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Textile designer, artist and educator Joan Charnley [NO]

Textile designer, artist and educator Joan Charnley

5 August 2019

“The future of British textile design” recognised by The Weaver’s Factory

Gallery patron Joan Charnley studied Textile Design at the School of Art in the 1940s

Three graduating students from the BA (Hons) Textiles in Practice course at Manchester School of Art have been awarded the inaugural Textile Showcase Prize by The Weaver’s Factory, a contemporary art gallery in Saddleworth.

Before being restored and converted to a gallery in 2018, the grade-II listed building that houses the Weaver’s Factory was the residence of artist and educator Joan Charnley, who studied Textile Design at the School of Art between 1948 and 1953. “Joan dedicated much of her life to art education, she was passionate about young people and wanted to expand their minds” said gallery curator Julian Bovis. “We chose to work with Manchester School of Art because Joan studied there in the 1940s and she always spoke so warmly of her time there.” After Joan’s death in 2016, she left the building to her neighbours and self-described ‘soulmates’ Julian Bovis and Nigel Durkan, with the desire that it be turned into an ‘art house’. The Weaver’s Factory opened in 2019, with an initial exhibition of pieces from Joan’s extensive travel archives in addition to artwork from School of Art BA Illustration with Animation students.

This collaboration continues, as winning graduates Warren Reilly, Megan Ditchfield and Hannah Sheldon will plan, curate and display their own two-week textiles exhibitions in January 2020, in addition to the opportunity to create an original design inspired by the gallery’s archive for the 2021 Joan Charnley collection.

“Our Patron Joan often talked about how important integrity and hard work was to textile design” says Julian, when describing the criteria for the winning designs. “It’s fine to design something aesthetically pleasing, but if there’s no hard work behind it, and no graft, you can always tell”.

“We looked for people who had done their research and that you could tell a story had occurred and that a journey has begun. Each of the three students we chose clearly knew their chosen area back to front and it shone out.”

Very few commercial galleries would ever exhibit students’ work and that’s a shame, we feel they’re integral to Manchester’s art scene

“Warren’s work was the most experimental; it was complicated, unfinished, erratic but by far the most exciting thing we saw. It was evident that Warren had done his homework and had taken his time to reach the place he’d got to.”

Warren chose to explore contemporary social, political and economic issues in his final-year project, entitled ‘Mood of the Nation’. "Conceptual narratives are fundamental within my approach to design” Warren says. “I am passionate about creating works that spark controversy and emotion amongst its viewers – We live in uncertain times and in the current political climate our nation is overwhelmed with unanswered questions.  Through the use of experimental drawing and mark-making, I have translated these emotions, as well as my own thoughts, onto cloth through various fabrication techniques”. Warren added that he was “honoured to receive the Joan Charnley Award. In fact, it was a complete surprise”.

Work by Warren Reilly

Work by Megan Ditchfield

Work by Hannah Sheldon

“Megan was very different”, says Julian. “Her work was very slick and considered, one of the most commercial presentations we’d seen. But again, like Warren, her portfolio showed that each design had been meticulously researched and the polished end result was a delight.”

Megan’s practice is inspired by trips to Barcelona and Tatton Flower Show, in addition to floral bouquet photographers. “My final year project, which was showcased at the Degree Show and New Designers, was particularly inspired by a visit to Barcelona’s St Joseph’s Market and the allotments that I walk through on a regular basis” said Megan, adding that she was “overwhelmed with the award from The Weaver’s Factory – the opportunity to exhibit my work will open further opportunities for me and allow me to gain vital experience.”

I can’t wait to have my work on show, particularly in honour of Joan Charnley, as it’s something she was very passionate about - and I can’t wait to carry her love for pattern on for many more years!

Julian describes the work of Hannah Sheldon, the final winning student, as “So different to everyone else. She’d clearly chosen quite a narrow path to go down, but this hadn’t held her back. She’d worked hard at achieving her end result and her work was deep, lush and rich.” Hannah’s practice is “heavily inspired by East-Asian traditional garment shapes” whilst also incorporating varied techniques such as digital printing, screen-printing and embroidery. Hannah, who has previously undertaken site-specific commissions for Bruntwood, added: “It feels great to have a whole-floor exhibition after graduation. The Weaver’s Factory is focused on making sure we gain from the experience, so although it might be slightly daunting having to fill a large space, it’s also very exciting, and such a fantastic opportunity and challenge that I am thrilled to have been selected for.”

“It was great to meet and work with the students, all of them responded so differently to an identical brief and the end result was an exciting and impressive exhibition” concluded Julian. The Weaver’s Factory Textile Showcase will be open from Friday 24th January to Sunday 2nd February 2020.