Thursday 21st August 2014

I have to leave my studio and countryside to meet Anna Towlson, Archives and Special Collections Manager at LSE Library, home of The Women’s Library collection.


The Women’s Library Reading Room, LSE. Image: PorteBidet (CC0 1.0 Universal)

My heart is feeling heavy, as I am still not quite there with my ideas. I don’t want to be distracted by going back into London; I feel I need to be working in my own space. I pull on my smarter London clothes and catch the train.

Outside LSE Library is a large, vertical neon blue scrolling light sculpture. It’s so contemporary. If only my piece had such a simple site. I smile to myself!

Anna takes me up to a small room where she has selected certain items that she feels would interest me. Mari had told her that my main focus lies with the petitions. I had actually only just realised that was true; I had thought I was looking at everything. It took this meeting with Anna to crystallize a few things in my mind.

I enter the room and there on the table is The Apple Seller painting by Bertha Newcombe. I have come full circle again. This was the painting that I wanted to see; not because it is particularly remarkable, it just captured my imagination. I look at it now and there is the petition scroll. I take this as a sign that my ideas are on the right track.

Anna shows me the wording of the first petition and the letters between Barbara Bodichon and John Stuart Mill leading up to its drafting, discussing the correct wording; what to include and what to leave out, to make sure it was even considered by Parliament.

Appendix to the Report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Petitions, 1866. Parliamentary Archives, HC/CL/JO/6/416

Appendix to the Report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Petitions, 1866. Parliamentary Archives, HC/CL/JO/6/416

I discuss with Anna how beautiful I find the expression, ‘and your petitioners will ever pray’, placed at the end of every petition. Does that mean that until the particular bill is passed that we will continue to hope/wish/desire/pray (whatever your belief.)? I just checked the meaning of Prayer in a legal context – it is to ‘expect.’

Finally, Anna has selected to show me a sketchbook of the suffrage artist Mary Lowndes. We leaf carefully through her wonderful watercolour and ink drawings of suffrage banners, with textile swatches at the side. Simple, clear and effective. It was good to see an artist’s sketch book, the humble beginnings of great banners. Inside her book Banners and Banner–Making (1909), Lowndes has inspirational words that speak out to me about the artwork that I am going to make.

Inspirational words from the Mary Lowndes 'Banners and Banner-Making' (1909)

Inspirational words from Mary Lowndes’s ‘Banners and Banner-Making’ (1909)

I thank Anna for showing me exactly what I needed to see and told her that our meeting was perfectly timed. I explained that her choices of artefacts had confirmed my final pieces. I left for the train, straight back to the countryside and my studio; it was going to be OK.

Come back on Saturday 5 November 2016 to read Mary’s final diary entry…