Lynn Setterington on the Brontë Way, with the Brontë Parsonage Museum
Sew Near – Sew Far was part of the A&H Meeting Point programme, and displayed on the Brontë Way, with The Brontë Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire from 30 September - 14 October 2017.
The Brontë Parsonage Museum wanted an artist to help the museum trial a radical new way of using their exhibition ‘spaces’. 2016-2020 saw a series of major Bronte bicentenaries, and so a visitor increase was expected (affecting capacity in the Parsonage) as well as an increased number of special exhibitions already programmed to take place in the conventional Museum spaces. Therefore, the museum was keen to use this as an opportunity to trial a new way of engaging with contemporary work –whether unlocking underused physical spaces within the Museum environs or village, utilising digital realms, or other non-traditional methods of ‘exhibiting’ work such as performances or events; or even taking the Brontes out to alternative locations. The museum was open to ideas of what this ‘alternative’ exhibition space could be. The hope was, that whatever space was used, that the project would result in visitors understanding and experiencing the truly radical, rebellious nature of the Brontes’ work.
Key objectives for the project were:
- To make comment upon and re-create the radical theatre of the Brontë family
- To increase the museum’s audiences and raise national profile
- To create work inspired by the Brontë family outside of the museums walls and within the landscape.
“The notion of samplers is central to my proposal work and a number of possible outcomes could explore some of the [Brontë] sister’s words onto and into different haptic surfaces. These include a collaborative initiative in which the Bronte’s words could be sewn directly into the grass either in front of the parsonage or on the moors itself, working directly into the Yorkshire landscape. […] Equally, sections of these unique personal documents could be transcribed by hand in the form of a contemporary large-scale sampler/s. Either output could be exhibited or travel to in different local environments such as high schools, church halls or community centres.”
“[…] The sampler was a popular form of expression during the sisters’ lifetime and examples in the museum acknowledge that several members of the family created these stitched-based artefacts from an early age. This intervention would bring the genre up to date and offer a new form of ‘literacy of the needle’ (Amanda Vickery.)” – extracts from Lynn Setterington’s initial application, 2017
Sew Near – Sew Far saw a large-scale, textile artwork at three sites on the Brontë Way; each one celebrating the famous signatures of the literary sisters. Local people became part of the work when they added their own sewn signatures during a series of workshops. The work was installed with the help of local organisation Fields of Vision.
Lynn Setterington’s commission celebrated the endeavours of diverse volunteer groups in West Yorkshire: those often-nameless individuals and organisations, who make things happen. The initiative explored the sewn signature as a marker of identity, and documented the autographs of local individuals, to acknowledge and celebrate good deeds and acts of kindness. Key partners included Talk English in Bradford (who taught English to those new to Britain), the local Ramblers Association (who happened to be walking the Brontë Way that year), Bridleways (a pony trekking and horse orientated group in the area), and Worth Valley Young Farmers (who fundraised and supported a number of charities). Additionally, Lynn gave a sewing workshop for the project at Elizabeth Gaskell House in Manchester, which expanded the reach of the project (Elizabeth Gaskill wrote Charlotte Brontë’s biography).
Drop-in workshops in and around Haworth allowed others to add their signatures and the results formed the large scale linear drawings in the landscape: a homage to the good deeds of all those invisible and often overlooked individuals, including the Bronte sisters themselves.
Lynn began her research at the English Literature department at Manchester Metropolitan University. Lecturer, Emma Liggins supported this research and came to help in Haworth – to share her knowledge of the Brontë sisters, and to assist with stitching. In return, Lynn gave a talk on the project as part of Liggins’ National Gothic Literature event, and Liggins continued to show the film for Sew Near, Sew Far to her English Literature students, as an introduction to women writers of the 19th Century.
“Signatures are an important marker of identity and the Brontë sisters famously used pseudonyms at their time of writing to disguise the fact they were women. I’m creating an artwork for Brontë Parsonage Museum exploring the adopted and real signatures of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. I’ll be working with local people to develop the artworks and inviting them to add their own signatures to the piece.” – artist, Lynn Setterington
“Whilst we have a long standing reputation of working with leading artists, this project with Lynn will be a first for the Brontë Parsonage Museum as we take the exhibition out of the museum and into the landscape that was so important to the Brontës. We’ve been able to work with local communities as part of the project and really involve people in our Brontë 200 celebrations.” – Lauren Livesey, Arts Officer at the Brontë Parsonage Museum
Lynn Setterington involved over one hundred local people in the making of Sew Near – Sew Far:
“Just a quick note to say how much I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop this afternoon. You were all really welcoming, and I made two new friends among my fellow embroiderers. They are Haworth residents and we had a real giggle at our efforts. I met some great people. Can’t wait to see the finished article.” – participant
“Really enjoyed being part of the Sew Near – Sew Far art project in Haworth today. Can’t wait to see the finished project!” – participant
- Over 110 people participated in workshops including children and adults
- 60 people attended events held as part of the programme at the museum
- The final piece was outdoors and visible to passers-by making it impossible to count how many people saw the final piece.
Timandra Nichols from Arts&Heritage said: “Lynn has continued to challenge how people perceive embroidery by using innovative techniques to create her artworks. Sew Near – Sew Far has been created with the local community ensuring it is inclusive and something everyone can experience and enjoy. It will give visitors to the Brontë Way a whole new way to experience the Brontë Parsonage Museum.”
“Seeing the Bronte signatures on the landscape they so often explored is profoundly touching. Currer and Acton Bell in place on a beautiful autumn day, the names those used to pass as male authors when first submitting their works.” – visitor
Sew Near, Sew Far was part of Lynn Setterington’s PhD and was written about as part of her study. She has since given several talks about the project at international conferences (including, at the International Quilt Museum in the USA), and to students on Arts and Humanities courses.
About the Artist
Lynn Setterington is a major British textile artist particularly known for her hand stitched textiles and collaborative arts initiatives which celebrate the everyday and ordinary in society today. She trained at Goldsmiths College, University of London and is currently a Senior Lecturer at the Manchester School of Art. She is also an Associate Fellow of the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska. Her work is held in many collections including the V&A Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery, Terrance Higgins Trust, Gallery Oldham, The Embroiderers’ Guild, Denver Museum of Art and The International Quilt Study Center, Nebraska, USA. For the last decade, Lynn has specialised in public engagement commissions with hard to reach groups.
Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience
A creative practice-led research collaboration between major UK heritage partners.