For the past five years I have been photographing and then drawing antique lace from the archives in the V&A Museum, Bronte Parsonage Museum, Fashion Museum in Bath, Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter and Worthing Museum.
In the drawings, items of lace are painstakingly reconstructed in black or white ink, an activity which both negates technology and embraces the imperfections inherent in the hand-made objects to which the drawings refer. The drawing technique utilised is so close to the process of using thread that the images are more a re-enactment of the lace making process, than simply a likeness to the end product, and so true-to-life are the images that tiny threads appear to intersect each other, recording the miniscule defects in the fabric and the way the threads interweave.
The level of realism in my work often confuses the viewer as to whether they are contemplating a real piece of fabric or a photograph; the drawings occupy an unusual space between the drawing of an object and the recreation of it in a different medium.
I am interested in exploring through my work what the lace-making process tells us about the social history of women and as well as exploring the solitary lace-maker I have also made work which explores the tradition of lace-making by large groups of women. The drawing ‘Black Lace Shawl’ was created in a public re-enactment of this communal lace-making process during a residency at Fabrica in Brighton. Twenty artists worked on the drawing with me over a period of six weeks in an event which was inspired by the two hundred Honiton lace-makers who took nine months to complete the lace for Queen Victoria’s wedding dress.
The amount of hours and effort invested in this activity is unthinkable today, but the drawing highlights the allocation of time devoted to female, domestic labour in that period of history. The deceptive simplicity of the detailed, repetitive mark-making of the drawing provokes memories of the time before mass production, when hand-made textiles were part of everyday domestic life for women, some of whom attended lace schools as children and made a meagre living by the trade throughout their lives.
Lace Owned by Women Authors
I am currently making a series of drawings of lace owned by Victorian women writers, the first of which is from a black lace shawl worn by Charlotte Bronte.
The 170 year old shawl, which has suffered some deterioration since Bronte’s death in 1855, has through the drawing process been ‘restored’ it to its former glory; the drawing process has both repaired the damage to the shawl and preserved it for generations of Bronte admirers to come.
The long and, in this case, solitary process of drawing the shawl is a reminder of the hours and weeks of intense concentration intrinsic to the creation of Bronte’s novels. The drawing engenders further unexpected connections with the shawl’s former owner who was renowned for her diminutive pen and ink script, obsessively producing miniature hand written books in an activity not dissimilar to the drawing technique utilised.
Teresa Whitfield April 2011
Qualifications and training
- 1997 MA Fine Art Drawing, Wimbledon School of Art, London
- 1995 PGCE Art & Design, University of Brighton, Brighton
- 1987 BA (Hons) Fine Art Painting, Norwich School of Art, Norwich
- 2009 Drawing Lace, Worthing Museum & Art Gallery, Worthing, West Sussex
- 2008 Drawing Lace, Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, Devon
- 2012 Wildness Between the Lines, Leeds College of Art, Leeds
- 2012 Lace Works: Contemporary Art & Nottingham Lace, Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Nottingham
- 2009 Jerwood Drawing Prize, Jerwood Space, London
- 2009 'At Home' New Paintings by Kate Montgomery & Teresa Whitfield, St. Anne's Galleries, Lewes, East Sussex
- 2008 HQ Gallery, Harrogate Art Fair, Harrogate
- 2006 Autumn Exhibition, Royal West of England Academy, Bristol
- 2006 Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London
- 2006 Islands Lace, Star Gallery, Lewes, East Sussex
- 1999 Real, Brighton Media Centre, Brighton
- 1999 Freeze Frame, The Millinery Works, London
- 1998 Lost & Found, Decima Gallery, London
- 1992 In Memoriam, General Cemetery, Sheffield
- 1989 90 Days in 89, Graves Gallery & Mappin Gallery, Sheffield
- 1987 Women's Pictures, Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich
- 2009 Artist Animateur during John Grade Elephant Bed Exhibition, Fabrica, Brighton, East Sussex
Competitions, prizes and awards
- 2008 Award for Excellence in Teaching & Learning, University of Brighton, Sussex
- 2006 Learn Higher CETL Teaching Fellowship, University of Brighton, Sussex
- 2002 Research & Scholarly Activity Grant, Northbrook College, Sussex
- 2002 Major Award, Arts Council South East, Brighton
Educational experience - tertiary
- 1996 Course Leader BA (Hons) Fine Art, Northbrook College, Worthing, West Sussex
- 2010 'Drawing Lace' by Teresa Whitfield, Lace Magazine pp14-17
- 2009 'Embroidered with White' by Teresa Whitfield, Selvedge Magazine pp48-51
- 2009 'Drawing Threads' by Teresa Whitfield, Embroidery Magazine pp 16-17
- 2008 'Long and Drawn Out' by Beth Smith, Selvedge Magazine pp48-51