Did you know that the average length of time spent looking at a painting in a gallery is 28 seconds. In less than half a minute a picture, a masterpiece perhaps is studied, an observation made and then we move swiftly on to the next. Can we really absorb all the detail, the meaning the artist was trying to convey in such a short space of time?
I am probably as guilty as the next person, many a time I’ve wandered through a gallery, casually observing the pictures , only pausing, stepping closer, really taking in all the detail when a particularly striking image attracts my attention.
Recently my attention was piqued but not in a gallery; whilst travelling in the car with the radio tuned to Radio 4 I stumbled upon the tail-end of Moving Pictures. Intrigued, later that day when I returned home I sought out the programme on the BBC’s iplayer and discovered that Moving Pictures is transmitted weekly and that each episode of 30 minutes is devoted to a single piece of artwork – an in depth look, quite literally as I found out, exploring all the intricacies of a particular piece of artwork. However, this is no passive listening experience. There’s no need to conjure up an image in the mind as the narrator feeds information about the subject in question. Moving Pictures takes a different approach, whilst listening you are invited to follow a super high resolution image made by Google Arts and culture allowing listeners to zoom in and absorb every detail of the image, view individual brushstrokes or in this case something quite different.
In the first episode of the new series, we are invited to take a stroll along the high street of a market town in Regency England, but this is no painted piece of artwork, instead it is a an intricate patchwork, a needlework masterpiece, featuring appliqué scenes from everyday life. This incredible feat of needlework, is a thing of beauty and would probably never have been placed upon a bed, more likely it was made as a wall hanging, maybe to educate and inform, or to make a statement about 19th century life in England.
The main panel shows Adam in the Garden of Eden naming the animals surrounded by 64 woollen panels depicting stories from the Bible alongside everyday scenes, almost like little vignettes, patchwork sketches of daily life.
So who was the accomplished embroiderer of this wonderful quilt/wall hanging? What is her story? We know the creator of this textile masterpiece is Ann West, her name appears embroidered twice on the quilt – Ann West works 1820. Ann was clearly a very talented woman, she knew about fashion detail and clothing, so perhaps she was a milliner or dressmaker. Is Ann featured on the quilt? We have no way of knowing, however as well as her name appearing on the quilt there are also two phrases “Forget me not” and “Remember me” that may suggest she wanted her work to survive and be remembered by others.
Both the names “Ann” and “West” are extremely common English names, so it is difficult to trace Ann West’s past. However, It has been established that there was a milliner named Ann West in the High Street of Chippenham who is mentioned in Pigot’s Commercial Directory of 1829 and the census of 1841 notes an Ann West as a tailoress who married Edward West, also a tailor in 1783. Being a tailoress is plausible as this would have given her access to a range of materials and the opportunity to use the off-cuts to design and make this wonderful quilt.
Whoever Ann West was she was a superb embroiderer whose legacy to us is a textile insight into everyday life. Moving Pictures is a fascinating programme, genuinely bringing artwork of all kinds to life.
Ann West’s quilt can be viewed at the Victoria and Albert Museum London.
Thanks for stopping by.