Opening of the Exhibition ‘A Remedy for Rents – Darning Samplers and Other Needlework from the Whitelands College Collection’ held at the CHG 19/01/2016 to 10/03/2016
Curated by Vivienne Richmond, head of Goldsmiths History Department and author of Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-century England (2013), A Remedy for Rents showcases a rare collection of exceptionally fine needlework by working-class women in the last quarter of the 19th century. As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles.
As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles. Yet such everyday purpose belies the creativity and skill displayed in their work and the exhibition takes its title from a quotation by John Ruskin, a patron of the College, who marvelled that ‘work of so utilitarian character’ could be so beautiful.
The centrepiece of the exhibits, all from the Whitelands College archive, is an album compiled by Kate Stanley, Head Governess from 1876-1902, containing 26 darning and 17 plain needlework samplers worked by students, the stitching on which is extraordinarily fine. In addition, a number of loose samplers are displayed together with a variety of small-scale practice garments, also of a high standard, made as an economical and time-saving way to learn techniques.
Whitelands College students went on to teach at schools and training colleges across the British Empire and so the ideologies, techniques and style of garments they learned at Whitelands entered the minds and homes of millions of poor and working-class girls. The exhibition, therefore, not only offers a rare opportunity to see needlework by non-elite Victorian women, but illuminates also the history of working-class dress, female education and gendered roles, experiences and expectations in 19th-century Britain and beyond. Further information on the history of Whitelands college can be found here.
A pdf with more information on the exhibition can be downloaded here.
A Remedy for Rents is available for viewing during the Goldsmiths Textile Collection & Constance Howard Gallery’s opening hours of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11.00-17.00. For more information visit Goldsmiths Textile Collection’s website or contact us.
Christine Risley was a key member of Constance Howard’s remarkable and innovative textiles department at Goldsmiths College, and an influential figure in the craft of textile art in her own right. It is with great honour that the Textile Collection is able to host Christine Risley: Works & Research and honour the memory of an integral member of staff in the development of textiles as a craft at Goldsmiths.
Curated in collaboration with former colleagues and personal friends of Christine. Using original artworks and materials from the Textile Collection, Christine Risley: Works and Research presents an exclusive look at the life, works and influences of the late textile artist.
Christine was introduced to textiles at an early age by her Mother and Grandmother, who taught her to sew and knit. After winning a scholarship to Prendergast School, Lewisham, she was expected to go to University. However, she instead decided to go to Art School and enrolled on the intermediate Exam in Art and Craft at Goldsmiths in 1944. Christine specialized in painting though found it uninspiring as the style taught at the time favoured photographic representation over personal interpretation of subject matter. It wasn’t until she saw an exhibition of fabric collages by Constance Howard’s education students that she re-connected with her early interest in textiles, immediately identifying with this way of working that allowed for freedom in choice of imagery, colours and design.
After completing her Art Teacher’s diploma at Goldsmiths in 1949, Christine taught at Central Saint Martins. During this time she continued to produce her own work, exhibiting and selling through the ‘Pictures for Schools’ scheme, the Society of Designer Craftsmen and various galleries in the UK and abroad. ‘A Bird in a Cage’ (1951) is an example of her work from this period, which was pictorial, whilst often fantastical. Christine also undertook Design work for a range of companies including Sandersons, House and Garden Magazine, Triplex Glass and Jaeger. She often favoured pen and ink drawing. Recurring motifs can be identified from her sketches and drawings, such as the bird, which appear in her Design work for Yardley and the Palladio wall paper, as well as in her fabric collages.
