Cumbria is home to thousands of sheep, so it is only to be expected that at some point a major exhibition of wool related art should arrive in the county.
Rheged, near Penrith, hosts a new exhibition with the title ‘WOW: Wonder of Wool and the Art of Knit and Stitch’.
It features the work of 20 contemporary British artists and designers who are said to be inspirational in their creative use of wool.
The exhibition features film, photography, community projects and a hands-on making area to inspire the creative project in everyone.
Whilst we commend the idea of improving the profile of wool, sadly we feel this event clutches at the theme with the visitor left with a collection of random illustrations made by almost unmentioned artisans.
Themed but no cohesion
Situated at the top of the Rheged complex you pass a number of woollen items left behind after the opening day guerilla knitting event. These seem quite abstract to the surroundings, especially if you do not know about the knitting exhibition going on upstairs.
After paying your entrance fee (£2.50 adult) you enter the exhibition space and are confronted by a grey spider’s web of interconnected woollen covered speakers recounting farming tales and sounds. Called ‘Hürd’ the installation is the work of Knitsonik.
Moving on and into the space proper, you have black and white photographs in frames, garden seats covered in wool and a collection of small pompom sheep which you almost stand on, as you progress through the clinical white walled arena.
Best for last
Passing a wool body suite hanging from the ceiling, speared with knitting needles (Craft Kills by Freddie Robins) and a pile of grey knitted bones only confirmed our feeling of an exhibition clutching at the theme.
Some hope was restored as the finest work seems to have been saved for the end of the exhibition. A full length felt coat and a fine hand knitted shawl showed off the medium to a very high standard.
The coat is a classic old school apprentice test piece as it features many skills to be found only from the seasoned craftsman or woman. Cream felt is cut in an Edwardian style and finished off with what appears to be a Herdwick trim of leaves.
Two-ply laceweight merino wool had been used to create the magenta coloured shawl. The two part interwoven leaf design is highlighted by fine beads, making the garment a true luxury product.
Looking back through the exhibition space we considered what to take away in our thoughts. Yes, the exhibition introduced us to wool being used as house insulation and yes, colourful items can be made from yarn. But do we know where wool comes from and the processing of it from sheep to consumer and why sheep are important to the local environment and culture, possibly not.
Unsuitable for some
We feel we must at this stage mention one element which we feel needs a word of caution.
To your right as you enter the main body of the exhibition is a small darkened room with the almost clichéd video presentation so prized by exhibition organisers.
Only staying to watch a few minutes of the film, we were faced with two woollen characters fighting in a stop-motion animation. One then walked away and, using a saw proceeded to cut off his own leg. Random strings of red wool symbolising blood leaking from the incisions.
To some, this is no doubt a technical masterpiece, but we felt this jarred with the otherwise family suitable event. We would have preferred to see a warning notice before entering the area to indicate that it may be unsuitable for some viewers.
Sadly, our overall impression of the event was poor, as it lacked cohesion and explanation. Small notices and a clipboard full of printed sheets do not encourage viewer interaction or satisfy the lust to know more about the works.
Many of the works would have felt quite at home entered into a local country fair or village show.
Have you visited the exhibition, are you involved then let us know your thoughts via the comments area below.
Delicate Stitches wrote : – It was great to see so many different pieces and approaches but it did mean that the exhibition didn’t really feel very cohesive, the common thread being the material rather than the concept.
Event: WOW: Wonder of Wool and the Art of Knit and Stitch
Where: Rheged, Penrith Cumbria
14 Jan 2012 – 15 Apr 2012
Time of Event: Open Daily 10.30am – 4.30pm
Admission £2.50 (concessions £1.75) • Children under 16 free
Featured artists include: Max Alexander, Carréducker, Susan Crawford, Stewart Easton, Fine Cell Work, Felicity Ford, Fay Godwin, Kate Jenkins, Rachael Matthews, Steve Messam, Deirdre Nelson, Kate Pemberton, Trevor Pitt, Celia Pym, Freddie Robins, Annie Shaw, Amy Twigger-Holdroyd, Hazel White, Rich White, Donna Wilson, Joss Wrigg, The Wool Clip.