Women’s Work

The only person I’d heard of before visiting the fantastic exhibition ‘Women’s Work: Pioneering Women in Craft, 1918 – 1939’ was Enid Marx.  What a joy, then, to stumble upon so many women with local connections who were busy shaping our modern world through craft just after the First World War.  And in so many different ways.  Take the modernist designers, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher (below),


for example, whose jazzily designed textiles printed by hand, often using hand blocks, gained the attention – and custom – of Coco Chanel among many others.


Then there are the sumptuous designs of weaver, Alice Hindson, including beautiful bags, textiles, including this dress…


…and some of her student designs…


I also loved the vibrant pottery of Denise Wren, which included quirky, small animals, lamp bases, bright vases, and this ‘pot with “stormy sunset” glaze…


Another happy discovery – the work of Catherine ‘Casty’ Cobb, a pioneering silversmith, whose work often incorporated found objects – i.e. upcycling before the word was invented – and included an unusual cruet set made of ivory shot through with silver pins, as well as this bold, yet very chic necklace…


Quoting from the Ditchling Museum booklet “Respected as teachers as well as makers, the craftswomen were championed by female entrepreneurs and gallery owners and various networks were formed.”  This is one of the things that emerged for me from the exhibition – the women weren’t just artists, they were businesswomen.  Far from being impoverished artists starving in garrets or suffering for their art, they got on with taking their skills out there, starting successful businesses and producing incredible work – even if it wasn’t going to be as upheld in future years as it should be.  Well done to Ditchling Museum for shining a light on these women and helping to give them the recognition they deserve.

What I liked about the exhibition (another thing I liked) was the cards that gave visitors the chance to write down and display the names of other craftswomen who aren’t given the recognition they deserve.  This was mine…


Eastbourne’s Tirzah Garwood who so often falls in the shadow of her husband, Eric Ravillious, yet produced spellbinding woodcuts, particularly of people, animals, and domestic scenes.  Tirzah deserves a post of her own (and will probably get one as I’m going to be talking about her on Thursday as part of my Pioneering Women of East Sussex talk for one of the Eastbourne WIs).  Watch this space.

In the meantime, do go and see ‘Women Work’ in Ditchling to make some fantastic discoveries and learn about some women who should be household names.

It’s on until 13th October and open Tues to Sat 10.30am – 5pm, and Sunday and bank holidays 11.00 – 5pm.20190721_17024115637419160645829877111653378084.jpg