Next time you see an old photograph of someone with their hand resting on their chest, you might think twice about what this really meant. After walking through the Shire Hall Gallery in Stafford, textile artist Ruth Singer encountered this exact moment of recognition. In the company of these old photographs hanging on the walls inside, she admitted since that she felt haunted by these images.
Ruth only first visited the historic building to do some research in response to a callout for art that reflected the life of the building itself (which was in a past life an 18th century courtroom). All of the people in the photographs she saw that day were in fact criminals, and they had laid their hands on their chests for each picture as a matter of identification, rather than mere composition. This decision was made of course so that any missing fingers could, in the future, be used as identifying marks.
These old photographs marked the starting point for Ruth’s on-going art project Criminal Quilts. She chose to work with the women instead of men, she says, as she found the details on their clothing the most interesting. Through miniature quilts and experimental installations she draws on these nuances to explore the domestic lives of these women, imagining what they would have once known and worn.
Opting for materials such as transparent cloth and naturally dyed silk organza, Ruth uses traditional hand embroidery and reverse appliqué to craft her extraordinary quilt work. She will be taking part in Unit Twelve’s upcoming exhibition (Surface) Pattern at the end of this month, at which viewers will get the chance to delve into history through her exquisite, and noteworthy quilts.
(Surface) Pattern will take place at Unit Twelve in Stafford from 27 April- 26 August, 2017