Updated: Apr 10
Lace, Place & Climate
In a year of important events in the world of lace, Jane Atkinson’s exhibition Ebb ‘n’ Flow: Lace, Place & Climate marks an important shift in the way in which lace is presented to and perceived by the general public. Having been fortunate enough to be present at the opening and two of the five workshops run during the event, I feel that this deserves two posts; this shall focus on Jane Atkinson’s beautiful body of work and the second will be about the very special way in which this event was organized.
Atkinson has been a pioneer in contemporary lace for four decades, her reputation as a lace designer, author and teacher speaks for itself, now, in her first large-scale, solo exhibition we have finally been given the opportunity to survey the scope of her contribution to the craft of bobbin lace and her development as a lace maker. The body of work exhibited in Ebb’n’Flow drifts effortlessly from the realm of stylization to pattern to free-form lace drawings which communicate abstract sensations rather like Mondrian’s trees. Visitors to the exhibition are left in no doubt that the artist’s chosen medium is indeed her true voice.
One of the better-known characteristics of Atkinson’s work is that she makes no apology for making functional pieces which are destined for furnishing or dress; this is perhaps what makes her lace so contemporary, being traditional in its application while thoroughly current in its design. Her skilful interpretation of the plants found in the marshes near her home has a refreshing graphic quality which is enhanced by the subtle movement of the colours within each design. The works such as Fennel , Thistle & Teasel retain the intricacy of lace but are also impressive in their scale and have an intriguing tactile quality which draws the viewer in to examine them closely.
Other pieces on show take this abstraction further to create patterns such as Betula and even more so Weep Not for Me which was inspired by the weeping willow and the inscription of an antique mourning bobbin. Atkinson takes these symbols into her work with all their complex layers of meaning and discusses them in detail in the exhibition publication “In the Celtic language Ogham, each of the 22 letters in its notched alphabet alluded to a tree – E for eadhadh, the poplar, symbolizing victory and vision, while S for sail, the willow, denoted vision, imagination and intuition.” (Ebb’n’Flow, p. 14). There is a strong urge to reconnect with nature and reestablish a balance between ourselves and the environment which carries through the whole exhibition, and these references to a past in which humans were more in touch with their place within a wider ecosystem is hopeful despite the environmental shifts which Atkinson also addresses.
The exhibition culminates with a series of abstract works which mark a profound shift in Atkinson’s creative process; starting with Windrift we can see Atkinson let go of the need to design and allow her experience as a lace maker to flow. These pieces are extraordinary, they are drawings by an artist who uses thread and bobbins the way another might use pencil, ink or paint “inspiration was allowed to take control of lace technique. Suggested by a formation of dust drifting on a salt pan at the bidding of the wind, the right combination of thread and technique was established by sampling, abandoning existing rules and ‘going with the flow’” (Ebb’n’Flow, p.20). These works – including my favourite, Oxygen – signify an entirely new territory for Atkinson as an artist, bravely moving away from the parameters of functionality and design and fearlessly expressing her artistic vision through her craft.
Together with her body of work Atkinson generously allows us some insight into her process; on a large plinth within the exhibition the viewers are able to flip through her workbooks which contain photos, drawings, samples and notes. This window into the artist’s process together with the presence of Atkinson herself or another member of a local lace group actually making lace onsite, connects visitors to what lace is and what lace can be, to the possibility of lace being an artistic medium like any other.
Ebb’n’Flow is more than an exhibition, it really is a creative journey, a cry for help for the planet we all share and the opening aria of a whole new act in Jane Atkinson’s artistic career. If you possibly can get to see the show you will not be disappointed and if you can’t I highly recommend the catalogue which is a lovely read for anyone who is interested in the future of lace and the future of the planet.
Ebb’n’Flow: Lace, Place & Climate is on at Walford Mill Crafts and The Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne Minster, Dorset from 15 September to 28 October 2018
The publication can be purchased during the exhibition from Walford Mill Gallery or directly from Jane’s website: http://www.contemporarylace.com/buy.htm#bstamp
Find out more about Jane and her work: http://www.contemporarylace.com/
Listen to my interview with Jane in the lead up to the exhibition here: https://www.textilesupport.net/single-post/2018/02/03/TextileStories-Jane-Atkinson