The Diana Springall Collection.
As craftsmen we are aware that the fine art world regards crafts as lower in artistic importance; in spite of the fact that most of us have been trained in some aspect of Fine Art. It is this injustice that has consistently kept me mindful of having to be ready to find ways to say that actually – we are equally Fine. Following my training as a painter, I soon realised the importance of adding craft skills to my teaching career – in particular embroidery..
Since the 1960’s, I have collected examples of contemporary embroidery of final year graduate students and of my colleagues and peers. Most were purchased for modest sums but many were an agreement of exchange. Everyone knew I was not a collector in the conventional sense – in other words I was not going to an auction house in years to come. What I had not envisaged was an aspect so generously described by Jessica Hemmings in her Foreword to An Embroiderer’s Eye, published in 2009, to accompany an exhibition of many items from the collection at Macclesfield Museum.
“The Diana Springall Collection provides a crucial contribution to modern textile history through the representation of work made with needle and thread in Britain from the mid 1970s onwards. As a collector, Springall has moved against the norms of the times, collecting with discipline, place and time very firmly in the forefront of her mind. The result provides us with a considerable record of recent material culture in stitch, a collection that may not have materialized if it had allowed itself to be defined by more mainstream collecting policies.
The Springall collection reflects its collector’s prescience in a number of ways. Firstly, it is vital to remember that many of the familiar names that make up this collection were individuals at the very beginning of their careers when Springall first acquired examples of their work. Alice Kettle’s Eve Falling from Grace (1986), for example, was purchased at the conclusion of the artist’s studies in a Post Graduate Diploma in textile art at Goldsmiths’ College. This foresight and confidence in careers that, in many cases, were taking their very first steps when Springall began collecting their work is indicative not only of her visual acuity, but also her confidence and commitment to modern embroidery. In more than one instance, this collection policy is known to have bolstered flagging spirits of talented individuals, who have gone on to establish professional careers in textiles. Thus, this collection stands as testament not only to an observant , but also a brave, eye.“
What I saw in the building of this resource was one that would allow me, at very short notice, to show those who questioned me with the words “What do mean by Embroidery?” I could reply by saying “I will show you”. As a very passionate teacher and as a practicing embroiderer, I made scores of 35mm slides for students to share and bought every book, but I knew nothing could excite more than seeing and handling the real thing. A small window on the ‘real thing’ – The Diana Springall Embroidery Collection – will be displayed in the Textile Tent at Art in Action.