Hand, Heart & Soul – The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland

51RLW5RRIaL._SX385_Hand, Heart and Soul: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland, an exhibition at City Art Centre, Edinburgh (June to September 2007), which travelled to  Millennium Galleries, Sheffield (October to January 2008) and finally to Aberdeen Art Gallery (June to August 2008), looked at Arts and Crafts practice across Scotland between 1880 and 1939. More than 300 objects in a wide variety of media – from jewellery to furniture, ceramics and glass, textiles to architectural designs, and including a number of items from Glasgow School of Art’s archives and collections – were assembled from public and private collections. Some items were familiar, many others (and their designers) were new discoveries. Arranged through six thematic sections, the show presented fascinating facets of the movement from the design or decoration of buildings to studio crafts. Together they provided fresh insight into life and identity a century ago.

The story of the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland is one of friendships, families and networks of art workers, architects and designer-craftsmen and women, all committed to the restoration of beauty to everyday life in the industrial age. At heart it was a middle-class city movement with its base in art schools and shared exhibitions. Arts and Crafts was an ideology which embraced modernity and progress but also the romance of the past. Part of the British movement, Scottish Arts and Crafts reflected and encouraged national dreams.

The exhibition curator, Dr Elizabeth Cumming, has kindly provided the exhibition guide and texts of the exhibit labels. These are now available on The Arts and Crafts Movement in Surrey website. The book Hand, Heart and Soul: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland by Elizabeth Cumming has been recently reissued and is available to purchase from  Amazon.

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Up the Women

BBC Four's Up the Women

BBC Four’s Up the Women

There seems to have been a burgeoning interest in the Women’s Suffrage Movement recently, if prime time television is anything to go by anyway. Last week we had Clare Balding’s Secrets of a Suffragette on Channel 4, investigating what really happened when activist Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King’s Horse during the Epsom Derby on the 4th of June, 1913, and last night saw the first episode of BBC Four’s Up the Women, a comical look at the struggle for women’s suffrage.

Written by and starring Jessica Hynes, the programme, despite its comic edge, seems to be fairly historically accurate, and we wonder if Jessica visited any archives during her research for the series. The biggest battle of all seems to be against other women:  “Women in trousers! Driving motor cars! Is that what you want?” exclaimed one of the less inclined characters.

The costumes in particular seemed very authentic, and reminded us of some items from our own textile collection. As luck would have it, last night’s programme coincides with an archive visit today by a researcher interested in GSA’s very own suffragette Ann Macbeth. As such we had an excuse to dig out some of our own textiles from the time.

NMC 420 - Embroidered Yoke/Collar, c.1911-1920, probably worked by one of Ann Macbeth's students

NMC 420 – Embroidered Yoke/Collar, c.1911-1920, probably worked by one of Ann Macbeth’s students

The focus at the time seems to have been on domestic items: table runners, place mats, teacosies, aprons, collars; but with an emphasis on making the everyday beautiful. The colours are also often surprisingly bright, and one or two of our items even feature the recognisable purple, white and green of suffrage.

Ann Macbeth (top left) painting alongside fellow female students, c1912

Ann Macbeth (top left) painting alongside fellow female students, c1912

See our previous post about Ann Macbeth, written to celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March.

You can watch Up the Women on BBC iPlayer.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day we thought we’d highlight the efforts of GSA alumnus and tutor Ann Macbeth (1875-1948).

Ann MacBeth and fellow student, Drawing and Painting class, c1912

Ann MacBeth (left) and fellow student, Drawing and Painting class, c1912

MacBeth was a renowned designer and embroiderer who was also heavily involved in the suffragette movement. Her commitment to women’s rights was expressed through her embroidery as well as in direct action. While her designs won international medals (she designed a banner for the 1909 Edinburgh women’s suffrage procession and demonstration, and a linen quilt with the embroidered names of hunger strikers for an exhibition in April 1910),  she also endured imprisonment, solitary confinement and forcible feedings in the name of the cause.

Suffragette banner 'WSPU Holloway Prisoners',  1910. It includes the embroidered signatures of 80 suffragette hunger-strikers who had 'faced death without flinching'. Made in the style of a traditional friendship quilt it symbolises the spirit of comradeship that gave suffragette prisoners the strength and courage to endure hunger strike and force feeding.

Suffragette banner ‘WSPU Holloway Prisoners’, 1910. Includes the embroidered signatures of 80 suffragette hunger-strikers. Image courtesy of Museum of London. 

MacBeth’s colleagues at GSA supported her protests.  Correspondence in the archives reveals that in May 1912 she wrote to the Secretary of the School thanking him for his ‘kind letter’.

I am still very much less vigorous than I anticipated…  after a fortnight’s solitary imprisonment with forcible feedings … but the doctor thinks this will improve when I get away.

She did not recuperate as quickly as expected. By June, her doctor told her that she needed at least five months’ care as a ’semi-invalid’. She may also have taken part in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) window-smashing raid in London in 1912, but she is not mentioned in any sources.

Glasgow School of Art was a hive of activity for the suffrage cause, and between classes, students, including Ann Macbeth, took turns at stitching suffrage banners. MacBeth’s predecessor, Jessie Newbery (wife of Director Francis Newbery), was another active WSPU member.

Francis Newbery and Ann Macbeth in painting studio using easels, c1912

Francis Newbery and Ann Macbeth in painting studio using easels, c1912