Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Mrs Delany and Her Circle * John Soane's Museum, London * 19 February - 1 May 2010

It is always a delight to read a stitching feature in a non-stitching magazine, and even more wonderful when it appears in a national newspaper - and something of a miracle when allocated an entire page! The article was triggered by an upcoming exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum, London, from 19 February to 1 May 2010 which will display textiles and paper mosaics of the twice-widowed Georgian gentle-woman, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788). The article in Saturday's Review section of the Guardian is worth reading in full. If you are unable to lay your hands on a copy you can read the Guardian text on-line. Germaine Greer says that if you insist on viewing Mrs Delany's collection 'you could end up profoundly depressed by yet more evidence that, for centuries, women have been kept busy wasting their time.' However, Amanda Vickery who wrote the article puts forward another side of the debate and concludes, 'Domestic crafts were venerable, multivalent and eloquent - we have simply lost the power to read them.' My personal thoughts are that it is easy to get caught up in feminist debate when perhaps the debate should be about the relative merits of craft versus 'fine art'. We can investigate that more another time.
In the meantime, I would say that Mrs Delany's collages would translate into some inspired applique and quilting. This copyright image is a close-up from one of the collection of around 1,000 botanical paper mosaics made by Mrs Delany and now in The British Museum.
To see more of her work in the British Museum, click here.
And there is also a book which might interest you.

No people are uninteresting.
Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.
Nothing in them is not particular,
and planet is dissimilar from planet.
And if a person lived in obscurity,
making their friends in that obscurity,
obscurity is not uninteresting.
To each their world is private,
and in that world one excellent minute.
And in that world one tragic minute.
These are private.
In any person who dies there dies with them
their first snow and kiss and fight.
It goes with them.
They are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery.
Whose fate is to survive.
But what has gone is also not nothing:
By the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.
Whom we knew as faulty, the earth’s creatures,
Of whom, essentially, what did we know?
Brother of a brother? Friend of friends?
Lover of lover?
We who knew our fathers
In everything, in nothing.
They perish. They cannot be brought back.
The secret worlds are not regenerated.
And every time again and again
I make my lament against destruction.

– Yevgeny Yevtushenko


  1. Oh! that poem! I find it so very moving.

    And Mrs. Delaney's art is... eloquent... stunning... breathtaking.

  2. If Ms Greer genuinely believes that making something that beautiful is a waste of time, I feel sorry for her. How sad it must be, to be purely functional all the time.

  3. An amazing poem,it makes you want to cry. Thank you. I first found Yevtushenko's poem 'Lies', about treating children as people, when I deperately sought out a poem for last minute homework aged twelve years and it has followed me all my life. Irene

  4. Thank you for this post. I found the article from the Guardian, a very informative read and have spent the past hour skipping around the web following your links and getting acquainted with Mrs. Delaney. I intend to order the book and to attempt to go visit the exhibit in New Haven over the Christmas holiday.

    I thoroughly enjoy your historic needlework posts and feel you are one of the best blogs in our online needlework community. Thank you.