Mary’s Dress, a delightful textile-based sculpture by Angela Chalmers, is on display at the Pannett Art Gallery in Whitby until December 21.
This hand-printed Victorian style dress was inspired by the history of Mary Craven, a determined and generous lady who provided much of the money to build the Church of St Martin-on-the-Hill in Scarborough.
Built in 1862-1863, the contractors for the decoration of St Martin-on-the-Hill were Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, an up-and-coming major force in Victorian interior decoration and design. Associates of the firm were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Maddox Brown.
Work of each of these can be found in the church.
Angela said: “I printed the fabric using an early photographic process called cyanotype, which was invented during Mary’s lifetime in 1842. The blue of the dress is specific to the photographic chemicals related to cyanotypes and seemed quite appropriate.
“The colour blue has been used throughout history to symbolise heaven, and is traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary.”
Angela chose to depict nature as the main design and discovered a tale about Mary in The Book of Scarborough Spaw, by Meredith Whittaker.
“When Miss Craven, a respected and substantial citizen of the South Cliff, who had provided most of the money to build St Martin’s Church, was caught ‘purloining flowers from the grounds’ she was threatened with proceedings if there was any repetition.”
The lower pattern of the dress refers to this story of 1870 – a cliff-top walk through oak saplings, ground-creeping ivy, long grasses and wild flowers.
Angela worked with real grass, ivy, twigs and flowers during the printing process.
While making studies of the church she was particularly drawn towards the white lilies revealed in the stained glass windows. They represent new life and are symbolic of both the sacrifice of Christ and of the purity of the Virgin Mary.
Angela decorated the bodice with a solitary house martin, digitally captured and silhouetted from a design by Rossetti that alludes to St Martin of Tours, Mary’schosen name-saint for the church after her late father, Robert Martin Craven. The bodice also includes a detail from a painting by Rossetti, Sancta Lilias (Sacred Lily).
A few years ago, Angela discovered that she actually lived in the former residence of Mary Craven.
She decided to construct the artwork at her home instead of her art studio. Developing the project in Mary’s former abode was central to the project.
The sculpture is ethereal and delicate. Fusing correct processes appropriate to the time makes Angela’s interpretation more poignant.
The relevance of the colours, the symbolism of the solitary use martin and the transparency of the fabric, which reveals a Victorian hoop, only adds to its historical references.
The Pre-Raphaelite inspired bodice is a nod to their influence both in art and textiles. Combining rebellion, beauty, scientific precision and imaginative grandeur, the Pre-Raphaelites constitute Britain’s first modern art movement.
Angela said:“I often wonder if the Pre-Raphaelites such as William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, or Dante Gabriel Rossetti visited Mary for afternoon tea.
“A wonderful thought!”
Mary’s Dress is now on display in the Pannett Art Gallery’s Weatherill Gallery where it stands alongside the beautiful tapestries designed by Edward Burne-Jones. These tapestries also feature the beautiful foliage so prevalent in the designs of the Arts and Craft Movement, with Flora featuring the white lilies which are echoed in the dress.
The gallery is open seven days a week throughout the year, except for Christmas and New Year Holidays.
Visit www.pannettartgallery.org or call (01947) 605559 for more.