Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the memory of cloth.

I found out about the incredible exhibit, Threads of Feeling, at the Foundling Museum in London, by reader Abigail Thomas. I am so glad that she commented to lead me to this exhibit, it seems like a truly special, unique, and moving show to see.

Sadly, I am not in London so I will not see it, but none the less, I can imagine. The Foundling Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, London's first home for abandoned children. It is a restored building adjacent to the original hospitals property and showcases the art, social history and domestic interiors of the hospitals time. This in itself makes it sound like a museum worth visiting.

Threads of Feeling, is a very special exhibit that pays homage to the very difficult decision and emotional journey of a mother choosing to leave her child at an orphanage. The exhibit has on view the small tokens that mothers would leave with their baby as they parted, often this would be a small swatch of fabric from their clothing or home.

The concept for the show is powerful, moving, sad, lonely, and beautiful all at the same time. I myself work with fiber because it does have the power to hold so much love, memory, and story within its small threads. Just think about how we smell the clothing of someone we miss, we wear the sweaters and shirts of people no longer with us, and layout our most precious linens to be closer to those that have touched that fabric before. I feel that this exhibit tells its own story of mother, baby, and hospital but also tells the much larger story of fabric.

In the press release, historian John Styles explains:

The process of giving over a baby to the hospital was anonymous. It was a form of adoption, whereby the hospital became the infant’s parent and its previous identity was effaced. The mother’s name was not recorded, but many left personal notes or letters exhorting the hospital to care for their child. Occasionally children were reclaimed. The pieces of fabric in the ledgers were kept, with the expectation that they could be used to identify the child if it was returned to its mother.

The textiles are both beautiful and poignant, embedded in a rich social history. Each swatch reflects the life of a single infant child. But the textiles also tell us about the clothes their mothers wore, because baby clothes were usually made up from worn-out adult clothing. The fabrics reveal how working women struggled to be fashionable in the 18th Century.

The museum also has a wonderful collection of textiles in general including samplers. So you Londoner's please do not miss this.


Danangib said...

Great post, so thoughtful...

Perpetua said...

Oh I saw this on someone blog recently. I wish I could go to this. It's so fascinating. The idea of scraps of fabric representing a child is so complicated and Full of reference and STUFF. It's a ton to chew on.

Abigail Thomas said...

It really is an amazing place; and these little scraps are so heavy with meaning and loss. An amazing archive of little lives.

Joetta M. said...

i too wish , i could go. it seems like it would be such a powerful exhibit. Thanks again Abigail for telling me about it.