Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Bargin


I could never afford stump work, or at least that’s what I always found during the years when I was dealing in antiques and today you rarely see examples outside museums. “Stump” or “stamp” work refers to high relief embroidery popularly supposed to have been invented by the nuns of Little Gidding and appears almost invariably to have been worked separately stretched within a frame, and applied when complete. While hair or wool was used as a stuffing foundation sometimes hands and heads of figures were in carved wood covered with satin or silk on which the features were either painted or embroidered. My version of stump work was to be entirely in wool on a piece of finely woven 19th century French linen. The raised portions of the embroidery were indeed worked on a separate and lighter cloth before stitching them into place onto the canvas making sure to leave a section open for stuffing with cotton wool. Having already worked a similar sized naïve rendition of Hebridean crofting I wanted this time to try for a slightly more realistic impression. That first attempt had already been described by a friend as painting with wool so once again I allowed the image to grow with very little preparatory drawing of the initial idea pencilling out the central scene within its intertwined oval border. Beyond this the idea of thistles was there from the start but exactly what form they would take was unknown. The two animals in the lower corners is an echo back to the 17th century stump work embroidery where the inclusion of such animals was common. The thatched “White house” not to be confused with the earlier “Black house” which had no visible chimney or windows sits central on the ridge above a Hebridean black sheep and a Scottish blackface sheep.
 The horns of these sheep were the final part being worked on copper wire and standing proud of the embroidery. I have noticed that while I am out sketching people passing by will often approach to see how I am representing the landscape before me however if they see a man sat stitching with needle a thread they keep at a safe distance much as they do when I’m plucking dead birds for making of feather bird pictures. I started stitching on June the 20th and spent on average a minimum of 3 hours a day until finishing on Sunday the 27th July, a full five weeks. So if I was to conservatively count my time it took just over one hundred hours. The needlework will now be stretched mounted and correctly contained within a deep box glazed frame which will not come cheap. It is important for me to execute such pieces of creative artwork for my own pleasure and so time and money do not come into it. An artist who perfects his or her craft will be able to produce artwork but if the technique is altered or debased in any way either to mass produce or to speed up production then the result must be categorised as craft. Today people are encouraged to buy cheap crap preferably made from recyclable materials since it will not be long before it’s broken and deposited in that correctly sorted bin. While this might make economic sense I find it difficult to understand why when money is so difficult to come by that so many fritter it away on cuddly key ring junk. Today’s world wide tourist industry is a particularly bad offender in this area offering a remarkable selection of poorly made and dull mass produced trinkets in the name of local crafts. Some well known artists have also been tempted to join the throng and debase there work reproducing it on everything from book markers to fridge magnets. Since the general public will part relatively easily with a few quid it is hardly surprising that less skilled craft workers are drawn towards this market which will pay while those producing fine work will quite often obtain a far lower hourly rate of pay. So what would you expect to see as a price tag on this embroidery, £60…. £600? The correct price with frame and given that many galleries now take 50% is nearer £6000, which puts it way beyond the reach of most people. So you can’t afford it now but wait a few years when someone removes my creations and possessions to the local hospice charity shop and it’ll be £6, a bargin.

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