Student Led Symposium:
‘Women, Work and Commerce in the Creative Industries, Britain 1750-1950’
8 & 9 February 2019
V&A and University of Westminster
Spanning two days in February 2019, Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) students Erika Lederman, Hannah Lyons and George Mind welcomed over 80 attendees to the V&A and Fyvie Hall, University of Westminster, for a symposium of 22 papers presented by an international roster of academics, museum professionals and independent scholars. The programme explored interdisciplinary perspectives on women’s experiences of work and the gendered dynamics of commerce in the creative industries in Britain between 1750 and 1950.
The symposium was divided into eight panels over the two days, focusing on a range of interdisciplinary themes such as ‘(In)Visibility and the Archive’ and ‘Making Materials: Industry and Trade’. Each panel was followed by lively discussion and questions led by Chairs from both academic and cultural institutions.
The event kicked off on 8 February in Seminar Room 5 at the V&A where academic attendees were joined by large contingent of V&A curatorial staff. Erika introduced the keynote speakers Drs. Patricia Zakreski (Senior Lecturer in Victorian Literature and Culture at the University of Exeter) and Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi (Senior Lecturer in English Literature, Bath Spa University), who each presented their current research on the connections between Victorian fiction, the decorative arts and labour and Victorian women’s communal labour and professional communities, respectively. We invited Dr Zakreski and Dr Hadjiafxendi to deliver keynote papers as they ran a conference in 2008 at the University of Exeter on the subject of Artistry and Industry: Representations of Creative Labour in Literature and Visual Arts c. 1830 – 1900. They later published Crafting the Woman Professional in the Long Nineteenth Century: Artistry and Industry in Britain, an edited collection that has had an impact on all of our respective research areas.
Panel 1, ‘Commerce and Print’, chaired by Spike Sweeting, Royal College of Art / V&A, began with a critical analysis of the work of four mid-19th century wood engravers, presented by Johanna Holmes, a PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London. This was followed by a joint presentation on the National Art Library’s Jobbing Printing Collection by Deborah Sutherland and Ruth Hibbard, both from the V&A Word & Image Department.
After a lunch generously funded by the AHRC Student Led Activity Fund, Dr. Marta Weiss, Curator of Photographs at the V&A, chaired the first of two panels focusing on photography. Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, an independent curator based in New York, presented on the women photographers exhibiting in the 1914 exhibition at the gallery of The Women’s Kingdom, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society. Cohen-Stratyner was followed by a paper on the work of suffragette and photographer Norah Smyth, delivered by Helen Trompeteler, of the Royal Collection Trust.
Dr. Elizabeth Edwards, the Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor at the V&A Research Institute, joined as Chair of the next panel focussing on networks and clubs. Pamela Glasson Roberts, an independent scholar from Bath, and formally the Curator of the Royal Photographic Society, described the membership and creative synergies generated among members of the London-based all-women’s Halcyon Club founded in 1911. This flowed nicely into Rachael Chambers’ (Assistant Curator of Photographs at the V&A) talk on photographer Agnes Warburg, a founding member of the Halcyon Club, and the first woman to be named a Royal Photographic Society Fellow.
After a short break, Christopher Marsden, Senior Archivist, V&A, introduced the panel ‘(In)visibility and the Archive’. Caroline Douglas, an artist currently undertaking her PhD at the Royal College of Art, shared her practice-based research on Elizabeth Hall, a portrait subject of the 19th century calotypes of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. This was followed by a paper re-establishing the identities of female fairground workers from the first half of the 20th century by Amy Goodwin, also a practice-based PhD candidate, at Norwich University of the Arts. Highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of the panel, Christine Slobogin, a History of Art PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London, introduced the audience to the careers of two women who worked as professional medical illustrators in the First World War.
Patricia Zakreski giving her keynote paper on women writers and creative labour in the Victorian period
Panel 1: Commerce and Print, Chaired by Spike Sweeting
Helen Trompeteler delivering her paper on the photography of Norah Smyth and The Woman’s Dreadnought
Day two took place in the beautiful stained-glass and wood-panelled Fyvie Hall, University of Westminster, previously a masonic meeting place and the site of the first photographic studio in Europe. Dr. Jan Marsh of the National Portrait Gallery, presented a keynote paper on women artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Circle and their financial agency and position in the art market. Dr. Marsh’s ‘Pre Raphaelite Sisters’ exhibition opens at the National Portrait Gallery this autumn. The keynote paper was followed by our second panel on photography, chaired by George, and focusing on the commercial aspects of the profession. A paper on Britain’s first two women photographers was presented by Rose Teanby, an independent scholar who authors the blog: Early Women Photographers. Sarah French, a PhD candidate working collaboratively between the University of Sussex & Hastings Museum looked at the collective experience, including issues of class, of women working in ‘Lady Photographer’ Alice Hughes’s studio at the beginning of the 20th century. The panel concluded with a focus on historiography and examples of previously unattributed works by women photographers in the Royal Collection presented by Catlin Langford, Assistant Curator, Royal Collection Trust.
After a break for lunch, the subject turned to textiles and Hannah chaired a panel on ‘Mechanisation and the Artisan’. Isabel Cockburn, an independent scholar recently graduated from Oxford University, presented an art historical study of Shetland fine lace knitting in the Victorian period. This was complemented by Oxford PhD student Benjamin Schneider’s application of a new method of estimation to analyse the hand-spinning profession in a period before the collection of government statistics.
The previous day’s keynote, Dr.Hadjiafxendi, chaired our third panel of the day focussing on design and entrepreneurship and professional identities. Zoe Hendon, Head of Collections at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, Middlesex University, presented a paper highlighting the gendered assumptions that have obscured the career of early 20th century design consultant Grace Lovat Fraser. Next up was Rebecca Luffman, an Assistant Curator at the V&A, who explored the impact of art educator Marion Richardson on the ‘Child’s Art Movement’ in the early 20th century.
After a short break for coffee, the day ended with a panel chaired by Dr. Zakreski, with three papers examining the production of materials used in the creative industries. Dr. Michael Pritchard, a photographic historian and Chief Executive of the Royal Photographic Society, led with a paper on women’s roles in the ancillary trades that make up the ‘photographic industry’ in its earliest years of existence. Dr. Grace Williams, an independent scholar, examined Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and women’s role in material production for the jewellery, silversmithing and pen-making industries, from the late 1800s onwards, with an emphasis on the production of suffragette jewellery. And last but not least,….Katie Lloyd Thomas, a Professor of Theory and History of Architecture at Newcastle University and co-director of the Architecture Research Collaborative, looked at the roles that women occupied within the building products industry and the ‘feminisation’ of new technologies such as electricity.
After closing remarks and comments from the audience, including more than one plea to ‘continue the discussion’ through publication of some manner, the evening ended with a drinks reception at Fyvie Hall.
Jan Marsh giving her keynote paper on ‘Women, Men and Money’
Rose Teanby delivering her paper on the first commercial female photographers, Ann Cooke and Jane Nina Wigley
Hannah Lyons introducing Isobel Cockburn, who spoke about Shetland lace and women’s craft in Victorian Britain