Red herrings – I often consider the idea of that perky little fish laying a false trail, a cul-de-sac pursuit, a merry dance through the seas of opportunity. How does one know which herring will become the red one? As a designer it seems that every chance, each idea and inkling needs exploring – who knows where it might lead?
It was a visit to Great Yarmouth’s Time and Tide Museum that set me thinking again about this question: that town had been a thriving centre of the herring industry until the 50s and it seems the strong smell of those particular rosy brine-soaked oak-smoked fish diverted attention from the reality of their elderly nature – explaining the notion of a misleading distraction. Incidentally, only the very best of those silver darlings, packed beautifully head-to-tail in wooden boxes, were acceptable to the Italian importers – the captions told us that in that country only the best tasting and the most beautiful to look at would do! The brick-clay tiles on the face of the curing-works building are an entertaining extra.
The Museum also offered us another view of the word cure. ‘Frayed’, an intense and fascinating exhibition upstairs, showed us works stitched and sewn. Many were an expression of distress and anguish and demonstrated how the act of stitching had processed, alleviated, even cured in some cases, these intense feelings – illness, anger, profound sorrow, loss and chaos. As though these troubles by exiting the mind and travelling through fingers were being transformed externally into things of usefulness and beauty.
It was a most unusual and compelling experience to be with these textiles. The centrepiece of the show was work by Lorina Bulwer, an inmate of the Female Lunatic Ward of Great Yarmouth Workhouse, who expressed her urgent fury in close-stitched text, all in capital letters and underlined, worked in many colours on different patched and quilted grounds. She also stitched little padded figures on some of the cloth missives she sent. A determination to make her feelings known spurred her on, and one can only suppose that the energy of her ‘madness’ was successfully focussed in this detailed obsession.
Other works – a meticulous text stitched in fine red thread by a sad confused girl (who went on to lead a long and useful life), a grand and handsome wool landscape picture of Dunkirk worked by a damaged soldier – spoke directly to me.
Showing the therapeutic quality of working with cloth, transforming and remaking the fabric with the yarns of life, modestly tackling inner journeys with such grace and skill, bravely sharing private pain through beautiful work – this was an exhibition of rare human generosity. I hope the exhibition will have other showings – it seems a perfect candidate for the Wellcome Institute….
Playing solo she is mesmerising; I also loved to see the dashing dialogue between the players in the duets and trio. A real birthday treat for me – and you can enjoy her playing here:
I myself had fun and dialogue at the FTM Teachers Evening, where I took the chance to share some thoughts on the implications of receiving a commission, and how I had tackled some recent ones with greater and lesser success. The exhibition itself is nicely covered in Erica Sharpe’s blog and by Scrapiana, who also covers my talk – thank you both! The next show coming to the Museum is devoted to the traditional Mexican shawl – the rebozo – and promises to be an absolutely fascinating exploration of its cultural and social meaning, full of colour, glamour, verve and pathos.
In between all this one of those flash-flood colds kept me at home – even, unusually, in bed one day – and with limited energy. So collating the packs of cards, hand-writing the labels and tying the raffia was a good little job to do when I surfaced, and kept me from feeling sorry for myself. In time for our shop and luckily just in time for another order from the lovely FTM Shop too!