Tuesday, October 21, 2014

first fall

I've just returned from a trip to Dunedin where I presented a paper about Pania Press in the Art+Book symposium organised by Peter Stupples at the Dunedin School of Art. It was a lovely occasion and I met some wonderful makers and designers, and listened to a range of fascinating presentations about the many aspects of book production and publication. Best of all, I saw that publishing (in its many guises) is alive and well in New Zealand. One of the highlights for me was a presentation by Lesley Kaiser on the pop-up books she has produced over the years. She is truly inspirational! If you are interested, you can see an animation of one of Lesley's pop-ups by clicking here.

I took the opportunity to discuss two new Pania Press publications, which were displayed in an exhibition of contemporary book art in the adjoining gallery space at the Dunedin School of Art, beautifully curated by Natalie Poland and Peter Stupples. The images above are installation shots of the Pania Press display.

Four quilted needle case books for Frances Kelly's short story 'First Fall 
Materials: vintage silk kimonos, cotton, wool, bias binding ties, and embroidered fabric labels

First Fall 

Auckland writer and academic Frances Kelly specialises in neo-Victorian literature and wrote her PhD on A.S Byatt’s novel Possession. Fran’s own creative writing is firmly located in this genre. Her interest in the theme of maternity and in the experiences of women in the 19th century feeds into a good deal of her writing. The fact that Fran is related by blood through her maternal line to notorious baby killer Minnie Dean, who was sentenced to death and hanged in 1895, is also tied to her interest in this historical period.

Fran’s story ‘First Fall’ is set in Dunedin in 1866 and tells the story of Sarah Gallagher, a young woman lately arrived from Edinburgh, who is employed to help single women gain suitable work. As the story develops, Sarah, a gifted seamstress, teaches needlework skills to a group of unmarried pregnant women (described as ‘First Falls’) in the care of Mary Magdalene House. The narrative hints that Sarah herself had a baby out of wedlock, which she gave away before departing for New Zealand.

The theme of the story, with its emphasis on needlework as a suitable female accomplishment, determined the design of the book as a quilted needle-case.

In the process of making the edition of 50 needle-case books, Fran told me about an exhibition she’d seen in London in 2010 at The Foundling Museum, formerly The London Foundling Hospital. 

The Threads of Feeling exhibition, curated by John Styles, displayed textile tokens drawn from the 5000 items in the Museum’s collection. The tokens (fabric swatches, small pieces of embroidery, ribbon cockades, wool hearts, pieces of lace and ribbon), were left by destitute mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital during the 18th century. 

Many of the pieces were cut in two and one half was given to the mother as a means of correctly identifying her child if she was ever in a position to be able to reclaim her baby. The online exhibition Threads of Feeling can be viewed here. Here are some images of a selection of foundling tokens in the exhibition catalogue:

Of course, very few mothers were ever reunited with their children. A great many of the babies died in infancy and it is very likely that the mothers, poor and malnourished, did not survive long either. The last image above represents a rare exception though. It is a patchwork needlecase, cut in two, which accompanied Foundling 16516, a boy named Charles, who was admitted to the institution's care in 1767. The catalogue notes that the child was reclaimed by his mother Sarah Bender on 10 June 1775, eight years later. 

Although the time period of Fran's story takes place a century later than the foundling token tradition, I liked the idea that Fran’s character Sarah Gallagher might have left such a token with her child, so I hosted a little sewing bee in my studio to make foundling tokens to go inside each copy of the book.

 Here's Fran with her gorgeous satin-lined wicker sewing box

 Libby Brickell [left], Fran Kelly and Kate Davis busily sewing tokens

The group of tokens we made

The idea is that each copy of 'First Fall' will have a unique textile token pinned to the inside cover, like these:

At the launch for 'First Fall' at my home in Auckland on 9 November people will be able to choose a token to go with their copy of the book.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

the raw materials

A new Pania Press project is brewing - two in fact, and I'm hugely looking forward to getting busy crafting again after a busy semester of teaching. I've been invited to present a paper on bijou publishing at the Art + Book Symposium, which is taking place in October as part of the Dunedin Festival of Art. You can click on the link above for details. 

