I currently describe myself as a Textile Artist, though I have a career history that includes industrial textile design and education. After redefining my work whilst successfully completing an MA in Textiles at WSA in 2011, I have been concentrating on making my own work and exhibiting with ‘Prism’ group of Textile Artists. I like to work with stiff, delicate, fabrics that are stitched, punched, etched and bonded with paper to subvert the surface. Metals and patination are a reoccurring theme, as is text either as a motif or a literary starting point. Recent, largely figurative work, has explored the use of freehand machine embroidery to mimic the marks made in my drawings.
The vulnerability of children featured in children’s literature has been a rich seam of inspiration for me, as a mother I’ve wondered at the questionable situations many of these characters have to conquer. With this in mind, I’d like to use the Freud museum in Hampstead as my starting point for this project, in particular the work of Anna Freud whose ground breaking work with children is still held in high esteem. Freud’s observed how the ego wards off displeasure or anxiety in children and how the transference of affection to the friends of bereaved children becomes a channel for healing, In Anna Freud’s work “About Losing and Being Lost” she explores ‘simultaneous urges to remain loyal to the dead and to turn towards new ties with the living’. This may perhaps reflect her own mourning process after her father’s death from cancer when she was newly established in this country after fleeing the Nazi occupation. The charcoal drawings by Kathe Kollwitz are particularly reminiscent of some of these darker themes (including death and grief) and could be an illustrative starting point to use in stitch.
This project is interesting to me as the notion of mending can be interpreted in so many ways, visible or hidden from view, patched up or renovated & modernised. I’d like to show the healing process of the children Anna helped (or others from literature dealing with similar loss) through a series of narrative pieces that use a variety of techniques, built up with layers of translucent materials; the emotional void or emerging consciousness represented as shadows or negative spaces within the pieces. I’m particularly interested in developing the work I’ve started using gum Arabic lithography and paper bonded to metal mesh, both of which will continue my experiments with surface patina giving the fabric an ethereal ghostly quality.
January 2013 update.
Further to my starting point I have become sidetracked by some of Anna Freud’s patients, namely Austrian, German and Czechoslovakian Jewish children children who made their home here after becoming passengers of the Kinder transport. I’ve spent a lot of time researching for this project over the past months, and it’s been a slow process finding documents that I can use for part of an installation and then seeking approval from individuals to use the chosen documents.
The upside of this is that I have discovered some very moving stories and encountered some extraordinary individuals. Much of the research has taken place in the archives of the Weiner Library in Russell Square and the Jewish Museum in Camden, with the help of Howard Faulkson and Elizabeth Selby respectively, who’s incredible knowledge of the individual life stories and their respective archival material has been essential to navigating my way through some thought provoking personal histories. I’d like to thank them for their forbearance and tact, especially at my lack of German! This combined with background reading of witness statements makes the experiences of the children associated with the Kinder-transport seem altogether timeless in their emotional journey.
I was therefor delighted to hear from a gentleman called Charles Leigh who arrived as a young boy in England from Berlin on the Kinder transport in May 1939 (ticket below). Pictured below (with an insert of the photo on his identity card) he now lives in Broadstairs, Kent with his wife Joyce and vividly recalls his experiences and the life he has made for himself here. He sent me some more documents, most poignant of all is a list of family members and friends who weren’t so fortunate and died in the hands of the Third Reich.
I am hoping to use the documents researched to make a facsimile of the contents of a kinder transport child’s suitcase, which for many of them came to represent their only link with the past and the start of an unwanted adventure, with all the desperate emotions that accompanied them, in many cases for the rest of their lives.
My AA2A residency at Solent university has given me access to a wide range of technical support, not least from Rosy Maguire who has helped me develop fabrics using argyrotype and cyanotype techniques and Lorraine purchase for her help with digitally printing my designs onto cloth. One cloth is an adapted map with the place names replaced by emotive adjectives (courtesy of Google translate) that the kinder transport child may be feeling, which will be used to line a small period suitcase to contain the contents made.
I’ve also started making a large scale freehand machine embroidery to be cut up and distributed over a negative print for the fragment piece (the tromp l’oiel effect meant to be redolent of the psyches ability to heal). I’m not sure how I will feel about cutting it up after spending hours stitching it, but time will tell!
Since starting this project I have revisited the Freud Museum (http://www.freud.org.uk) in North London to review the working relationship of Anna Freud and her father. Theirs was a close relationship, having fled Vienna from the Nazi occupation they worked together with controversially, Father analysing daughter. Anna nursed her father through a prolonged cancer treatment at home until his eventual death, with her grief of this event said to have inspired her own work with bereaved children. But I think that this is only half the story as many of the children she observed and treated at The Hampstead War Nursery were concentration camp survivors; there must of been a feeling of parallels to her own war experiences along with realising her own good fortune to have escaped (when other family members did not).
