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Exhibition Review - Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles
28th January 2020

This illuminating exhibition explores seven women's relationship with textiles and collecting. Each woman's collection is a fascinating story in itself.

The collections include items from the past 200 years and show us how important textiles are to human history.

The exhibition is laid out chronologically starting with three women who became adults in the Victorian period.

Edith Durham, Louisa Pesel and Olive Matthews all benefited from family wealth that allowed them to develop and pursue their passion when not caring for their parents.

Edith Durham (1863-1944) was an artist, anthropologist and writer known for her accounts of life in Albania in the early 20th century. Her collection of traditional hand woven textiles and embroidered items from the Balkans is given context by the information she recorded with each item.  

Edith Durham's Opanke (shoes) made from twine and hide, worn on her travels. Read more about Edith Durham HERE

Olive Matthews (1887-1979) was a Londoner who started collecting as a child, purchasing items from the Caledonian Road Market then later at auction. She amassed over 4,000 men's, women's and children's clothes from c.1700 to 1970's. Above is the back of a Sackback Gown 1776-1778. The bulk of her collection is now housed at the Chertsey Museum.

On show is a group of items Olive Matthews inherited from her great-great-grandmother Susanna Pearce. Included is this Garrick handkerchief from 1774 - The images printed are of David Garrick, the celebrated actor/manager of Drury Lane theatre and was purchased after a trip to the theatre. It is embroidered 'Susanna Pearce July the 9 1774'.

Louisa Pesel (1870-1944) studied design and embroidery at The Royal College of Art. Her ability and fascination with stitch techniques led to a life encouraging others to stitch for employment, therapy and pleasure. Her collecting was integral to her work; every lecture or group meeting included an opportunity to see and handle original samples. Her work leading the Cathedral Broderers at Winchester from 1931 inspired Tracy Chevalier's latest novel 'A Single Thread'. Read more about this HERE.

The exhibition then moves to two pivotal figures of twentieth century craft and design: Muriel Rose (1897-1986), a gallerist and the maker/designer Enid Marx (1902-1998).

The hangings and day bed above are classic examples of Enid Marx's work. She went on to design textiles for The London Underground.

The exhibition concludes with examples from the collections of contemporary textile art at The Whitworth in Manchester and Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford - commissioned and curated by Jennifer Harris and Nima Poovaya-Smith respectively.

Above is Guardian 2006 by Eduardo Portillo and Maria Eugenia Davila. Commissioned for Indigo: A blue to die for an exhibition curated by Jennifer Harris at the Whitworth in 2007

Above Conversation Pieces by Caroline Bartlett, directly commissioned by Jennifer Harris, 2003.

This exhibition shows the extraordinary artistic, social and cultural importance of textiles - well worth a visit.

The exhibition is free and runs until 19th April 2020. Visit the website HERE