I'll be talking about two new publications from Pania Press, the first of which is a poem by Michele Leggott called "matapouri". I've had the poem printed on unbleached cotton, and I'll be using the stash of vintage flags (above) that I found in the basement (aka the treasure trove) for decorative details.

The use of flags in the design is not purely decorative. You'll see that the first stanza of the poem makes reference to a figure on a flag hanging on an orange wall. The work being referred to is the flag poem "Macoute" by Leigh Davis, which Michele saw hanging in Davis's Matapouri home. You can see a selection of Davis's flag poems by clicking on the link.

I've started playing around with the design and I'll have more to show you soon.

It's mighty nice to be back! Have a lovely weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2014

felt abstractions

I'm slowly getting somewhere with my felt abstractions inspired by Sean Scully (see last post). The pieces are sewn together at the back so that the stitches aren't visible at the front. I've attached a narrow cord, not too long, so that it sits flat when worn. These first pieces will be trialled by my trusty prototype wearers - Therese and Celia to see how durable and comfortable they are.

Have a lovely Easter everyone!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

felt experiments

It was the first crisp autumn day yesterday after a long balmy summer. The chill in the air made me feel like making felt, so I spent the morning making the two striped pieces above. It's pretty physical work turning fleece into fabric, so my arms are feeling a bit sore today. 

I'm still experimenting with trying to make interesting and wearable jewellery from felt. Whenever I see felt jewellery in craft galleries it always smacks of the 70s, with raggedy edges and rainbow colours. What I'm after is something more geometric, abstract and precise - something like the work of Irish-born abstract painter Sean Scully, only in felt! 

 Yellow Seal, 1995
 Rock Me, 1986
 The Bather, 1983
 1.9.91, 1991
[Images from Sean Scully: A Retrospective (Thames & Hudson) 2007]

I played around making a neckpiece, threading together little shapes from my stash of felt off-cuts. It looks quite cool on my tailor's dummy, but the individual pieces twist around when you wear it, so I haven't quite aced it yet. 

Abstract brooches with inserts in contrasting colours might be a better way to go. More felt experiments to come...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

two guesses where I've been...

No doubt you'll recognise these familiar attractions along Napier's iconic Marine Parade. I've just returned from a weekend in Hawke's Bay, the place where I grew up. The weather was incredible, with the bluest sky and lovely dry heat, just as I remember it. 

This is an image of one of the many Art Deco buildings that are the major tourist attraction in Napier. It's certainly in need of refurbishment, and it isn't one of the snazzier examples of Art Deco architecture the city has to offer, but I have a sentimental attachment to this old building - in it's former life it was the Central Hotel owned by my Dad in the early 80s. 

The reason for my visit to Napier was to attend the opening of the Autumn season of exhibitions at the newly refurbished MTG, which reopened to the public last September. Two exhibitions were launched on Friday night: a survey show of Bronwynne Cornish's work called Mudlark and an exhibition of cleverly adapted op-shop furniture called the Transmogrifier Machine by furniture designer Katy Wallace. 

Both shows are brilliant - beautifully displayed and wonderfully refreshing, so you should definitely go along to see them if you are planning a trip to Napier.

I've been asked to write a review of Mudlark for the 150th issue of Art New Zealand, so I won't write a great deal about the exhibition here, except to say that I'm a huge fan of Bronwynne's work, so composing 1800 words about the show will be a privilege and a delight for me. 

I wanted to give you a teeny glimpse of the gorgeous publication that accompanies the exhibition. The book contains a series of engaging essays and photo-narratives by curators and private collectors that testify to the joy that Bronwynne's works bring to the lives of the people who own them. Her Oracles and figurines, temples and reliquaries have something magical about them, and it was wonderful to see so many of them in the exhibition, and then to see them in situ in people's homes in the photographs in the catalogue. Here are a few of the images from the book:

I'm a bit of a sucker for exhibition merchandise, so I couldn't resist buying a couple of thick cotton tote bags with drawings of Bronwynne's works screen printed on them. There are five designs in terracotta and blue. Stocks are limited, so get in fast if you want one!