I think one of the reasons that I have so much enjoyed researching and talking about Lorina Bulwer’s embroideries over the years, is that is just never gets boring. Almost everyone who sees them or hears the talk is immediately both intrigued and fascinated. It’s true, people do tend to ask the same questions, but that’s because they are the good questions to ask – the ones I want answers to as well.
The staff and volunteers of the costume and textile department in Norwich have always understood Lorina’s work to be some of the most important in the collections. It might not be as highly skilled, as old, or as beautiful as other items, but then Social History curators do not place value on collections in such ways. They look for the potential that objects have to tell us something about the way that people lived in the past.
From Curator Cathy Terry’s brilliant decision to fund-raise and purchase the long embroidery for the museum service, to its central role in the high profile Frayed exhibition, the museum team have always tried to share and make accessible these extraordinary textiles and what information we have discovered about them over the years. As a result there is now quite a network of people over the world who have spent time thinking about Lorina and her work, and who have been inspired by her in many different ways. Only last week I was contacted by a poet and academic in New York who had read about the exhibition and was fascinated by Lorina’s use of language (hello Rachael, if you are reading this!).
From historians to psychologists, and textile specialists to writers, a huge range of individuals have visited, studied or enquired about Lorina and her embroideries. Since I first carried out the research, I have sent the transcription and documentation to hundreds of individuals. Lorina and her embroideries have been included in PhDs, a novel, and even got a mention on Radio 4. Next year, I will be appearing on the Antiques Roadshow with her long sampler, and needless to say the whole of the production crew and other members of the public were as mesmerised as everyone else always is.
Since 2004 Lorina’s embroideries have been viewed by over 400 researchers and hundreds more when it was displayed in Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery on two separate occasions. The textiles have been the subject of academic study by researchers in USA, Canada, Australia and Germany. I have delivered my talk in Norfolk, Suffolk and Bedfordshire to several hundred people, and have published an article about the work. The samplers have been used as part of an A-level psychology study day in the museum, and have inspired countless art students and artists. In terms of value, for us, the samplers are simply priceless.
One last thought on Lorina herself and why her work is so engaging – I think it is the person that makes this object powerful, not the material or meaning. To be truthful, I’m not sure I’ve ever come across another museum object like it in that respect. For a start, her work is the only one in the collections that we refer to as a person (e.g. “I’m just going to get Lorina out”, or “Would the group like to see Lorina”, “Let’s put her in that exhibition” etc.). Strange, you may be thinking. But once you read her words, you just can’t escape the fact you are engaging with a person not an historic artifact Oh, and…I suspect that she would LOVE the fact you are reading those words…to be heard is exactly what she was struggling for. Come and see for yourself…
Ruth will be giving her talk on Lorina and her embroideries at Time and Time Museum on Friday 18th October at 11.30.