Welcome again all Friends of Mountmellick Embroidery and Heritage Museum to week sixteen in our series of articles on our Museum or an element of local History. Again, our thoughts and best wishes are with you all and your families, we hope that you are staying safe. In last Weeks’s foreword I had indicated that we planned to bring to you this week, the story and pictures behind Mountmellick Yarn Bombing, a local initiative which transforms Mountmellick each year with a cascade of brightly coloured knitted and crocheted creations, which have achieved many accolades and are a source of admiration to all who view them. This article is not quite ready and rather than rush this publication we have deferred it till next week, which will be our final publication of this series. It will be worth the wait.
While there are very few positive effects associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, it has forced people to slow down, consider each other a little more, and in many instances has allowed time for those creative individuals amongst us to spend a little extra time in our gardens, carry out much needed D.I.Y , decluttering, or try out new recipes. Neither has it dampened the community spirit, a legacy handed down over many generations and practised in so many ways by the residents of this Midlands Town. This spirit of support and cooperation is still very evident today, in the many voluntary and community groups operating in the town, for example our Tidy Towns Committee, and Yarn Bombing Group who despite the suspension of the National competition continue to enhance Mountmellick with their many floral and creative displays on view, motivated purely by pride of place and their own innate creativity. (See selection of photographs attached for both this week and many more to come next week to illustrate this). Why not plan a visit to see us at some stage when safe to do so?
This week’s article by Marie Walsh a previous contributor to this Forum and long-standing member of both Mountmellick Development Association and present Museum Committee “expands” more to the human value of crafts and cultural activities and their relevance today.
Thank you, and it is over to you Marie.
Chairperson – Museum and Heritage Committee
Welcome everybody to our museum article no. 16
Since the museum was established in 2003, I have been reading and researching the topic of museums and their value to society and communities.
I came across the following extract recently from an article in Country Living entitled; ' Smart ways to wake up your brain'......Get smart with art.
It goes on to say; “Galleries, museums, theatre trips, and concerts are all nourishment for our minds according to research from University College London, which found that artistic engagement reduces the risk of depression." Cultural activities encourage gentle movement, reduce social isolation and lower inflammation and stress hormones such as cortisol" says Dr. Daisy Fancourt, the study lead author. " The arts are linked with dopamine release which encourages cognitive flexibility and reduces the risk of dementia". This study gives credence to the positive value obtained by museum visitors.
The Heritage Council of Irl. states that “Museums are not-for-profit institutions that collect, safeguard, hold-in-trust, research, develop and interpret collections of original objects for the public benefit. They function publicly as places where people learn from and find inspiration and enjoyment through the display and research of original pieces.”
I have also learned that museums are places people want to visit because of the way they are treated, the enjoyable experience awaiting them and staff/volunteer guides that make them feel welcome and wanted.
I think it would be fair to say that we strive to fulfil all of the above in our little museum and find that the visitor really values and enjoys 'the experience' and 'the stories'.
In our previous articles we have related 'the stories' not only of Mountmellick History, but also stories of beautiful needlework and the creative women associated with them. I refer of course to Mountmellick Embroidery created by Johanna Carter in 1825 and revived by Sr. Teresa Margaret in 1970, The Hannah Davis Sampler 1805, The Quaker Tapestries created by Anne Wynn-Wilson and completed in 1996, The two contemporary collaboration dresses; Heidi Higgins/ Dolores Dempsey 2015 and Caroline Mitchell/ Dolores Dempsey 2018, all wonderful creations by talented and innovative women.
Another 'story' I read recently related to Louisa Pesel, born in 1870 in Bradford U.K. She was a distinguished textile artist and embroiderer. She studied at the National Art Training School (Royal College of Art) under Lewis Foremann Day, a significant figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. She had a very creative and successful career. During World War 1 Louisa taught embroidery to Belgian refugees in Bradford and at the close of the war she was involved with the Khaki Handicrafts Club estd. 1918 to offer occupational therapy to returning soldiers. In 1920 she was elected as 1st. President of the Embroiderers Guild of England. She later moved to Winchester to work at the Cathedral training a team to produce cushions and kneelers. Hundreds of volunteers worked on the project from 1931 to 1936, producing 360 kneelers, 62 stall cushions, and 96 alms bags, and her work is still in use today! During World War 2 she organised embroidery kits sent to allied prisoners of war in Europe via the Red Cross, (again demonstrating the positive and therapeutic benefits of creative needlework). She wrote books on needlework and travelled the world for inspiration, after her death in 1947 her textile collection was bequeathed to the University of Leeds. It consists of 400 items.
But back to the present day now, there is also the active, on-going enjoyable 'story ' of all the women and men currently reaping the rewards and benefits of creative needlework. We promote Mountmellick Embroidery as a living craft and our inclusion in The National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage is living testament to that. A great debt of gratitude is due to Sr. Teresa Margaret and all the ladies who have carried on the craft since the revival in 1970. We have wonderful committed tutors teaching classes locally and we hope to write an article on their 'stories' in the future.
Of course, not all needle workers will be involved in Mountmellick Embroidery. Many are enjoying patchwork, knitting, crochet, beadwork, and lacemaking. The Design and Craft Council of Ireland published a brochure on Irish Lace and says ' There is an astounding variety of Lace in Ireland for such a small country, deriving from France, Belgium and Italy. Each style requires different techniques and the skills were difficult to learn, ensuring that the particular types of lace were instantly recognisable'.
The Annual International Lace Day was held recently on Sunday July 5th. Belated happy celebrations of this extraordinary world event to all lace makers in Ireland and worldwide. The day was marked with wonderful photographs posted on Facebook from right around the globe. Smiling faces of gifted lace makers displaying their wonderful creations and work in progress. Creative threads uniting mankind through time honoured traditions.
So, I hope all the 'stories' have inspired and encouraged you to be creative.
As for me!, well I have just finished a piece of Mountmellick embroidery which was started some time ago ! at our embroidery class with Dolores and Margaret, and yes indeed there is great joy in practising 'mindfulness ' in the process of craft and completing it!.
To conclude, I will refer you to a beautiful article posted on Facebook by The Traditional Lace makers of Ireland, entitled " Grandma how do you heal your pain" She concludes by saying, " move them (hands) my girl, start creating with them and everything in you will move. The pain will not pass away but it will be the best masterpiece and it won’t hurt anymore, because you managed to embroider your essence “. - Elena Barnabe.
Best wishes everybody in all your creative endeavours and enjoy every moment.
Take care and stay safe,
Colourful images of local Mountmellick displays
Mountmellick Civic Offices
Heidi Higgins and Caroline Mitchell Dresses
Quakers Tapestry - Sample of the Kendall Tapestry
Irish Lace. The Design & Craft Council Ireland Brochure
A set of pillow cases with crochet lace trimmings by my late grandmother Jane Healion 1975
Image from DCCI Brochure