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Mary on Tour

March 20, 2014 Artist Responses Comments Off on Mary on Tour

Those of you who have followed the development of my collaborative, creative response to the bygones spoon collection with weaver Ismini Samanidou, may be interested to know that the resulting piece has been exhibited at venues nationally and internationally.

Table Runner was exhibited in Utensil at the National Craft Gallery of Ireland, New Directions in Contemporary Craft at Mottisfont Abbey, National Trust and Pairings at Contemporary Applied Arts, London.

The collaboration was also featured in Samanidou’s solo show, Topography: recording place, mapping surface, touring from the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham to the Centre for Craft, Creativity and Design in North Carolina and the Weber Center, Utah, USA.

Table Runner (overview) – hand built ceramic and digitally woven cloth, 1500mm x 350mm

detail, three spoons, three voices

acknowledging value in the damage and wear of everyday use


the contemporary emerging from the historic

paying homage to the past, ceramic spoon placed within the woven shadow of it’s predecessor

Nice picture of a list

November 8, 2012 People and places, The Letters, Uncategorized Comments Off on Nice picture of a list

To go with all the words, one I found on Tuesday. A list of the people Mary wanted to be sent catalogues of her exhibition of Bygones at Heaton Hall in 1922. Note the addresses in Siam and New Zealand. I like to think of her writing this down, whilst at her club.

Handwritten list of people

the fossilised eye of a fish

In response to Hazel’s beautiful to do lists.

Lists are everywhere. I have found myself increasingly fascinated by the list, partly because of Mary’s rather peculiar inclusions on her lists (hence the title of this post) and because in order to keep myself on the straight and narrow in my brave new world of PhD-dom, I am constantly writing them. Now I see lists everywhere, it is a form that is universally used. There are different kinds of lists, each with its own narrative quality; the mundane and everyday – shopping list, packing list, ‘to do’ list; the exclusive/inclusive – A-list, guestlist, blacklist, hitlist; the structuring and creating of order – playlist, tracklist; the competitive – longlist, shortlist. And Hazel’s ‘to do’ lists just show that even the apparently ordinary can be precious. There is the roll call, from the school register to the list of names on a cenotaph. How can such a raw and bald form of words have such poignancy?

At the core of every museum in the world is a ‘superlist’ – the accessions register. Kept under lock and key down in the depths of the basement, it is the heart of the institution, holding within itself the museum’s past, present and future, not just in the items it describes, but in the descriptive language used for each new acquisition; in the changing conventions of date, name, title (who uses ‘Esq’ any more); in the handwriting, from the inked copperplate of the earliest pages to the more idiosyncratic black biro entries of more recent times. And it is never complete. More on this shortly.

People understand the concept of a list, it is deceptively transparent, even objective; the reduction of thought/information/knowledge to its barest bones. Guidelines for writing for the web often advocate the use of bullet points rather than paragraphs – easier to read and a more efficient way of transmitting information quickly. A comment from Tom; lists are a product of fear – fear of loss, fear of forgetting, fear of distraction and disorder, fear of incompletion. To list is to control the material you are listing, to set parameters around it and to put it in order. It is a very explicit statement of control, there’s nowhere to hide in a list. Another comment from Tom; this is why politicians don’t like them. It’s much easier to obfuscate and hide woolly language and empty promises in a conversational format of words. Back to the writing for the web guidelines.

And yet. If a list is made of explicitly constituent parts, there is a clear path to dismantling it. It’s like lego, just take it all apart and rebuild it into something else. And when you do that, your list says something rather different, which suggests it’s not such a transparent format after all. There is fun and subversion to be had from taking a list apart and rebuilding it differently – Tom Lehrer reworked the order of the Periodic Table to form his brilliant song The Elements, set to Gilbert and Sullivan. My son’s Year 5 primary school teacher used to mix up the alphabetical order of the class register from time to time, as he had noticed that the children often answered before their names had actually been called and he wanted to wake them up a bit. Disrupting a list is provocative. This relates to a thought I keep coming back to about value and meaning in the collection and my current pre-occupation with inscribed objects. What if I were to re-catalogue the collection according to all the names that have been written on it?  What kind of a collection would it be then? More like the cenotaph perhaps. The list could be read as the ingredients (ooh, there we go, that’s another one – the instructive list), setting up the reader to imagine the story in the spaces between the entries.

