Usually my posts are related to books or writing in some way, but today I thought it would be fun to focus on something different. Last week I went to a fabulous exhibition which made such an impression I thought I’d share it here for anyone who loves art, textiles and history.
I’ve written before about how I live on the edge of Saltaire village. Saltaire is a preserved nineteenth century mill village, and up until fairly recently Salts Mill was totally given over to woollen weaving, employing thousands of local people. Since the weaving industry died out in England, the looms have gone from the mill and the building has been converted to shops and restaurants.
This month is Saltaire Festival, and as part of the festival the whole of the top floor of Salts Mill has been given over to an exhibition called Cloth and Memory. When the mill was first built in the early nineteenth century the top floor was billed as the biggest room in the world, and the largest unsupported roof space in Europe. The top floor has been closed for decades, ever since the last weavers left the mill, and was reopened especially for this exhibition. As you can imagine, I was dying to see it.
Besides the exhibition, the room alone is stunning. It’s an incredibly peaceful space now, but as you walk around, with the autumn sun filtering through the glass roof, you can feel the history in the stones, and imagine the space alive with the clatter of machinery and people. This is the Spinning Room where the raw alpaca was woven into yarn. Today, the Spinning Room is quiet. The yarn spinners have gone, and in their place is some wonderful artwork specifically designed for this space, with the theme of Cloth and Memory.
I’ve put together a gallery of photos of my own impressions of this beautiful room and the exhibition. These are only about half the artworks, and I’ve chosen some of the ones I liked personally. If you’d like to see more, you can also visit the Cloth and Memory website.
In order to view the gallery and comments, click on the first photo and then scroll through.
Unravelling knitted jumper, stretching from floor to ceiling, by leading Scandinavian textile artist Kari Steihaug. The jumper is knitted from garments discarded or found at flea markets.
Light falling through the glass roof on the floor of the Spinning Room
This piece of art by leading UK textile artist Diana Harrison is a set of dyed handkerchiefs, laid out to follow the patterns of the flagstones
The handkerchief “flagstones” seen as part of the whole expanse of the floor
These three giant kimonos are beautifully handwoven in silk by Japanese artist Yasuko Fujino
This close up doesn’t capture the beautiful detail in the handwoven silk, which was also painstakingly embroidered in certain areas. Kimonos are passed down through families in Japan and so are wonderful containers of memories
My favourite of the artworks – a large scale “sea” of indigo cloth by Japanese artist Masae Bamba
The cloth “sea” lapping in to the enormous Spinning Room
A close up of the indigo waves, with Japanese characters spilling out onto the floor. According to legend, fishermen once caught a haul of letters and brought them in to land. The order the letters spilled onto the beach is the order they now appear in the Japanese alphabet
The curator’s favourite installation. Handmade “sacks” stretching from floor to ceiling. Underneath is a pool of dust, as though they haven’t been used for years. I thought this piece by Hilary Bower captured the disused mill environment, and was a perfect and moving fit for the empty Spinning Room
My husband’s favourite. German artist Katharina Hinsberg used a single red thread and ran it round the perimeter of the Spinning Room. Then she wove the thread into an exact floor plan at the ratio of 1:100. It was still a massive piece of work, reflecting the size of the room
Part of an installation by UK artist Caren Garfen, drawn from the 1891 census. It comprises vintage wooden reels each with a beautifully hand-embroidered label showing the name, occupation and address in Saltaire of each of the mill’s workers
Ribbons hanging down from the reels are embroidered with the names of the workers’ children
The full installation, stretching down part of the Spinning Room wall
At the far end of the installation is a handmade and embroidered apron. One of the apron’s ties (on the left) is embroidered with all the occupations open to women. The other, much longer, tie on the right is embroidered with the occupations open to men
A beautifully embroidered quote from the 19thc, on the front of the apron
View through the glass roof of the Spinning Room, and the mill chimney
The mill’s ancient weather vane seen through the glass roof
I hope you managed to get a feel for some of the artwork at the exhibition. Did you enjoy the gallery? Was there one particular piece you liked more than the others? Is there are dying trade in your area? I’d love to hear your comments!