Projects / A Life in Stitches / Curatorial Introduction


I first met Audrey in 1999, when she worked at the Grizedale Forest gallery. She was a positive ray of light in what was often a rather dark place, fraught with the jobsworth-y, administrator’s angst of the contemporary work place. Audrey was a beacon of enthusiasm, clearly enjoying her interactions with visitors from all over the world. And I remember distinctly that she was always busy making something herself.

As life-long friends, for Sheila and Audrey making has been a central tenet of their lives from their earliest memories, They learned needlecraft and other domestic skills from their grandmothers. Making was understood as a normal part of everyday life, and during the war it was a practical necessity to make everything from butter to suits. To me, the idea that if you needed something you would make it, remains a vital part of a proactive life. Perhaps the idea of making a purchase of it could be described as reactive.

Although this way of life is home-grown, it is also reflected in the ideas of John Ruskin - of his village craft schools - but also in the modernist ideas of Kurt Schwitters, both of whom Audrey cites as significant influences in her life. There was a Kurt Scwhitters sculpture that lived in Audrey’s family farmhouse dining room, doing what art should doing - being a presence and a gentle influence. For Audrey, making something out of nothing - a vehicle for the imagination - was a conscious element she drew from her Schwitters and the more pervasive influence of Ruskin, Brantwood and the Village Museum and Institute.

Audrey and Sheila have applied their making ethic to their own lives and to the lives of those around them. Their many projects in the public realm range from the church to the museums of the area. The idea that you can form your own world through making extends to the concomitant belief that you can form and enhance your community - and ultimately your society. The way you live can and should reflect your values, your ambitions and your aspirations.

This gentle but active approach is a lesson to us all and a reminder to value each person and their contribution. Audrey and Sheila’s influence pervades the village of Coniston, influencing everyone from the school children to the directors of museums and arts organisations. This exhibition highlights how their subtle way of presenting themselves and their ideas - open, non-territorial, generous, useful, helpful and inclusive – is of vital importance. Long may their wonderful work continue to influence us all.

May 2018, Adam Sutherland, Director of Grizedale arts