Pauline Burbidge - A Visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford - Ethnography and World Archaeology

One of the many highlights of doing what we do is meeting creative people who enhance our life experience. 

Handi Quilter Ambassador Pauline Burbidge and her husband Charlie Poulsen have spent a lifetime living their creative pursuits. In theory and practice their lives are artistic ones, whether it's Pauline's quilts, paintings and drawings or Charlie's sculptures, living sculptures or drawings. 

When Pete and I have been lucky enough to visit them in their Scottish Borders home we have left feeling as though we've been immersed in a pool, emerging back into a world that needs more of what we just experienced. 

Visit our Blog Post to see photos from our trip a few years ago.

BLOG POST - Coffee with Pauline and Charlie

Pauline wrote to us after one of our Facebook Live sessions earlier this year and sent details of one of her recent projects at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

One of Pauline's recent landscape quilts being stitched on her Handi Quilter Avante.
Photo Credit Phil Dickson

The quilts from the Pitt Rivers will be on exhibition at Pauline and Charlie's August 2021 Open Studio and at the Ruthin Craft Centre in North Wales starting in Spring of 2022. The Ruthin Show "Drawing Parallels" is a joint one with her husband Charlie who will be exhibiting his big scale drawings.

Pauline shares her story - 

My trip to the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the making of my two quilts,

‘Global Horizon’ & ‘Re-told Stories: Pitt Rivers Legacy’.

When making a textile piece I draw, draw, draw, make, make, make, stitch, stitch,stitch, and experience an emotional entanglement in my visual world, fully
engaging with the project in hand.I make a textile stitched collage.

Then towards the end I have to explain what I’ve made, in order to present it to
the public. Textiles have been my chosen medium of self-expression throughout my career (since the mid 1970’s). I am happy working with fabric and stitch, and love to draw. It’s where I can occasionally experience a high level of concentration, that takes me to another plane.

I was attracted to the collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum, which specializes in the study of mankind, ethnography and archaeology. The collection is densely packed into a confined museum space, many of the display units are Victorian type glass cases, often crammed full of items. Objects are grouped by type or material (as General Pitt Rivers requested), often showing similar shaped exhibits lined up together.

As an artist, I find this visually stimulating.

In March 2019, I decided to visit the Museum and spend a week drawing. In effect I organised my own residency. I studied the objects, and made quick drawings in sketchbooks. Most of the objects shown in the museum are made from very basic material, such as sticks, stones & string, often making very sophisticated objects, covering a broad range of practical, useful and decorative functions. As examples, an early musical instrument, an oboe made from a twisted piece of Birch bark; a snowshoe, made from twigs and string; highly decorative jewellery or patterned bark cloth, many examples of the early arts and crafts. I felt very grateful that they were all gathered together for us to enjoy, and be inspired by.

I had no idea how this work would link with my own textile work. At the time of visiting, my textiles were very connected with rural landscape and the natural world. (This still remains my main theme). As my week at the museum drew to an end, I still had no idea how all this drawing would link into my textile work.

Several months past….

I related very strongly to these early objects on display. I love the basic qualities of something crafted from ordinary, understandable materials. A wonderful vision of simplicity. I can totally relate to this – unlike a mobile phone, for example, I have no idea how it is made, or how it works!

I had the distinct feeling that these Pitt Rivers items came from the earth, I think of them as ‘earth objects’. Slowly it dawned on me that I could incorporate them into my ‘Textile Landscapes’ – it seemed extremely fitting to illustrate them as part of the landscape – so I began to stitch them in place.

In previous works such as ‘Lindisfarne Revisited’, 2012 (now in the collection of the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead), I studied the landscape around Lindisfarne / Holy Island. I hoped to capture some of the atmosphere of the layers of time in my work. With these two new quilts ‘Global Horizon’ & ‘Re-told Stories’, I am hoping to do something similar, creating a piece that talks a little about the layers of humanity, in homage to those great inventors, artists, craftspeople and makers who have gone before us.

Thank you to the Pitt Rivers Museum staff, what a wonderful treat it was to visit your Museum, and to be inspired by the collection.

Pauline Burbidge, September 2020.

Visit Pauline's Websites

Photo credit for Pauline Burbidge's work - Phil Dickson


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