North London has long been home to an established Jewish community, I lived in the area for over a decade and have met survivors and the used to draw with a lady who arrived on the Kinder-transport scheme. It was therefore not unusual that Anna and her family should be living in this area and focusing her work on children. Anna never married or had any children herself, but always kept chow dogs and used to weave at a loom for relaxation (occupational therapy?). Her room in the Freud Museum (which was actually the Freud family home and work place for Sigmund) is also home to a large wooden loom, which has a certain resonance to this project.
The Freud Museum has a long association with contemporary artists who use the venue to show work in response to the family’s work and archive. Currently there is a video installation around the house called ‘Saying It’ by Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker and Renate Ferro. The work shows the conversations between analyst and a young woman who embodies many persona. This association with the arts may also reflect the treatment offered, there is a painting for instance by “the Wolf Man’ in the upper hall who was a patient of Freud’s.
Cyano type experience – L Earley 2012
I would like my work for this project to take many strands, experimental printmaking, stitched and installed. Currently I am trying to source letters and documents belonging to the children of the kinder transport to use in an installation for the final exhibition. My daughter’s antique Dolly, Gabriella, who has her own mending story may also feature.
Things are moving on apace with the project with fabrics printed and waiting for final assembly. The case installation has been lined with a map design based on Panza movements in WW2, with many of the place names changed for emotions associated with the refugee status. On closer inspection you can see that there are mistakes in the costal geography of the map. The fabric has been digitally printed on a silk and viscose blend by Southampton Solent University and used to line the refugee suitcase.
This took a couple of attempts, but I’m happy that it’s working now and that it has a sufficiently ‘aged’ appearance. The pocket at the top is going to house a ‘list’ of the life left behind by the children of the Kinder-transport. this is meant to substitute the itemised carnet of their belongings which was verified by the authorities before the cases were sealed for the journey. This action, to me, represented a compartmentalisation of the children’s lives, an officious verification of what could be taken and what must be left behind.
In the course of my research I read many letters and Red cross messages sent by the separated families that could have spoken about the desperate longing the families had for each other and their vulnerability. Instead, time and again, it was mundane messages telling the children to be good, help out around the house and work hard at school. The children replied with every day little messages that told little about the condition of their lives. For many families, the messaging stops when the Red Cross letters are retuned, without clarification and little hope of a reunion.
it was the poignance of these letters that prompted me to use them as a visual medium to make into the suitcase contents, a symbolic gesture of the children taking these emotional attachments with them, to be worn close to the heart.
One of the first of these has been made a little small, so I’m not quite sure whether I might make another wall piece out of this yet or include it in the case. All of the fabrics have been digitally printed, some of them contain images of Charles Leigh’s medal which he has donated to The Jewish Museum in London (go there if you get the chance, it’s an excellent Museum)
The 2d pieces are coming along a pace with “Watching” nearly embroidered and the digital print negative ready to go. I’m feeling quite brave about cutting it up to piece over the digital print right now, but might not by the middle of next week! I like the way this piece is shaping up. It’s meant to represent the melancholia of separation and isolation experienced by the children. The other wall pieces represent the children in recovery from the psychologically damaging experiences they have witnessed.
Bunny Girl is an image of a girl holding a bunny. The petting of animals has been shown to have stress relieving properties, but she isn’t out of the wood yet. In the doorway lurks a fox person, the rabbit’s predator symbolising the fact that she is still trapped by the trauma of familial separation, echoed by the encircling barbed wire (yet to be stitched). The object of this piece is to create an image that is beautiful but unsettling at the same time, to mirror the truncated childhood experienced by the children. I’m also waiting for a clear sunny day to try this image out in cyanotype to give it a moody blue vibe.
The final piece is being printed on monday and is a pheonix out of the ashes piece inspired by this Piranesi fantasy architecture form (below), seen recently at the John Soane Museum in London. I really like the way that the fantasy buildings are not quite there, almost like a notional gesture. The incompleteness of the image speaks to me of possibilities for the future, rather than something that is completely mapped out.
My piece is based on images of a bombed out Berlin, overprinted and stitched with children playing together in front of a prefab. This piece represents the children in recovery, mending each other through their newly forged friendships, which play such an important part of their new lives, to be lived out in new types of accommodation. This isn’t suggesting that they should forget about their previous lives and families, but that they had to find new beginnings and a way forward to live their lives.