Anne Kelly’s latest book Textile Folk Art takes a look at Folk Art from around the world and explores how works that are rooted in identity, childhood, family and community can shape the contemporary folk textiles of today. Acting as a practical and inspirational guide, we are set on path of discovery around the world with the author as our guide. Anne has gathered, assembled and curated a story of thoughts, feelings and memories of times past and present, people working then and now and intertwines it with her own work.
The book is introduced by a photograph of her (Jewish) Grandmother as a child wearing traditional German dress and we learn of her family’s movement between countries as refugees. These and Anne’s own experiences of growing up in Canada, doing her first degree there and now living in the UK, a self-described immigrant in her adopted country, are strong influences that surface throughout the book. Her project Moving Memories (picture below) focuses in on this theme, as do her pieces Sophia Bianca and Zulema Alma. The reader has the opportunity to learn from the knowledge and objects that Anne has found along the way. Given her interest in travel, the Folk Art Tradition and her use of vintage and donated items, throughout the book you see how these experiences and interests have shaped the artist’s work.
The subject matter in the book is divided into five major sections – Samplers, the Nordic influence, Travel and Memory, Small Worlds and Home and Childhood. They mingle the traditional with the contemporary with the choice of historical pieces chosen that sit alongside contemporary artists working today in a style that echoes the past. These artists range from established figures Jessie Chorley, Hannah Lamb, Mandy Pattullo to emerging artists such as Ellie Macdonald, Laura Marriott and Bella May Leonard. The choices are inspired, whether the thought-provoking Travelling Blanket work of Dijanne Cevaal, whose embroidery records travel without writing, to Nancy Nicholson’s beautiful patterned designs which reference Folk Art motifs and her mother’s designs from the 1960s. Each artist’s work is chosen to perfectly reflect the past and communicate the present to the observer.
On Anne Kelly’s travels, whether from the traditional stitched samplers from the 18th Century, embroidery developed in yurts in Inner Mongolia or the creation and decoration of khadi cotton in West Bengal, we are invited to share in her discoveries and understand how a world history of Folk Art is embedded in her own work. This is what really shines through in the book. Pieces from her collection range from typography (leaflets, buttons and books), vintage haberdashery items, pincushions, Indian playing cards, samples of fabrics and embroidery, postcards and animals from all corners of the globe. Just seeing these items collected together in the pages require extra attention as close inspection reveals a wealth of covetable treasures.
We also get to see the process of work that Anne’s work involves with a number of progress images from when the pieces are composed to their finished state, after they are machine embroidered with Anne’s signature stitch. The stitching brings all the layers together and binds them in a protective layer, distressing the surface whilst unifying the work. A sense of identity for each piece comes from the connection of motifs signifying identity, place and possession through stitch. It is a lovely way of understanding Anne Kelly’s approach to her own interpretation of Folk Art.
By sharing her journeys into Folk Art history, you get a glimpse of the richness created by curiosity. It translates into textiles and embroidery and leaves the reader contemplating how many layers of learning, history and travel can be connected through stitch.
Photography by Rachel Whiting; reproduced with kind permission from Batsford
If you have enjoyed this review, please see my review for Textile Nature (reproduced with kind permission from Workshop on the Web) and photo galleries from the launch and exhibitions of this book. Please click on the photos below.