blog, I thought that I would share my thought processes on producing this work.
The exhibition is a collaboration with The Lock Up (www.thelockup.org.au) and Timeless Textiles (www.timelesstextiles.com.au). It marks the 150th anniversary of the Industrial School in Newcastle being established. (1867-1871)
In the four years the institution operated, 193 girls from two and a half to 18 years of age were admitted. They were taken from their families, if they had families, and incarcerated as a consequence of the Act for the Relief of Destitute Children, which targeted youngsters who had committed crimes, were destitute, neglected, delinquent, uncontrollable or living in the care of thieves and prostitutes. The Industrial School sought to educate them in literacy while also teaching them sewing and needlework, skills that would increase their chances of employment as domestic servants.(Timeless Textiles)
The conditions in the school were needless to say pretty severe and very much a reflection of that sort of institution of that era. The school became notorious because of the conditions and rioting.
As artists we were provided with the background information of the school and the case studies of some of the inmates. This research was done by Jane Ison. (nis.wikidot.com)
We were asked to select a girl and respond to the information to celebrate her life.
When I was reading through the girls’ histories I was struck by many similarities. Fate or Destiny celebrate the lives of Margaret Poole and Rachel Willis. The following is the information that I worked with based on the research by Jane Ison. Both are very much a reflection of life at the time of the Gold Rush and for a certain demographic of society. I found their backgrounds fascinating. Maybe you will too.
Father- Thomas aka William Willis (b 1810). Mother – Eliza aka Elizabeth, alias Mary Kennedy (b 1828). They married in 1844 and had 10 children: 5 boys and 5 girls. Rachel aka Margaret was the youngest, born 1860.
Thomas either died or had abandoned the family sometime prior to 1868. Her mother resorted to keeping a brothel. It is thought many of the siblings were fostered out.
Rachel came before the bench on 24 February 1868 after being taken from a brothel and was released back into the care of her mother as “the bench was not satisfied that the evidence as to the character of the mother” justified removing her. On 2nd July Rachel again came before the bench. By this time her mother and eldest sister were in jail for “keeping a disorderly house”. She was being cared for by a person named Dunn who had reported that they were unable to keep her but as she was taken from the house, the bench was unable to act. Two days later she was found entirely destitute on the streets. She was aged 8.
She was a resident of Newcastle between 1868 and 1871 when she was apprenticed to an older married sister. In 1878, aged 18, she married Mackie Wilson (1854-1942). They had two daughters and two sons with 1 son dying in infancy. She died in 1893 aged 33. Cause of death is unknown.
Margaret Louisa Poole /Pool
Father, Robert Poole (1812- 1872) and Mother, Mary Leonard (b. 1815) were married, probably bigamously, in 1852 in England. Robert had been married once before with 3 children. He abandoned his first family. Mary was a convict and had been married twice before and was widowed both times. She returned to England with her second husband after being pardoned leaving 2 of 3 surviving children behind and fostered.
Robert and Mary arrived in Melbourne as unassisted migrants in 1852. Three girls were born in Australia. Margaret was the middle child, born in 1855.
Her mother died in 1860. She was aged 5. The sisters were separated one apprenticed and one fostered to a step sister. Margaret was living with an associate of her father. Betsy Harvey is listed as a step mother.
Margaret was 12 when she came before the court in rags on 31st August 1867. She was” much neglected and half starved”. Her parents were described as “very dissipated characters” and Margaret was charged under the Act with living with two common prostitutes.
She was a resident of Newcastle between 1867 and 1870 when she was apprenticed to magistrate at Scone. In 1872, the family’s circumstances changed and she was re apprenticed.
On 26 January 1875, aged 20, Margaret married William Ison (1852-1936). They had 10 children with 7 surviving infancy- 5 of 6 sons and 2 of 4 daughters. Margaret died on 2 January 1887 in childbirth aged 32.
So how was I going to take this information and use it?
I decided that whatever I did, it needed to tell their story. The cloth that I would weave was to be a story cloth with words embedded into the actual story. It needed to be able to be read. The cloth also needed to represent age as this story did happen 150 years or so ago. It needed to include stitch as that was the skill they were taught; let alone the title of the exhibition. Ideally it should also reflect on all the girls who passed though that institution.
We were also sent a swatch of fabrics similar to what research had showed that they might use. Of course I wasn’t about to use a commercial fabric when I could make my own. But I did have some natural cotton that would weave fabric similar to calico. I had a starting point. I needed a second yarn that would not dye as I wanted to have some definition to imagery post dyeing.
I knew the finished dimensions as we were given those and that there would be two pieces. So I knew the size of each piece. I knew the yarn and therefore the number of warp and weft threads that I would be using. That’s simple maths. So then I knew that the “words” that I would use needed to fit into this. I needed something of around 210 letters and spaces that would use about 2200 weft rows. So I need to achieve a somewhat shorter version of their lives that would be used to create a weave draft.
In addition I wanted to weave in “stitching”. Some of this would be left in while some would also be used for woven shibori. This could then reference the fact that what happened in their lives created their life “pattern” in much the same way as aged lines on a face and body.
The following shows the fabric being woven. The story can be read on the diagonal in either direction. Note also the heavy cotton supplementary weft that will be used for woven shibori and that will create the dye pattern. (It’s easier to read the words on the fabric underneath.)
The fabric was then dyed. I have used natural dyes of various forms and my choice was influenced by “age”. The resulting shades of brown are similar to the notion of grubby aged cloth: the cloth from the streets before they went to the home as well as stained cloth found from times past.
The stitching threads were removed from the “figures” and some left in to define their edge. It also makes the fabric look more “aged”.
Close up of fabric showing dye pattern, stitching and woven words.
Artist Statement: Fate or Destiny
These shadowy humanoid silhouettes represent two girls who were inmates.
Was it predetermined by fate and their backgrounds that these girls would end up in The School. How much of what the choices they made with their lives resulted in what they became?
When I read the inmates’ stories I was struck by how many had similar stories. I have chosen two girls and have woven story cloths. Their stories are impregnated into the actual cloth. It can be read. The process of uncovering their stories equates with your search to read them.
Here’s the synopsis of their lives which can be read diagonally in the cloths.
Rachel Willis. Father- Thomas. Mother- Eliza. Father left or died. Mother jailed as prostitute. Rachel age 8 homeless. The school. Apprenticed 12. Married 4 children. Died 33.
Margaret Poole. Father – Robert. Mother – Mary. Middle child of 3. Mother dies. At 12 charged- Living with prostitutes- associates of father. The school. Apprenticed at 15. Married-10 children. Died 32.
The full research into their lives provides a more in-depth insight into their life stories.
These aged cloth represents life of a different era with different social pressures. Both of these girls were charged because of their contact with prostitutes. It was only by being charged that they then escaped their living conditions and were sent to the school.
Stitch is a skill that they were taught. In much the same way that these stitches have created pattern and texture on these cloths, did these skills have any effect on the direction their lives took? One hopes that The School, in spite of its history, gave the girls a chance of a better life.
The following show some additional close up images.
It has come to my attention that I have made the Top 100 Weaving Blogs. To check out who is in the 100 go to: http://blog.feedspot.com/weaving blogs/. I am delighted to be listed.