Constance Howard ‘Northamptonshire Churches and Buildings’
Earlier this month some of the Collections team un-rolled one of the famous Constance Howard hangings she designed and made for the museum in 1973. We had to take over a conference room in the Guildhall for an afternoon as it was the only space big enough for the 330cm by 505cm textile.
Constance Howard was part of the vanguard of the modern embroidery renaissance and in her role as Head of Textile and Fashion at Goldsmiths she influenced generations of embroiderers and textile artists. With her iconic green hair Howard pioneered the re-interpretation of traditional embroidery techniques like Gold work and Crewel work using modern materials, including household items like tin foil and milk bottle tops. She was born in Northampton and trained as an illustrator and engraver before setting up the Embroidery depart at Goldsmiths in 1948.
The hanging depicts buildings around Northamptonshire and celebrates the varied architecture of the county and its role in historical events. The Iron Age Desborough Mirror, now held by the British Museum, has a prominent place as does the Althorp House.
This is one of a pair of wall hangings that were commissioned by the Friends of the Northampton Museum, the companion hanging celebrates the Fashion and Footwear history of the town. We are hoping to put both of the hangings on display when the expanded museum re-opens so their condition needs to be assessed to ensure that they won’t be damaged by being on display.
To do this we first unrolled the wall hanging so that we could look at it in detailed looking for any areas of damage where the 45 year old textile that would need to be stabilised by a conservator. The very liner design harks back to her training as an engraver. Although she designed the hanging to be stitched in sections, by herself and a team of embroiderers, the pieces merge together effortlessly.
It was fascinating to get up close to Howard’s embroidery to see how delicate and detailed her stitches are even on an object designed to be viewed from afar. She used lots of different materials and threads to create a layered effect evoking the textures of the buildings through applique and a variety of different stitches. Though, unfortunately none of her famous milk bottle tops.
After completing our condition report for both the front and back we re-rolled the hanging so that it could be returned to the museum store until we are ready to prepare it to go on display.
For more information about Constance Howard http://www.gold.ac.uk/textile-collection/constance/