Bridging Arts

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Unexpected embroidery in a Stanley Spencer chapel

A beautiful Sunday morning and drive with my son to Sandham Memorial Chapel, Wiltshire, to see the Stanley Spencer murals, commissioned in the late 20s and reflecting Spencer's experience in the First World War.
Remember very clearly the last time I went - Election Day in May 1997. But wasn't interested - so much - in embroidery then and didn't notice the embroidered altarpiece.

It is by Madeleine Clifton, an old friend of the Berhrends family which commissioned the chapel and its murals. She was an acclaimed embroiderer in the early 20th century - was a pupil of the painter Walter Sickert and in 1909 opened an etching school with him. Later on, she married Sickert's dealer - A B Clifton - and abandoned painting for embroidery.
This altar hanging is in grey tone, natural linen, a perfect counterpoint to the maelstrom of colour and movement in the mural behind. And as the images in the mural pose questions, so does the text on the embroidery. The lines are left incomplete.
"We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little....." The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1, line 148
"I am the resurrection and the life and he that...." John 11, v 25.