At the moment I am working on a challenging but fascinating project for an exhibition called “Stitched Up – Bringing to Life the 193 Girls from the Newcastle Industrial School 1867 – 1871”. As one of 25 invited international artists we get to chose a girl/girls from that time and give them a voice. What does “stitched up” suggest to you? In relation to these girls and this exhibition we are looking at the idea of ‘accusation and betrayal’.
I love reading historical novels, especially ones that give voice to a woman or women of a different era. I find it a fascinating way to learn about the history of the time, it makes history come alive for me. So when I was invited to be part of this exhibition I was immediately drawn to the idea of giving a girl from the 1870’s a voice. It was a challenge to decide who to chose but I have chosen the Young sisters, two of four sisters who spent time at the Newcastle Industrial School.
So often I get asked how long did that take, or how long does it take to create an art work? I have several answers to that question: how long is a piece of string?, twenty years – because it has taken me twenty years to get to this point in my art career, or I go into a more detailed description of what goes on before I even start a piece of work…..Recently I was reading a book by Bethan Ash, an Art Quilter, and she sums up very succinctly in one sentence – “The final piece of work exhibited in a gallery is really only a small part of the artists labour.” (Pg 88 Vibrant Quilt Collage, Bethan Ash). Before I have even started this exhibition project: I have spent hours researching what was happening, and what life was like in Newcastle, and in Australia around 1870, I have researched Industrial Schools of the time and what was happening with regard to children at risk, I have researched clothing worn by girls at the time, I have researched what domestic servants clothing was worn at the time, and researched a particular toy that I wished to use as a symbol to represent the girls I had chosen.
I remember loving dolls in my childhood, they represent my early childhood, I loved to make clothes for them. As a child I also loved ‘paper dolls’ and I wondered if they could be used to represent the girls and idea of stitched up. I discovered in my research that ‘paper dolls were first officially printed in the early 1800’s, however they weren’t always paper, sometimes they were fabric or wood. I also discovered they represent childhood for many people……Stay tuned, it is my plan to document the process…..