Some thoughts on historic Pin Cushion Hearts

Victorian pin heart cushionsI’ve recently returned from a Pin Cushion Heart making course at Heartspace Studios in Bristol, after seeing some of these objects dating back to the Victorian era for the first time this year. Two of which were in Tate Britain’s exhibition on Folk Art, which I reviewed for Trebuchet Magazine.

I find pin cushion hearts both attractive with their heavily beaded patterning and slightly grotesque, mainly because they have often ‘weathered’ over time and become stained or dirty. Making one myself seemed a good way to understand the significance and possible roles of these double-edged objects, and so to appreciate them more.

Recreated solider's pin heartThe cushions are stuffed with either sawdust or sand, which, if not machine-made, involves quite a lot of force and patience. I added lavender to my sawdust, which could be smelt every time I pushed a pin into the cushion during the decorating stage. It takes a lot of sawdust to make the cushion firm and full, and because it compacts, it takes a lot more than you think you need. The sawdust is stuffed through a long slit down the centre front of the heart. When the heart is sufficiently sturdy and can withstand the pressure of pins (a floppy cushion will result in the pins falling out), it can be sewn up with diagonal stitches that crosshatch each other. This ends up looking like a harrowing scar down the heart’s middle. So although the hearts feel strong, there is a sense of fragility and even violence at their centre.  Continue reading

Through Our Hands: The 2nd magazine

Through Our Hands magazine issue 2Through Our Hands, an online platform for contemporary quilts, art and craft, has just published the second issue of their magazine with beautiful illustrations of artists’ work. The editorial team includes Annabel Rainbow, Laura Kemshall and Linda Kemshall.

My blog post about the arrival of their first magazine back in May will tell you more about the project’s background and contains a link to the first issue.

I have been invited to contribute a regular column and my latest article is about quilts in Tate Britain’s Folk Art exhibition on pages 51-56.

The link to the magazine is here.



British Folk Art at Tate Britain

This article is published in Trebuchet Magazine.

Bellamy Quilt, 1890-1, by Herbert Bellamy and Charlotte Alice Springall

Bellamy Quilt, 1890-1, by Herbert Bellamy and Charlotte Alice Springall

Gathering together the 200 items, including paintings, textiles and sculptures, for this British Folk Art exhibition took the curators to more galleries across the country than normal, Penelope Curtis admitted at the Press View. The staggering range of geographical locations adds to the spectacular diversity of artworks and objects on display, indicating the broad spectrum of art objects that make up ‘folk art’.

This genre is particularly undefined in Britain – indeed it is much more of a discipline in America – but instead of attempting to corner off definitions, the curators are keen for this show to be seen more as a “proposition” of folk art that is made up of objects that have histories in galleries. Thus, there are also particular viewing histories acknowledged by the exhibition; Curtis claimed that having the British Folk Art show on at the same time as the Kenneth Clark exhibition is appropriate because they both have a lot to do with taste. Notions of class and gender therefore echo throughout these two summer shows and introduce other important themes: that of surplus time and surplus materials, which together, point towards the making context as an ultimate concern.  Continue reading

Late Turner: Painting Set Free

This article is published in Trebuchet magazine. I wrote it after attending the Tate’s Press launch at the Athenaeum Club, London. 

‘Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus’ exhibited 1839. Oil paint on canvas support: 914 x 1219

‘Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus’ exhibited 1839. Oil paint on canvas support: 914 x 1219. Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Turner. An artist that has inspired or angered many art historians, critics, journalists and art lovers from his day to ours. An artist who prompts firm and possessive statements about his life and work. Opinions of his character, art and styles rage – and range – radically. It is, then, a big deal that Tate Britain has decided to present a major exhibition on Turner, a new Turner.

One of the aims of this exhibition will be to dismantle the myths that still perpetuate around Turner today. Thus, the exhibition is appropriately entitled Late Turner: Painting Set Free. In light of this, the joy of this artist is that he inspires so much intrigue and the possibility for his art to be re-thought and re-investigated. He will never get old.  Continue reading

Ruin Lust: Tate Britain

Published in Trebuchet Magazine

A short title for many art exhibitions these days and yet one that promises, or is suggestive of, so much. Notions of desire and aesthetic pleasure immediately come to mind, offering up an exploration into different types of desire in the themes and subjects of the work displayed. Perhaps less obviously, ‘Ruin Lust’ also directly references the book by Rose Macaulay called ‘Pleasure of Ruins’ from 1953, which looks at the nostalgic pleasures of monuments and ruins of civilisation across different periods and cultures.

Not having been to a Press View of an exhibition before, I was eager to see how the journalists would ‘make’ something out of ruins, how they physically go about constructing stories – and mapping histories – out the wreckage of a past presented in specific, and often political, contexts. This idea of creation out of destruction is, of course, one of the prominent themes of the exhibition itself. An important part of this aesthetic and potentially political idea is the notion that ruins can point towards futures, potentials, opportunities and constructions of the new, as well as to endings, such as the end of Empire (a particular trope for which ruins were used in the 18th and 19th centuries), failures and even degeneration. In this way, ‘Ruin Lust’ aims to include investigations of both obvious and more surprising ways in which ruins have been used from the 16th century onwards. It is both a serious and humorous project. This sense of duality is something the exhibition cultivates in terms of themes, artists and curatorial decisions of presentation.  Continue reading

Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain

I went to catch this exhibition before it finishes at the Tate Britain next week on a whim. It was a very windy, grey and drizzly afternoon, which definitely set the right scene and atmosphere in which to view Lowry’s paintings.

The exhibition did bring to light Lowry’s skills as a brilliant draughtsman. Seeing his pencil drawings, which were made with such a variety of marks and strokes, was one of the highlights and the exhibition could have done with more sketches.

Less positively, another theme I noticed was the alarming use of bright colours in many of the paintings, which I don’t think always comes out in the reproductions. Sometimes these blocks of bright colour felt gaudy and imposing, especially the red hues. Though in the second to last room of the exhibition the painting titled, The Empty House, used a slighter subtler red which somehow had more depth to it. This painting remains in my mind because it did not appear to be a typical Lowry – there was too much poetry in it, too much mystery and suggestiveness and of a story untold in comparison to his scenes of industrial life where the same stories are endlessly battered out. We know the stories and we know how Lowry will depict them – the tales of grief somehow become too safe, so in contrast The Empty House felt like a brave new beginning, though sadly was one of a kind.  Continue reading