Narrative Cloth exhibition 21 September to 27 September

From Monday 21 September to Sunday 27 September we will be holding an exhibition of new contemporary artworks by three artists from the Department of Fine Art, University of Chichester, Rachel Johnston, Victoria Brown and Shirley Chubb.

The artworks have been inspired by the Museum’s Historic Clothing Project as well as a range of documentary sources used by the Museum’s social historian, Danae Tankard, to investigate 17th century provincial clothing.  The artists have each responded to the idea of narrative in these documentary sources – in other words, the stories the documents reveal about clothes and their wearers.

Rachel Johnston, 'Gloves', 2015

Rachel Johnston, ‘Gloves’, 2015

In making these gloves Rachel Johnston was inspired by a case heard before the court of Quarter Sessions in Lewes (East Sussex) in February 1651.  Elizabeth Coulstocke of Ditchling was accused of stealing one and three quarter pounds of wool from weaver, John Copper.  In her response to the accusation Coulstocke told the court that,

‘about 2 years since she bought 5lb of wool of goodwife Earle, 2 1/2lb of Thomas Styan & 3lb she had of her own, all of which she spun herself into woollen yarn & about 12 months since she dyed about 1 1/2lb of the said wool (before it was spun) of a green & tawny colour & that she did … since put the said 1 1/2lb of mingled yarn & also 10lb of white yarn to John English to weave into linsey-woolsey, the dyed yarn to be made up in one end of the piece & that she intended to make her a waistcoat of that piece & further says that she dyed both the colours in one way & that she bought the material where with she dyed it of the wife of John Buckall of Ditchling‘ (East Sussex Record Office, QR/E91).

Rachel was curious about the accusation & the story of the thief. In this story, as in other court records, specific weights & measures were an essential starting point in determining the sequence of events & guilt of the individual on trial, highlighting the high value placed on cloth & clothing.  Rachel began to wonder about Elizabeth – what lay behind the facts & figures?  Did the alleged theft weigh heavily on her conscience?  Was she struggling to make a living?  Was she blithely dismissive of the accusation?  A new set of narratives is suggested with a range of personal & social consequences.

In considering the kinds of human experience that might connect past & present, Rachel began with the process of making.  She span one & three quarter pounds of wool using a drop spindle, reflecting upon the intense labour & time required in the creation of cloth.  The labour & tactile immediacy of spinning brings a focus to the hands.  From this came the making of a series of textile gloves, some felt & some woven, each pair or set weighing one and three quarter pounds, alluding to the case of Elizabeth Coulstocke.  The gloves have been worn & as they are worn they have become shaped, assuming an identity that connects wearer & place or wearers with each other, suggesting new narratives.

Rachel Johnston, 'Gloves', 2015

Rachel Johnston, ‘Gloves’, 2015

The Narrative Cloth exhibition will be open from 11am to 5pm from Monday 21 September to Saturday 26 September & from 11am to 6pm on Sunday 27 September.  Entry is included in the regular Museum admission price.

On Sunday 27 September we are also holding our Historic Clothing Day, a day of talks on aspects of clothing history from c1500 to c1900.  Click on the link to find out more.


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