The Festival of Britain happened in the summer of 1951. It was initiated by the Labour government to showcase Britain’s industries, arts and science. It featured the inventiveness and genius of British scientists and technologists. Another goal was to boost the morale of the British people and to give a message of recovery to those living in the depressing post WW ll years. Food was still scarce and it was cold. We had some extreme weather winters in those post war years. Many cities staged their own Festivals that summer creating jobs, entertainment and excitement. Many overseas visitors came. It was an opportunity to enjoy life again. The Festival was a big success.
It was held on the south bank of the River Thames in an area that had suffered bomb damage and was slated for clearance and redevelopment. The architecture and the layout were contemporary. Today. the only remaining building is the Royal Festival Hall. It was also the centenary of the the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Movies of the event show men wearing suits and ties and, women in dresses and hats touring the exhibits. Nostalgia aside, it also looks formal and uncomfortable. Those were the days when one dressed up to travel. There are several videos of the event on Google. I found them interesting to watch as each one is quite different.
Historical background is now completed.
Constance Howard, the textile artist was teaching at Goldsmith’s College. She and her students were asked to create a mural that would extol the traditional skills of women. They created a 3 Dimensional panel sized 4.5 metres x 5 metres (15 feet x 16.5 feet) approximately. It was so large that it was made in sections which were assembled on site. It is also chock full of items and details that deserve a closer look.
I am including it now as it is my contention is that Constance Howard initiated the whole current movement of Embroideries that Record History with this textile mural. That is, excluding the Bayeux Tapestry which preceded it by many hundreds of years. Looking at dates, everything else that has been included in this series of blogs has been stitched later than The Country Wife. It is not available for viewing at the moment as it is undergoing extensive restoration. Thanks to computer technology, we can take an “up close” tour of mural. I have not had the opportunity to see many of the historical embroideries that have been created in the ensuing years but in its concept and the techniques used, I think that this one is unique.
I would be delighted to hear from readers who have any knowledge of the mural and its restoration. Maybe, we will hear from a stitcher who was part of its creation. Perhaps a member of your family worked on it and you have heard all about its creation. It would be wonderful to hear from you and be able to share more information than is available online.
Darcy Walker says
In the early 90’s I was fortunate enough to spend 2 weeks with 15 other Fiber artists under the tutelage of Ms. Howard. She was such an advocate of creative work – but said you always needed to start with a purpose, a story you needed to tell.
Ann Bernard says
Hello Darcy, Thank you for your comment. Indeed, you were very fortunate to spend two weeks being taught by Constance Howard. If you would like to elaborate on your experience, I would like to include it in this series of six postings. The next one will be posted tomorrow and will include information from another lady.