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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.

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.


Snippets from the Letters No.4 (Childhood Joys)

June 23, 2010 The Letters Comments Off on Snippets from the Letters No.4 (Childhood Joys)

Spellicans found on Frodsham boot sale, similar to ones in the Bygones Collection.

June 4th 1924 . Letter from Mary Greg to Mr Batho

“I am getting old!  but never I hope too old to be interested in the things that can interest others”

I love Mary Greg’s view of life, she stayed interested in things up until the end. She seems to have a particular need to provide objects that children will enjoy in the museum displays.


Silhouette 3

I thought I’d show you some colour samples fresh from the kiln that I’m testing out for the silhouette dish.  I’m trying various combinations of black and white with reference to the original, paper cut silhouette.

Dark grey slip with white over

I need to take more care when applying the resist to mask out the head as the resulting edge isn’t crisp enough.  I need that edge to make the same visual impact as the paper cut edge of the original.

I am considering using a touch of glaze, perhaps just on the head, perhaps just as an incidental splash, to draw out some further contrasts and animate the surface with reflected light.  However, on this test the glaze has drawn out the black pigment in the grey slip too heavily and shifted the focus from the head to the glaze splash, so I can see I need to be careful how I handle this.

Red clay, grey slip with white over and a splash of glaze

I normally work with a white clay base as it shows colour well but I have also recently been working more with red terracotta.  I like the bold colour contrast of the red clay with the black slip and this particular combination gives a cleaner edge around the profile when the black is rubbed away.

Red clay with black slip

However, I have found that the red clay warps much more than the white through the drying and firing process (no matter how careful I am!) so I have tried using a red slip on the white clay.  Whilst this solves the warping problem the colour combination isn’t quite as dramatic.  So blending red clay with white, or buying a grogged red clay might be the next step if I choose this palette.  I also turned Mary round so she’s looking back at us, or with an idea that there could be two, one facing the other!

White clay, red slip, black slip over

The tests have also shown me that I’ve lost the detail of the netting around the brim of her hat and I need to think about whether this is important and if it is how I can bring it back.  Either some other form of mark making in the clay or other forms of finishing post firing such as glaze, enamel or transfer.  I was already planning some transfer lettering for the inscription, so this may be an option if I think it’s necessary.

Decisions about the work are made through the sample making process and all the samples are made with a question in mind, testing out the theories (as theory is often very different in practice!), considering the options, feeling confident that the right choices are being made.  As I move towards resolution, I need to feel sure that the final piece is the best it can be.

Perhaps if you are reading this you might care to comment on some of these deliberations.  As the idea is still in progress you have an opportunity to affect the outcome.  All tutorial advice will be carefully considered!  Sharon

Silhouette 2

June 17, 2010 Artist Responses 1 Comment

The creative process can be a funny business! I had all sorts of plans for things to make, none of them based on the silhouette of Mary, but I just couldn’t seem to get it out of my head!  When that happens it’s best just to go with it, so I’ve been developing this idea for a commemorative dish for her. I really wanted to keep the simplicity of the silhouette and use it as a focal feature, the border of the dish acting as a frame for the image.  I think it’s promising.  I now need to develop the palette as I have a few options in mind, mostly building on the black and white contrast of the original cut out.


cloth silhouette of Mary Greg

Removing the cloth template

Impression in clay

Finished dish awaiting colour

Ghosts in the attic: Platt Hall

Ghosts in the attic: Platt Hall
Shoes including two pairs from Mary's collection

Box of shoes at Platt Hall

Today I saw some of Mary’s collection of costume, textiles and shoes for the first time.  It felt so ghostly: up in the attic at Platt Hall surrounded with boxes and boxes of clothes which were once full of life, real people, playing children, sleeping babies.  But now they are laid to rest in boxes, no more life, just memories that we can only guess at.  Dead.  But it was one of the most evocative days I’ve spent rummaging about.  Was the bonnet one that Mary herself had worn?  Did she really wear the beautiful dresses, the ivy leaf embroidered wedding dress?  Perhaps not, but it really felt like she was in that collection.  A fabulous collection of shoes, both highly decorative (not Mary Greg 1922) but also the humble plain leather children’s shoes (very definitely Mary), with cracks and crevices where someone’s tiny feet moved as they walked, danced, played.
Wedding dress with embroidered ivy leaves

Wedding dress with embroidered ivy leaves

And so many ideas about how we might exhibit some of these things in this amazing space (especially following our visit to Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace, and the Concise Dictionary of Dress at Blythe House).  A giant dolls’ house in itself…  Where will these thoughts take us?  We shared some interesting comments with Miles too about whether Mary’s collection only came into the gallery because of a desire to have the ‘grander, more important’ ceramics collection of her husband.  Miles always refers to Mary as ‘Mrs Greg’.  I like that.  I wonder if there is a difference in the generalised contrast between the ‘scientific’ collecting of men (e.g. the costumes of Mr Cunnington who apparently could have been a ceramics collector had ceramics been more affordable – instead he looked to something affordable and other – e.g. costume – that he could catalogue, collect specimens and almost finalise) and that of women – Mary who collected what she loved because it was beautifully crafted, domestic, just a lovely thing that she wanted to share with others, particularly children.