This came up in conversation with my Mum yesterday. She writes, but was rather sceptical of my new-found fascination. And yet, soon found herself telling me about the day she sat in a cafe and decided to write 500 words about the menu, without actually mentioning anything on the menu. She wrote the story of the list, hidden in between the sequenced elements, flipping the whole thing round so the story emerged as the list disappeared.

So, although the concept of the list suggests containment, control and completion, it actually has infinite possibility. I discovered the other day that there is a book by Umberto Eco, called The Infinity of Lists (haven’t got hold of it yet, but it’s on my Christmas list). Found myself thinking of the list more as a runaway train, accelerating and decelerating under its own momentum until it finally runs out of steam. The empty pages of the accessions register will go on forever, as long as the museum lives. There is something of this quality in Mary’s collection and the lists that go with it; a sense of uncontrolled proliferation. This I think has something to do with the sheer size of it – in marked contrast to the smallness of the individual things themselves; the simple heartbeat of repetition – page after page of ‘key, 19th century’, ‘key, 19th century’; and the unexpected juxtaposition of the supposedly ordinary and the bizarre – ‘the fossilised eye of a fish’.


Fragments and snippets

October 18, 2012 Developments, Have a rummage, The Collection, The Letters, Uncategorized Comments Off on Fragments and snippets

From now on, I intend to spend every Tuesday at Platt Hall, exploring different aspects of the collection. This is what I looked at this week.

Patterned cloth bag

Patterned cloth bag with patchwork pieces

Patchwork piece with handwritten paper template


Patchwork piece with transcribed text from template


Patchwork piece with transcribed text from paper template

I am fascinated by these patchwork pieces, by the snippets of letters and notes that are tucked away under the fabric. Am currently thinking about the relationship between the Mary Greg Collection of objects and, what is really the Mary Greg Collection of letters that sits alongside. Is it too sweeping to say that in museums and galleries, the objects are what counts and the archive material that documents their acquisition is secondary, often ignored?

But Mary’s letters give the collection a whole new dimension, lifting it from being bits of stuff in the museum, to something that is only here because someone once thought about it, discussed it, shaped and imagined it and valued it sufficiently to want to share it. And recorded her thinking through the letters. Mary’s voice, her motivation, reasoning, opinion and emotion, come through so strongly, because of the extraordinary correspondence she maintained with curators. It’s a hugely evocative reminder that stuff is only here because individual people once put it here.

These humble little patchwork pieces are somehow both object and text, hinting at other aspects of life (I do hope Humphrey made a quick recovery).  Random bits of writing that preserve moments of life otherwise lost (oh dear, in danger of getting a bit purple). It also hints at a time before email when people wrote and received letters, presumably accruing vast amounts of paper, not all of which needed to be kept, and was therefore put to other useful purposes. Many more thoughts on this, but have to go to a lecture now, so will think on.

Kirsty Round/Interactive Arts

May 17, 2011 Student Projects Comments Off on Kirsty Round/Interactive Arts

Detail of Kirsty's Mary Greg Quilt

When I introduced the students to the Mary Greg project, I left 3 file boxes full of copies the the letters between Mr Batho and Mary Greg in the Interactive Arts studio. I was amazed how many of the students ended up knowing more about Mary than I did through reading the letters. Kirsty also recorded her mom reading the letters, an idea which could work beautifully if played in the rooms at Platt Hall. Hazel
‘After hearing about the Mary Greg project and reading the letters between Mary and Mr Batho, I wanted to bring those letters and their friendship to life again. After an inspiring find of Mary’s own Patchworks, I decided to turn her letters into patchworks, creating a wall hanging and picking out words that I felt highlighted certain people, her kindness and character. As an added extra, and for a little fun, I also made some Mary Greg cushions, holding her ‘logo’ that I stumbled upon creating during experimentations. Alongside this I also created some recordings of the letters using my mums voice for Mary and my Aunties partner for Mr Batho.’
Kirsty Round

Table Runner 2

November 5, 2010 Artist Responses, The Letters Comments Off on Table Runner 2

This project has been my main focus recently as my collaboration with weaver Ismini Samanidou intensifies!  Recent developments include some further refinements to the clay palette based on the initial woven samples made by Ismini on the jacquard loom.  I particularly liked the section woven from digital images of some of the spoons in the collection and have been working the clay to try and capture these characteristics.

