QUILTING JANE AUSTENby Niamh McCooey
You can tell a lot about a person from their home, and this philosophy is far from lost in the world of arts and literature. From Virginia Woolf’s house in East Sussex to John Latham’s in London and Donald Judd’s in New York, the homes of artists and writers are often transformed into museums posthumously in an attempt to freeze time and bottle some of the everyday detail that might have led to some of their most inspirational works. In the green groves of Hampshire in South England no less, there still stands the home of legendary author Jane Austen, and this house-cum-museum has just recently launched a community project that takes this biographical philosophy one step further…
Inspired by the patchwork coverlet made by Jane, her mother and sister, on display in the museum following recent conservation, the team behind the museum have launched a community quilt project. As part of Jane Austen’s bicentenary celebrations, this collaborative project means that the museum will work with community groups worldwide to design individual quilt blocks that will be brought together to tell the story of Jane Austen’s life.
Each block will be made by different groups from places such as North America, Australia, Brazil and England, exploring different chapters of this famous author’s unstitched biography. The museum has recruited Brighton-based quilt designer and editor Elizabeth Betts as Quilt Designer and Facilitator, overseeing its final construction. The quilt well then go on show at the museum in early 2018, where Jane Austen lived for the last eight years of her life, and where she wrote or revised all of her novels.
This project strays away from the ‘freeze-frame biography’ that’s become almost synonymous with the idea of an artist’s house as museum. It proves that a home is not just a cultural relic, but it can in fact be a platform where a biography can be told, and can keep on being told for years to come.