So many ideas.  So much that we still haven’t seen.

In the meantime, look here on Flickr for further pictures I took today…


Mary The Maker

June 4, 2010 Mary Greg, The Letters Comments Off on Mary The Maker

As well as being a passionate collector, Mary was also passionate about making things (including drawings as her nature diaries reveal).  This she saw as a way of making a noble contribution to education and learning.  There are numerous references throughout the letters of her making activity and a number of objects made by her hand are evidenced in the collection.  Many of these came to light through information contained in the letters (further proof of how valuable these letters have been to our understanding of Mary and her bygones).  On November 6th, 1934 in her letter to William Batho she mentions a firescreen

….with embroidery which I worked on one side and a sampler on the other…

After reading of this in the letters we searched for the firescreen in the collection.  And there it is, sitting on a shelf wrapped in bubble wrap. Peeking beneath the plastic, we could just make out her embroidered initials making claim to her handiwork!  For a moment it was as if Mary was there in the room with us!  The real value of the hand crafted object is that it stands just one degree separation from it’s maker.

Further proof of her making activity is shown in a letter dated April 27th, 1925 she writes

….then there are three shops!  Which I am responsible for and which with help from 2 or 3 have been very much my work during the dark, dull days

She would readily involve others in the making of things too!

Mrs Greg…is getting on with the furniture of the dolls house and the bed in particular.  She wanted to know if you could get four tops made for the posts of the bed like the one I am sending.

She was particularly keen that her collection would inspire others to make things.  In a letter dated May 3rd, 1934 she writes

I should like to think that some of those who enjoy the models would make things which in the future would be equally interesting, while at the same time would give them happy enjoyment and work!  This applies to the women too!

How delighted she would be at the emerging and growing number of artist responses to her collection today.  These contemporary responses provide not only new interpretation and meaning for this historic collection but at the same time contribute a new collection of objects for future generations to interpret and respond to.  Sharon

Mary The Second

I was wondering why there has been some confusion over Mary’s birth date.  I know in my own research I have come across reference to her birth date being in both 1849 and in 1850.  This has puzzled me, so I revisited and cross referenced the various versions we have of her family tree.  I noticed on one that there are two Mary’s marked, one born in 1849 and another born in 1850.  There were two Mary Hope Greg’s!  The first Mary Hope Greg died before the age of one, our Mary Hope Greg being born the following year. I have added my working document of Mary’s family tree so you can see my notes so far on her genealogy (I’ll draw up a better version and repost when I can).

Hope Family Tree (draft)

How tragic for her parents. Even though infant mortality rates were much higher then and the loss of a child more commonplace, it must still have been a terrible event for the family (you’ll see from the family tree that there are other infant deaths in both the preceding and following generations). How curious that they should give their next daughter the same name.  Was this a common occurrence in those days?  And, I wonder if our Mary knew about her namesake.  How did it feel for her to be named after a deceased sibling? Was this naming in remembrance and commemoration or mourning and loss?  Any genealogists out there with any knowledge of these matters?  Sharon

Mary’s Eye

June 3, 2010 Mary Greg, The Letters Comments Off on Mary’s Eye

From reading Mary’s letters to the Art Gallery in the archive I knew she lost the sight in one eye in her later years.  I thought this may have been down to old age but when researching the Guild of St George link in the Sheffield Archive I came across another reference to this.  In a letter to the Guild dated 22nd November 1939, she writes

I have had a bad accident to one of my eyes from the handle of a lift door…..it had to be taken out to save the other….  I have to be thankful that I still have one good eye.

She was in her 90th year.  Her optimistic tone under such difficult circumstances is a reflection of both her physical and mental resilience and determination (nothing was ever going to beat her!) and I think helps further build the picture of her indomitable character.  At the time of writing she is living near Holcombe, Bath, I think with her niece and clerical husband (there is reference to this in a subsequent letter dated 20th June, 1945).

Mary carried on writing and latterly, dictating correspondence right to the end of her life.  Too frail to write herself, the last letter in the Art Gallery archive which bears her name (written on her behalf by Elizabeth Tranter) is dated June 26th 1949, a mere three months before her death on September 15th in the same year.  Sharon


Mary Greg 1850-1949

I particularly liked the silhouette of Mary in the extracts from ‘The Gregs of Westmill’ by Sheila Ormerod that Dr Stuart Eagles sent us (lovely detail on the rim of her hat).  I wonder where the original is?  If anyone out there has any idea maybe you could let us know.  There was mention I recall of some Greg artefacts from the Westmill museum being accessioned into the museum or art gallery at Stevenage, I think.  I wonder if it was amongst those things? It would be great to get hold of  it (if it still exists) for inclusion in the exhibition.  Sharon