Study Visit: Gawthorpe Collection and Significance Exhibition – 1st May 2017

In order to fully round out my research for Assignments four and five in particular, I travelled 300 miles to the Gawnthorpe collection near Manchester.

Why visit?

The National Trust property Gawthorpe Hall houses a constant yet ever-changing collection of historical textile pieces.  It also give home to several touring exhibitions every year.

Currently I am researching archives and artefacts.  This house is known for its wealth of tactile history.  At the moment there is also an exhibition on called ‘Significance’.  This has been put together by students and teachers at Manchester University.  They have chosen to be inspired by the collection and use certain pieces to influence their development of contemporary pieces.  We see these outcomes on show.

On reflection, this is exactly what I myself am doing within my own practice; looking at archives, history, artefacts and other artists work and using these resources to induce my own collection.  Thus I felt that this house with the exhibitions on was vital to visit.

Here I present my findings:

On the first floor, we have The Gawthorpe Textiles Collection.  The history which underpins this accumulation of tactile resources is quite interesting.  From a textile point of view, we meet Miss Rachel, who over her life course, devoted time to not just collecting pieces, but making education in embroidery possible for all and the ability to get “up close” to it.  This woman was one to admire, working in local communities, despite her status in a social context.  Her house was seen as a “craft house”, making it possible for all to learn.

This comment, as seen pasted on the wall, really conveys her sentiments:


I cannot write about every single exhibit; yet I will consider a few highlights:

I have discussed my “lost” scarf in some detail previously.  It is a Manilla shawl, thus when I observed a Chinese version at the exhibition, I was drawn to it, to observe the similarities to my own…

The colours of this one are very similar to the one I lost.  Could I draw contrasts from this?  Studying these shawls and their place in history would make for an interesting body of research.

I loved the work in progress patchwork, it really appealed to me more than the finished version; this had life and character, with the still showing cut out newspapers and tacking stitches.  I am sure some drawings from it would make for a great inspiration point:


Small notes like the one above annotated at the exhibition, helped to remind me after the exhibitions of the points I felt stood out.  Even quick sketches like the one above, created a mind memory.

Here I have scanned in a few other pages from the notebook I took around the exhibition:

Image (251)

Upstairs on the next floor was the ‘Significance’ exhibition.  This is where I was able to observe the contemporary textiles against the inspiration resources from the collection below.

I found the exhibition space, not entirely aesthetically pleasing; it was not set out like it may have been in a gallery setting.  However this made it appealing, it had the air of a study room, where you could sit, reflect and draw, rather than simply view and not touch.  Unlike other exhibitions, it was not watched over, thus I didn’t feel on show or conscious of being watched.  This allowed me to (carefully) lift a few of the pieces, to look at the backs.  I will explain one reason I did this, by the following example:


I have been studying Jane McKeating’s work, yet often her pieces are not explained as to the processes behind the outcome.  I wondered if her ‘digitally printed’ pieces, were over painted afterwards.  I also questioned if her stitching was hand embroidered on done of machine.  (That is in the case of the pieces seen at the exhibition, I cannot say for her work as a whole).  Being able to come into close proximity with her work, answered my questions:

The image to the far left shows the back of the work, clearly showing that it has not been overpainted after the process of digital printing, as it would have bled onto this side.

It is also possible to observed that the embroidery has been done by hand.  The stitches have been made with a thick thread, adding pattern and thickness to the piece.

Below:  My notes on her work, as written on site:image-252.jpg

Other highlights:

I mentioned that I myself was inspired by the patchwork samples, as work in progress pieces.  It turns out that a student at Manchester University had a similar thought.  Yet I found her contemporary outcome inspiring:

The piece she has produced, is reminiscent of a kaleidoscope.  Her digitally printed onto fabric pattern, was inspired by the patchwork, as seen to the left.  She has developed this further, making hexagonal Perspex pieces, which are stitched together and sit on top of the fabric.  I enjoy the use of modern materials, something that was not used in “Miss Rachel’s” time, yet brings new life and challenges our concept of material use.

Linking in with my research on narrative, one student was inspired by the Chinese fabric cuffs on show.  She created a simple narrative, inspired by them.  It reminds me of cave men, almost juvenile in concept:

The materials used are aged linen, backed with paper, machine stitched.  I love the tiny accents of colour, the white highlights on legs etc.  It tells a silent story, we imagine and are allowed to interpret our own findings and opinions.

Researching archives, I took a note of the presentation of the exhibition as a whole.  Glass vitrines were used, glass cases etc.  I took a few images to remind myself and inspire my own curation in the future:

I have taken note of how each cabinet looks aesthetically.  Not all are neat and tidy, but present a “collection”, which is tied together by a certain theme etc.  This visual presence really helped to perceive how the artist involved had come to their final conclusions.

A few final notes, as well as images:


DSC_0072 Left:  The Alice Kettle piece I discuss within my notes above.

I have collected all my imagery and notes from this exhibition and will keep on reflecting back on it, as I personally found it to be one of the more helpful exhibitions I have visited.  As you will appreciate, it was obviously ideal for this part in my course.



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