Drawn to the speed and accuracy of Machine Embroidery, Christine studied under Dorothy Benson at the Singer Work Room in 1952. She then went on to Bromley College to learn how to use the Cornelly and Irish Machines. Having worked part time at Goldsmiths since 1959, Christine accepted a full time position as head of Machine Embroidery under Constance Howard in 1967. She relished the opportunity to encourage individuality and creativity through tutorials and seminars, a teaching approach remarkably different from her own early experiences. From this time Christine specialized in Machine Embroidery, having published Machine Embroidery (1961) and Creative Embroidery (1969). She became heavily involved in the research for her third book Machine Embroidery: A Complete Guide (1973) having been awarded a grant to research Machine Embroidery in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
Christine enjoyed gathering together material and information, amassing a diverse collection of examples of machine embroidery, a selection of which are on display. The cabinets of objects and ephemera assembled from shelf displays in her house are also testament to her love of collecting. This tendency to gather, bring together and assemble is reflected in the fragmentary nature of her woks made in the 1980s, which came to characterize her style. She would combine influences from experiences and events captured through photography and drawing, as well as textiles she collected, and create scraps of Machine Embroidery which would later be pieced and stitched together. Much of this work was started in her sabbatical year from Goldsmiths in 1981. Around this time Christine began to experiment with abstract linear designs of Machine Embroidery, often working on clear plastic and layering or weaving together sections. This work is less known but an interesting insight into Christine’s continued commitment to pushing the possibilities provided by machine embroidery.
From starting out as a student at Goldsmiths, Christine Risley went on to leave a significant influence upon Goldsmiths and Textile Art more broadly, establishing the Machine Embroidery subject in the 1960s and later becoming the head of Textiles, before retiring in 1990.
Please join the gallery on Tuesday 8th December for a late private viewing of Christine Risley: Works and Research with Christmas drinks. Please contact the Textile Collection at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 020 7717 2210 or visit http://www.gold.ac.uk/calendar/?id=9313 for more information on Christine Risley: Works and Research. Opening times are Tuesday – Thursday, 11 – 5.00 pm.
Goldsmiths Textile Collection (part of Special Collections & Archives) houses an array of eye catching & intriguing fabric based objects. From embroideries to cultural significant fashion garments, many of these items have been collected over time with the intention of inspiring creative and academic imaginations from a variety of disciplines. As this blog post will attempt to explore, many of the objects housed within the Textile Collection have a rich cultural and social history that extends far beyond the first impression.
A problem that many academic researchers will no doubt be familiar with is attempting to analyse the authentic story at the heart of a matter. Many an academic have scratched their heads upon finding that deeper inspection of a subject sometimes ends up complicating the matter at hand rather than resolving it. This sort of quandary is an everyday occurrence during research, and the objects based in the Textile Collection are no less exempt from such issues around history and identity. Such is the case for the subject of this blog post, a highly colourful waxed cotton print from Cameroon. This particular object gets quite significant amount of attention here in the Textile Collection, thanks in no small part to an attractive and somewhat psychedelic colour scheme, with a fiery orange hue that evokes vivid sensations of warmer climates south of the equator. Amongst the blazing backdrop is a highly presidential looking figure with the text ‘Republique Unie Du Cameroon/United Republic of Cameroon’, ‘JCNU’ and ‘YCNU’ sitting below it. A small insignia of ‘CICAM’ along the borders of the cloth gives some indication as to who the manufacturers might have been, or perhaps the organisation who might have commissioned production of the cloth.
As far as actual historical detail goes, this is where things get a bit more puzzling for the enigmatic wax cloth. As is sometimes the case with objects donated to archives, we don’t actually have much knowledge of the object’s provenance beyond that. So visual information of the cloth is all we initially have to go on. Crucially, we didn’t know who the presidential figure might be, the year the cloth was made or what it was specifically commemorating. The amount of gaps in the cloth’s story leaves the exact intention somewhat ambiguous, so equal measures of luck, intuition and detective work would be needed in order to ascertain more. Luckily, there is a lot of information on the cloth that can be garnered with the naked eye, and so this was as good a place as any from which to proceed.
Firstly we could arguably identify the cloth as being from Cameroon, as it bears the commemorative text of United Republic of Cameroon – the functioning government for the nation since 1972. Researching the cloth’s manufacturer, CICAM (Cotonnière industrielle du Cameroun), reveals it to be Cameroon’s national textiles company. This confirms both the origin and stately significance of it as an historical object. The cloth is likely commemorative in nature, as it seems to be celebrating both a public figure and an institution from Cameroon. These particular details seemed like a worthwhile place from which to proceed an investigation.
