These are a few of the artist statements from the edge @ Verdant Works exhibition, providing an extra insight into the inspiration and processes behind the work.
Shiftin, piecin, spinnin
Shiftin, piecin, spinnin
Oh dear me I wish the day wis done,
Rinnin up an doun the pass is nae fun;
Shiftin, piecin, spinnin – warp, weft and twine,
Tae feed an claith ma bairnies affen ten and nine.
Excerpt: The Jute Mill Song : Mary Brooksbank
Mary Brooksbank was a jute mill worker in Dundee at the beginning of the 20th century. Before she was 14 she had started work as a shifter of bobbins, working 12 hour shifts from 6am to 6pm, for 7/6 per week. Her experiences, the long hours and dangerous working conditions, gave her a lifelong drive to improve working conditions in the industry. It also influenced her poetry and songwriting for which she became well known. Her ‘Jute Mill Song’ describes the plight of the women working in the industry at this time.
Memories of Dundee
Jute, with its strength and distinctive texture, makes a sympathetic base for working on, complimenting colour and stitch.
In my piece there are elements of my memories of Dundee where I lived as a student when the city was changing greatly.
I have shown solid mill buildings slowly emptying as painted flat shapes of jute appliqued by machine, the chimney towering into the sky.
By contracts, the Hawkhill and other tenements were still full of people. The windows still have some curtains but are more precarious and ghostly, like their occupants.
The Silvery Tay, gateway to the world, has beautiful reflections on a winter’s evening, but fabric has been wired and burned away so that white horses appear in stormy abundance.
And always there is the cry of seagulls.
In your Dreams
There is a lot to think about when visiting Verdant Works, but my thoughts stayed on the image of the workers standing around the mill. It’s a black and white image, massively enlarged and drawing you into the drabness and poverty of their lives. But, looking again, I saw friendship and smiles. What was it that gave those women their spirit and strength of character?
So I invented two young girls taken from that photograph called Elsie and Vi who were, I decided, enormous fans of going to the ‘Pictures’ on a Saturday evening – seeing their fantasies and dreams played out on the silver screen; especially in their favourite serials with heroines, wearing chiffons and lace, being rescued by handsome rich young men. Perfect escapism. And Elsie has even managed to perfect a Clara Bow kiss curl.
A perfect teenage fantasy that makes the reality of their lives a wee bit easier to live in.
After visiting Verdant Works I was struck by the many circular shapes on display such as cogs, wheels, barrels & bobbins. Also, the distressed, painted walls and old metalwork in some areas inspired this piece.
I wanted to include some jute fabric I had dyed as well as rusting metal objects I found while out walking to give a sense of how time degrades structures and materials.
Betty Fraser Myerscough
Scraps of the Past
The wall-hanging ‘Scraps of the Past’ was inspired by the history of the Verdant Works and seeing images of the Works, workers and machinery from its production period.
The Hanging is a build up of layers starting with a one off screen print on calico sections which were then dyed in different colours and pieced together.
It was the base on which I built my scraps which I made from my drawings and interpreted in machine embroidery of the period – the women who worked the machines and some of the looms.
Also included is my collage of the past samples I had made myself in earlier years to demonstrate to students the decorative possibilities of jute.
Bags for Life
It’s been fun to rediscover Jute, a fabric I used extensively when I was studying textiles and fashion, because I loved the texture and the price. When researching the history of Verdant Works, and the uses for this omnipresent, utilitarian fabric I was struck by how little things have changed. Whilst Lino may no longer be popular, it continues to be used as a backing for carpets, and as sacks, bags and containers very much as it was in Verdant Works’ heyday.
I was also struck by the fact that armies, soldiers and civilians alike continue to use jute sandbags as a form of protection, as they have been doing since at least the late 18th century, and, as I have been producing work on the subject of conflict, war and loss since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I thought I would reproduce some ‘sandbags’ of my own. I spent some time working out how I might recreate the imagery of sandbags or cloth being hit by bullets, firstly with drawings using oil pastels, pencil and pen and then by stitching samples using hand and machine stitch. To give an illusion of weight I stiffened the damp jute with gesso and then stitched into it. Finally I stitched the embroidered fabric into bags. For the record sandbags are usually 14×26” mine are a little shorter.