Claire FitzGerald (Community Activity and Heritage Officer, London Borough of Hillingdon)
Claire FitzGerald recently graduated the University of Warwick. Her PhD thesis entitled 'Women, Craft and the Object: Birmingham, 1880-1930' looked at craftswomen active between the 1880s and 1930s in the fields of book-illustration, tempera painting, stained glass and embroidery. The work of artists Georgie Gaskin, Celia Levetus, Kate Bunce, Margaret A. Rope, Florence Camm and Mary Newill were examined in depth. Trained at the progressive Birmingham Municipal School of Art at the turn of the century, these women made the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement their own and carried this tradition beyond the First World War. Integrating professional organisations such as the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, their presence can also be traced within the London-based Women's Guild of Arts. Their collaborations and social ties cut across the concept of region-specific Schools, shedding light on some of the exchanges amongst a wider artistic community. Still largely overlooked, these women have left a rich material legacy behind - whether embedded in the fabric of church buildings, in museum collections, archives, or treasured by private collectors. The close study of these artworks proves a fertile ground to question preconceptions about gender, society, collaborative production, and methods of chronicling the past. FitzGerald is currently exploring how contemporary French philosophy might allow for a renewed understanding of these women as political subjects, and how their production participated in shaping dreams of a future society.
Keywords: late nineteenth century; early twentieth century; decorative arts; book-illustration; stained glass; tempera painting; embroidery; design schools.