Do you have criminal ancestors? Does your family history include a black sheep from Staffordshire? If so, artist Ruth Singer is keen to hear from you!
During 2017 and 2018 Ruth is Artist in Residence at Staffordshire Record Office, researching and creating artworks inspired by images of female criminals who were photographed in Stafford Prison from 1877 to 1915. These pictures provide a compelling glimpse into the lives of around 500 women imprisoned for crimes such as drunkenness and theft, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Alongside the creation of textile artworks for her successful Criminal Quilts series, Ruth is working with local volunteers to meticulously research the backgrounds of some of the women whose images are preserved in nine surviving photo albums from Stafford Prison.
Together, Ruth and her team will be creating a touring display about the women in the photographs, their lives and their experiences in Stafford Prison and take this to libraries around the county.
This project came into being in 2012 when textile artist Ruth Singer was commissioned by Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford, to make new work inspired by their historic court building which was built in 1789. The series of miniature quilt pieces created were inspired by mugshots of women prisoners with their hands on their chests and the impressive surroundings of the building they were tried and convicted in. These pieces were later purchased by the Staffordshire Museum Service.
Since 2012 Ruth has continued to develop work around the themes and was awarded the Fine Art Quilt Masters prize at Festival of Quilts in 2016 for one of the new pieces. The new artworks that are being created for this project will be premiered at Festival of Quilts in August and will then tour to Brewhouse Art Gallery, Burton on Trent and Wolverhampton University, both of whom are partners in the project.
Gill Heath, Cabinet Member for Communities at Staffordshire County Council said:
“We’re very pleased to be working with Ruth and the volunteers on this exciting project bringing local history and crafts together. These are fascinating records we have from Stafford prison from the 19th and early 20th centuries and it’s great to see the prisoners’ stories being brought to life in this way. We’re all looking forward to seeing the finished works and exhibition when it tours the county later in the year.”
This project aims to bring contemporary textile art practice together with rigorous archival research and community engagement closely related to local history.
Displays and free talks programme
Criminal Herstories, a display about the project and research will be shown at
Stafford Library 1-28 June with a FREE public talk about the project on Tuesday 5th June 1-2pm. Book via the library
Stone Library 29 June – 3rd July with a FREE public talk about the project and a focus on Criminal Clothing 2-4pm Tuesday 17th July. Book via the library
Community workshops will be run at each venue for local groups.