Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Remebering the Great War * The Sampler of Marleen Meersserman

I am grateful to Marleen for showing me and telling me about her sampler commemorating World War I which started 100 years ago this year. Marleen lives on the battlefront of the Great War and thinks it important that the memory of this war is passed on. The idea for the sampler came to her in 2009. She says: I couldn’t find one single pattern that matched the theme. So I started off with photographs that my husband and I turned into sketches. By using an overhead projector and an erasable marker, we traced the sketches onto 36 count linen. Later on, a pointy needle proved useful to embroider the curved lines. I only used two colours: dark green and vibrant red. The difference in shades is the result of the variety in stitches. The many horrors with which the soldiers were confronted are listed (sometimes in four languages) and depicted in the right border. The word GAS is only three letters - yet this is a weapon by which thousands of people were killed or crippled. So I made the word longer by adding more s’s, and then I pondered for a while about how I should portray the gas: With clouds? Fluorescent green? Covered eyes? … I opted for a skull. The eye sockets hold the letters G, A and S. In the lower center, I embroidered the Stone of Remembrance. On its right, trenches, with our devastated landscape above. Between the burnt-up trees, symbolically, the Cross of Sacrifice. Our region is strewn with war cemeteries that are administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This is depicted in the left bottom. Above, poppies with stalks of barbed wire make up the left border. Soldiers and their families on both sides shared a common fate. Hence the sculpture “Mourning Parents” by Käthe Kollwitz. They mourn for their son on the German war cemetery of Vladslo, near Diksmuide. Above, the ruins of the Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) of Ypres, symbol of a destroyed region. On its right, the world-famous poem “In Flanders Fields” by John MacCrae, in which the symbolic use of poppies has its roots. Men are literally drowning in the mud, in the blood, in distress and misery. They scream for help, for rest, for peace … Hence the hand in the upper right. I think of my work as a condemnation of the horrors of war and I hope that everyone who tries to take it in, will realise how precious peace is..
Marleen's heartfelt work made me look again at two young men I knew briefly who served and survived the Great War. Here you can see my Great-uncle John and my dear Grandad, his brother. My Grandad was gassed and was carried on the back of German soldier to within crawling distance of a first-aid tent. Had it not been for this kind German, I would not be here today to tell you the story. After the war both my Grandad and Great-uncle had a predilection for meticulously polished shoes - I used to love helping brush their shoes - even though they were very strict about getting it just right! They also both needed a garden shed where they spent much of their time smoking and in quiet contemplation. Again I was allowed to be with them on condition I was quiet. My reward was being taught to sing Mademoiselle from Armentières (probably not all the verses) and how to roll their cigarettes in some strange mechanical gizmo - my Grandma would have been horrified had she known! When I was 13 my French exchange for 3 weeks was with a family in Bois Bernard in the Pas de Calais, not far from Armentières, I was taken to the Menin Gate at Ypres, the staggering memorial at Vimy Ridge and through the subterranean trenches of the war. To see the numbers of dead, the little ground lost and gained for such a toll brought me to tears, even then. Have any of you been to see the stage production of War Horse? If you have then you will know why Marleen chose also to depict a horse on her sampler - it represents the many animals that died as well.

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Needleworking Women of Leonard Campbell Taylor

Although Leonard Campbell Taylor, born 1874 and died 1969, painted many of his works in the first half of the 20th century, there is a timeless clarity about them that recalls the women painted at their tasks by Vermeer. In many of his paintings (not shown) women are portrayed in their solitude at ends of corridors, halls and galleries, with that interesting recession of internal planes that is characteristic of Dutch painters of the Golden Age. The painting above is titled The Patchwork Quilt, and sadly I couldn't find a better image of it.
The portrait above is titled The Sampler and some describers have called it two women at a drawing board - but we know differently, don't we? With its triptych space and centrally placed framed Madonna and oriental-style carpet in the foreground, it recalls quattrocento sacra conversazione.
By contrast many would consider a women at her sewing machine to be a far more prosaic topic, but again, with the recession of planes in a simple domestic interior and with the side-lit subject at her work, Vermeer comes to mind.

Of all the portraits of women at their needlework, this is my favourite. We do not see the window to the left that is lighting the scene, but we see its magic through the illuminated embroidery on the frame and the light on the colonially made mother-of-pearl open workbox. And, as in Dutch paintings, we are left unsettled by the thought that has just entered the stitcher's mind. What is it that has caused her to pause and look up from her work?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The 1623 Hungertuch of St Clemens, Telgte, Westphalia


Telgte is just a few miles to the east of Munster in Germany and in the Church of St Clemens at this time of year, the fasting month of Lent, since about 1623 was displayed a Hungertuch - literally Hunger Cloth. The cloth measures 7.4 metres by 4.4 metres and is composed of 66 linen panels, half of them being open work panels depicting scenes from Christ's passion.

Arranged like a chequer board, each image panel alternates with a simple linen panel. The technique is stitching across a square on a grid of twisted linen threads running horizontally and vertically and was carried out by noble ladies of the knightly families of Vos, Droste, Hausen, Bischopping and Münster.

The first four lines depict the suffering of Christ, the fifth row shows the symbols of the evangelists and the Lamb of God as a symbol for Christ, the sixth row displays motifs from the old testament.

The Wiedenbrück Pastor, Bitterus Willge, who is represented in the bottom row of the image with his initials, was probably the initiator. This cloth replaced an earlier cloth which had been a victim of the wars. The cloth was hung every year until 1905 and now it can be seen next door in the Westfälisches Museum für Religiöse Kultur.
To give you some idea of how this was displayed in church, we can see, below, the similarly famous Hungertuch of Freckenhorst.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Winterthur Embroideries On-Line

Apart from samplers, Wintherthur also has some splendid embroideries in it on-line collection, like this early sweet bag above with a label referring to it as a Knitting Bag which belonged to a Lady at the Court of Q. Elizabeth.
I think we are all familiar now with stitched globes - they were de rigeur items in the curricula of young ladies of the Enlightenment. Westtown School in most famous for its stitched globes.
This is just one of the 18th century stomachers in the Winterthur collection - do find the others when you visit.
I really must make a pocket one of these days - I have been promising myself for some time now - along with many other projects still to complete! I love the dated and initialled pocket below.
You will need several hours to enjoy all the embroideries on-line at Winterthur - so pace yourself. Click here and enter embroidery into the search box.