Bygones spoon, worn and distorted through endless stirring

Bygones spoon with the initials of an unknown family

Cloth samples being woven on the jacquard loom

Detail of Bygones spoon woven into cloth

Translating the woven cloth back into clay

Exploring overlays of stained clay

clay colour sample responding to woven cloth

We have also been playing with ways in which text from the archive letters may be brought in to the composition.  In one of the letters there is a handwritten inventory of spoons sent by Mary to the collection.  We have been playing around with somehow combining this alongside images of spoons from the collection into the cloth.

Digitally overlaying the spoon inventory over the spoon

spoon inventory on computer screen as part of the designing and weaving process

woven spoon inventory

It’s all looking very promising but there are still a number of refinements to be made.  We are still trying to achieve greater subtlety and richness.  The cloth samples to date are still a bit too graphic visually. We want to work on that and move toward a more abstract outcome, at least in parts.  Physically the cloth is a little too thin and mean so we want to explore further combinations of yarns to yield a thicker fabric with a richer texture.  We also want to warm up the colour palette a touch and perhaps introduce some creams, golds to reflect the colour palette of the range of metal spoons such as pewter and brass.  So still plenty to do but all very exciting!  Sharon

Studio Magazine

August 13, 2010 The Letters, Uncategorized Comments Off on Studio Magazine

I was having a flick through the letters and came across this:

“I am in receipt of a letter from Mr. C. G. Holme of the Studio who informs me that the Special Winter Number is to be devoted to ‘Children’s Toys of Yesterday’, and that in course of search for illustrations he wrote to you and you told him that part of your collection was given to Manchester and suggested that he should apply to me for the loan of some photographs made at the time of presentation”.  (from Mary to William Batho, 16th June 1932).

…and then after lots of faffing over quality of photographs…

“We have received from The Studio their very fine book on ‘Children’s Toys of Yesterday’… It is a wonderful production and my Committee are greatly interested in it. The reproductions are very fine, and your examples hold their own and should help to draw attention of the outside public to the collection at Heaton Hall”. (from William Batho to Mary, 12th December 1932).

Intrigued, I had a little dig around and found a copy of this edition of The Studio (winter 1932) for sale! here:


Any takers?


Snippets from 1922 letters

August 11, 2010 Hidden Stories, The Letters Comments Off on Snippets from 1922 letters

Brief notes from 1922 letters

I have spent some of my summer re reading the letters..plenty of little stories happening. One which really shows Mary Greg’s caring attitude is illustrated by this quote from a letter to Mr Batho from Mary , June 30th 1922.

“I also want to ask you for the name of the good attendant at the umbrella place – the one who had been so ill – slightly deaf – I want to send her a little thing to keep her warm.”

Mr Batho informs her that the lady at the Umbrella stand is called Miss Ellen Lucas. I wonder what Mary Greg sent her? I also think we should bring back staffed umbrella stands.


Moths In The Lumber Room

July 19, 2010 Artist Responses, The Letters Comments Off on Moths In The Lumber Room

Collage by Michael LeighAnother  collage by Michael Leigh inspired by one of Mary Greg’s letter to Manchester Art Gallery…see Snippet Number 5.

Snippet from the letters No.7

July 5, 2010 Mary Greg, The Letters Comments Off on Snippet from the letters No.7

Four Keys from Mary Greg's collection

One of my favourite quotes from the letters…November 10th 1928

To Mr Batho from Mary Greg.

“…If a number of any set of things are put together they at once become more interesting – this is most of our collections become of any value – I began by buying a key which interested me by its fine work – a friend said ‘oh’ I have an old key I do not want you shall have it & so on until my collection as you know is a most valuable one – & so on with other things…”