Monday, August 20, 2012

Ga-Ga for Garthwaite

Anna Maria Garthwaite was one insanely talented broad. Not a great deal seems to be known about her early life, (this would be a fantastic time for one of you nerds out there to wave your Master's Thesis titled "All of the Completely Documented and Totally Relevant Things That are Known About Anna Maria Garthwaite" around and correct me) but the deficit is nicely filled by her later work. Despite her gender and uncertain credentials, Anna created hundreds of designs for silk textiles to be woven in Spitalfields, England during the mid-18th century.

She was born in rural obscurity to a rector and his wife in March of 1688. At some point in or around 1705, she finished this...

 1707. Paper-cutting embellished with feathers. Anna completed this at the age of 17. In the collection of the V&A. This is amazing. Why isn't this the cover of a really over-priced Jane Austen novel??

...And then about 20 years afterwards, she moved in with her sister and started a rewarding career as a professional silk designer in the most respected and prolific silk district in England.


So basically, that's the first 40 years of her life for you. You're welcome!

Lady's green silk banyan in the collection of the V&A. (1750-1770) 

A Garthwaite watercolor for a silk design, 1742. V&A collections.

From the Metropolitan Museum Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History:
"Anna Maria Garthwaite began designing silks in the mid-1720s, when she was in her thirties. It is not known how she learned the art of designing for silk weaving, but her efficient use of materials and, more importantly her graceful designs show that she thoroughly understood her craft. Her family was acquainted with several naturalists of the period, which may account for the skilled rendering of flowers seen in her work."

The previous watercolor painting is a good example of her naturalist-influenced aesthetic. (At least, as it was in 1742.)

The two images above are respectively a finished woven silk (left) and the design template from which it was born (right). (The fabric appears to be oriented upside-down. The paper template has writing that appears to be original to the piece at the top border which can be used as a compass for the intended "top" of the image.) Both are from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

From the V&A again. This is a remodeled gown. The silk and original design date from the 1740s, but the current dress arrangement was made in the 1780s.

Despite her design exploits, Anna lived a quiet life with her sister on Princes Street in East London, near Spitalfields. Though her sister was twice widowed, Anna herself never married. Her active years were dedicated instead to the silk works at Spitalfields, and the creation of a legacy of hundreds of enduring designs.  Anna died in 1763 but her designs live on.

This painting of apple and pear trees was used as the cover of a 2009 edition of E.M. Forster's Howard's End:

Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. 

I think that the trees may be my favorite Garthwaite design. It feels very fresh and modern, doesn't it? However, I must confess that I can't look at this without hearing Bob Ross saying "...happy little trees..." in my mind. Thanks again for stealing my soul, PBS.

Mrs. Charles Willing, 1746 by Robert Feke. The gown in this painting is made of Spitalfields silk woven from a 1743 Garthwaite design. Source: Totally jacked from Wikipedia, though I think I ran the portrait to ground in the Winterthur Collections.

Despite the preponderance of Victoria and Albert Museum images in this post, Anna Garthwaite designs can be found in museums all over the world, primarily in the form of surviving garments made from Spitalfields silks. The V&A seems to have the lion's share of her work though, including books from Spitalfields silk district depicting most of Anna's designs as well as hundreds more by other artists. 

To review:

1. Anna Maria Garthwaite was a nationally renowned graphic design artist in an era when a woman had a better chance of becoming renowned for giving birth to a pile of dead rabbits than forging a career as an industrial textile designer.
2. Anna Maria Garthwaite was totally super cooool.
3. See #2.

In Alison news, school starts back on Tuesday. Since this isn't (usually) the kind of blog where I talk a whole lot about my personal life, I'll refrain from gabbing about my recent and very unpleasant struggle for both a place in a graduate school program and a work-study scholarship. The main point is, school starts back on Tuesday and it's a whole new world. My plans for the blog are to post about as much as I've managed this summer. Expect the content to get a lot sloppier and more vulgar as the semester drags on. 

Yes, it really could get worse.

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