Halfway through my Project at In Certain Places, I’ve just got to a point where my ideas have slotted into place (phew!). I suddenly went from this:
to this in the space of an hour:
Most of last week was spent on research – it’s a bit of a different starting point for me, as I’m not working with existing visual detail but thinking more about the history of the house I’m working in.
I’ve always found history much easier to understand if I think about the human side of it – people’s stories and lives – so I started researching the family who lived in the house around when it was first built (mid 19th century ish). I’ve also been reading about the development of the area and of Preston itself over that time.
Preston’s population increased dramatically with the industrial revolution and development of the cotton mills in the town – from 17,000 in 1811 to 117,000 in 1911. Houses like 38 St Peter’s Street were built to house the many mill workers, dressmakers, shoemakers, servants and labourers who worked there, but conditions were cramped and dirty, with the constant danger of cholera and typhus. Preston had the highest rate of infant mortality in England at the turn of the 20th century, and according to the census records, the Aspinwall family who lived in the house lost at least two children under the age of five. Two of their sons did survive though and grew up to be iron fitters/joiners.
While this was happening, the Arts and Crafts movement was seeking to reject the mass production brought about by the industrial revolution, in part in reaction to the grim and dangerous working and living conditions that it brought. While the work of artists such as William Morris would not have been found in 38 St Peter’s Street at the time, I’m interested in the way that the Aspinwalls’ lives embodied what the movement was fighting against.
While there are a lot of ideas here that I’d love to investigate further, I’ve only got a week, so at this stage I need to concentrate on producing work to show on Friday and save up all those other thoughts for a future project.
My plan is to bring some of the sorts of patterns that were produced by the artists of the Arts and Crafts movement to 38 St Peter’s Street, but to make sure it’s in keeping with the white paint and somewhat institutional feel, I’m going to produce all my designs in white. They’ll be visible, but will take a bit of effort to find.
As a pattern designer, trying to emulate any kind of William-Morris-style designs feels a bit ridiculous – they are so well crafted that anything else is going to be a poor imitation – but because of that it’s also a bit of a treat to indulge in working with some of his pattern-related rules and see what I come up with. The ‘energy of nature’ was key to Morris’s pattern designs, so I started off by doing some quick sketches of the houseplants that were part of Steph Fletcher’s In Certain Places work and producing some repeating patterns the ‘old-fashioned’ way by cutting and sticking (Photoshop and Illustrator do this at the click of a button).
I’ve included a few snaps below, but will leave it at that for now, with more photos to follow this week as the actual making starts to happen.