Mary Farmer: A Life in Tapestry exhibition opens 7th May to 7th September 2024 at the Craft Study Centre, Farnham

Written by Digswell Arts

On May 17, 2024
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Mary Farmer: A Life in Tapestry at the Crafts Study Centre: 7 May to 7 September 2024.

From the late 1960s to the 1990s Mary Farmer (1940-2021) was at the forefront of radical textile art, creating striking, abstract tapestries. Her first training was as a painter, but an introduction to the art of weaving with Gwen and Barbara Mullins at Graffham Weavers led to her lifelong exploration of the artistic potential of woven form. She was fascinated by the subtle surface textures and depth of colour achieved by weaving and looked to create what she called ‘a single clear statement’ in her pieces.

Colour is to me’ she wrote, ‘the single most powerful and emotive visual sensation. I use wool for its incomparable intensity and saturation of colour; tapestry for its richness and for the personal control possible over its construction.’

This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to explore and rediscover Mary Farmer’s work with a selection of tapestries, rugs and woven samples on loan from her Estate and one further piece from the Crafts Study Centre’s own collections. The exhibition celebrates the donation of the Mary Farmer archive to the Crafts Study Centre which took place in January 2024. Selections from the archive, including photographs, samples, artist notes, important exhibition catalogues and sketchbooks, will be displayed alongside the tapestries giving greater context to Farmer’s life, her exploration of intense colour and geometry in her weaving practice, and the impact that she had on the development of textile art from the 1960s-90s.

Early research into Mary Farmer’s distinguished career (sadly curtailed by injury in 1990 and illness in 2000) reveals her participation in some of the most significant cultural activities in craft and design in the UK in the post war period. For example, she was awarded a prestigious Digswell Art Trust Fellowship in 1964 (alongside important makers also represented in the CSC collections such as Peter Collingwood and Hans Coper) which was quickly followed by a string of significant commissions, including work for the British Embassies in Paris and Rome.

Farmer was immersed in the vibrant scene of contemporary craft that followed in the wake of the formation of the Crafts Advisory Committee in 1971. She was one of the selectors of the seminal 1981 Crafts Council exhibition The Maker’s Eye and she regularly featured in group shows and touring exhibitions of important textile art, such as Rugs for Churches (1977); Textiles Today (1981), selected by leading designer Marianne Straub for Kettles Yard; Contemporary British Tapestries (1981); and Attitudes to Tapestry (1983), organised by fellow weaver Ann Sutton. Farmer also secured a number of high-profile corporate commissions with National Bank of America, British Oxygen Company, Channel 4, and her work now resides in significant public collections such as the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Government Art Collection.

Teaching was important throughout Farmer’s career. She taught at West Surrey College of Art and Design in Farnham and went on to lead the Tapestry course at the Royal College of Art from 1983 to 1997. Along with her husband, the sculptor Terry Moores, she converted a listed warehouse in Boston, Lincolnshire in the early 1980s, allowing her weaving work and family life to take place side by side.

The Crafts Study Centre is grateful to the Estate of Mary Farmer and the Estate advisors, independent curators Amanda Game and Jennifer Hallam, for their work in helping to place the archive with the Centre and in undertaking invaluable initial background research on the artist’s life and work.

Video: A YouTube video providing an overview of Mary Farmer’s career has been produced by the family Estate: https://www.youtube.com/@EstateOfMaryFarmer.

The exhibition will be accompanied by the following events

• Saturday 18 May, 12pm-2pm: Opening reception (invitation only)

• Other events TBC

Admission to the Crafts Study Centre and its exhibitions is free.

Events are free to attend, but booking is recommended: https://www.csc.uca.ac.uk/programme

Address:

Crafts Study Centre, Falkner Road, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7DS,

Opening hours:

Tuesday to Friday 10am-5pm; Saturday 10am-4pm

About the Crafts Study Centre

The Crafts Study Centre at the University for the Creative Arts is a specialist university museum and research centre, open to the public. It is home to internationally acclaimed collections of modern and contemporary British craft, in the fields of calligraphy and lettering, ceramics, textiles, and furniture and wood, as well as archival material including diaries, working notes and photographs. The Centre hosts inspiring exhibitions by leading artist-makers, lectures, symposiums and open days. The Centre’s Research Room and Library are available by appointment for those interested in learning more about our collections.

www.csc.uca.ac.uk

Portrait of Mary Farmer at her studio in Guildford, 1973. Photograph by Philip Sayer.

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