An army of weird and wonderful creatures staged a takeover of The Attic at Lines of Pinner for two weeks in September 2012. Stitch to the Future had
two parts: Sam Harvey’s mixed media sculptures and stitched prints alongside creations made by the young people who attend her Stitchclubs and workshops.
As visitors come up the stairs to the 17th Century Attic space the plastered walls and beams were the backdrop for Sam Harvey’s stitched collagraphic prints and sculptures. In the front room the striking Jacobean-style American heritage wallpaper was, for the first time in The Attic gallery’s short life, totally upstaged by the exhibits. The room was bursting with colour, texture and a myriad of personalities.
The creative energy in the front gallery was tangible, enhanced by the juxtaposition of different ideas, techniques and materials. It reflected the rich and diverse realm of experience and visual stimulation from which our children are able to draw. Creations made by following retro patterns were displayed alongside creations entirely designed by the children. All are drawn from their own interests. Some of the designs are inspired directly by computer and TV characters, others have evolved organically from more traditional or abstract influences.
A menagerie of giraffe, elephant, cats and hedgehog were displayed alongside Super Mario characters, Puffles, Wenlock, Poptart Cat, Patrick from Spongebob and a picnic of teds. You are probably imaging an awful visual cacophony, but unexpectedly it was not just fun and colourful but also engaging in its unusual familiarity. Judith Slinn wrote in the visitor’s book: “Lovely exhibition. It reminded me of my first effort at making a soft toy, some 50 years ago – I still have it, I’m very proud of it, why because I designed it and made it and it turned out very well, as do all the exhibits here.”
A mix of media and techniques adds to the visual excitement. Alongside creations in felt and traditional fabrics are silk paintings, recycled materials, machine embroidered fabrics and silk paper. The casket-styled bookend was created from scratch: a piece of silk paper was made and then embellished with machine and hand stitching. Silk paintings were the result of unique designs and were embellished with stitch and beads. A pair of loving narwhals were the result of a collaboration between two girls who made them for their friend’s birthday from socks, hessian and other bits and bobs.
Tucked into an old computer box in one corner of the gallery were two special pieces representing the newest techniques being developed in Sam’s Stitchclubs. The apparently unassuming octopus and black alien come to life when you press their special pressure point and their eyes light up.
These are an extension of Sam’s experimental work where she is developing ‘interactive’ sculptures. Her piece What’s the Time Mr Wolf ‘speaks’ when you press his nose, telling you the time. Mr Wolf, together with a collaborative piece: Totem of Consequences, guarded the entrance from Sam’s work into the extravagance of the children’s.
The contrast between the front and back galleries meant that Sam’s stitched sculptures and fishy creatures seemed unusually down-to-earth. Her creatures – whether sculptural or flat – are created by building up layers of image and stitches often combined with other elements.
Although Sam’s artwork and the children’s often appear radically different, the juxtaposition displayed at The Attic highlights how helpful it is to be a practicing artist when trying to inspire and teach creative skills – and conversely how important the young people are to Sam’s practice as an artist.
It is hoped that this exhibition not only challenged some of the unpleasant stereotypes with which children are stigmatised but also that the act of other people appreciating their work gives the children the confidence to keep creating and innovating. Judith Slinn ended her entry in the visitor’s book by hoping that “all the children carry on sewing and being creative” and so do I!