An internet search of ‘Cameroon commemorative cloth’ reveals that cloth making is a popular activity across the sub-Saharan continent, and has a particularly strong following in Cameroon. According to Tommy Miles from tomathon.com, they are referred to interchangeably as Wax Prints, Pagnes or Batiks. As he explains:
I’m using the French term ‘Pagne‘ as sometimes they are called “Pagnes commeratifs”. Coming from Portuguese, pagne really describes the cut of cloth not the patterns or content. It has come to be one of several terms used to denote these brightly colored, intricately designed, and socially significant cotton fabrics produced and worldwide, and especially throughout tropical Africa. In West Africa, these tend to be “Fancy” (i.e. cheaper, one sided) mass produced “roller” prints on cotton. Also known as Wax prints (like the more expensive double sided Waxes, by companies like Vlisco), and occasionally as “Batiks” (which they are not), the names come from the production process. Batiks use hand painted wax to mask off areas from dye. Most roller prints use resins to achieve this effect, but retain the vein like “crinkles” characteristic of hand printed fabrics with wax fixer, a technique also known as starch resist or wax resist. Machine made, they feature repeating patterns rolled onto a long cotton cloth, usually 46 or 47 inches wide. The forms and design traditions are ubiquitous in West Africa. The slightly different “khanga” form of similar cotton fabrics is popular in East Africa and points south.
Tom’s description is useful in providing us with important information for our investigation. He provides detail into the elaborate creative processes that go into producing a commemorative cloth, as well as describing their cultural importance for establishing historical events.
Returning to the visual details of the cloth, it seemed necessary to examine other details so as to get further indications about whom the presidential figure previously described might be. The text of ‘JCNU’ and ‘YCNU’ seems to be politically significant to the design of the cloth. Searching through library catalogues, Churchill Ewumbue-Monono’s Youth and Nation-building in Cameroon (2009) holds some answers as to what these acronyms might represent. JCNU and YCNU interchangeably to refer to the youth wing of Cameroon’s National Union (CNU). The youth party was set up by the CNU’s first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo in 1966, so it’s possible he may be the figure depicted on the cloth.
However, the image isn’t a clear match for the one on the cloth so we couldn’t be positive. Furthermore, the cloth seems relatively modern and colourful in comparison to others from Ahidjo’s presidency. However, his successor Paul Biya, could also possibly be the figure in the wax cloth (albeit without the ubiquitous moustache). Biya took the presidency of Cameroon under somewhat controversial circumstances and remains in control to present day. Despite being involved in various scandals throughout his presidency, Biya has expressed a commitment to the JCNU/YCNU. In 1984 Biya began the roll out of a brand new youth policy for Cameroon. This included a New Deal agreement geared towards getting the youth of Cameroon into employment. It’s highly possible that the cloth was manufactured around this period to commemorate Biya’s new hopes for the youth of Cameroon.
Unfortunately, this is as far the investigation into the wax cloth has been able to get. We are unable to provide an exact photo match with the image on the wax cloth, making identification and provenance problematic once more. On the other hand, a high volume amount of information has been pieced together using some highly disparate sources. This information has led to the accumulation of knowledge about a moment in Cameroon’s national history. By getting us to explore further into this particular moment in time, the CICAM wax cloth is very successful in its function as a commemorative object. It demonstrates that the process of research can be a highly enlightening experience in lots of unexpected ways, and that objects of inquiry can be transformative in their effect on reseachers.
If anyone has any more precise information on the Cameroon Commemorative Cloth then we would be very excited to hear from you, so we can add more to the origin story of this unique object. Alternatively you wanted to view the wax cloth or any of our other wide variety of items in person, then contact the Textile Collection at email@example.com for more details. Opening times are Tuesday – Thursday, 11 – 5.00 pm.
Entries are welcome for the Christine Risley Award for outstanding work relating to textiles. This is a fantastic opportunity for final year undergraduate students of any department to gain recognition for their work with textiles. There is a £500 prize to be won. Submission specification is below, for more details, contact the Constance Howard library in Deptford Town Hall
The student must be enrolled in an undergraduate course at Goldsmiths. The student must be in his/her graduating year at the time of submission. The Award is open to a student of any discipline.
The work has to relate to an area of textiles. It may encompass any media and must be practice-based/creative work.
The jury will view the work at the final degree shows. If a student wishes work to be considered that will not be at a final degree show, please contact the curator at firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 pm on Monday 20th May 2013.
The winner will receive £500. The Gallery may wish to purchase the winning work, for which a separate sum of money will be paid.
The judges retain the right not to award a prize.
In exceptional circumstances the award may be given for post graduate work.