Stitching Stories and Shadows

Following Jeanette Orrell’s inclusion in House, an Oriel Davies Gallery exhibition ( opening on 14 November 2015; we take a look back at Jeanette Orrell’s 2014 Maker in Focus at Mission Gallery.

The following essay is written by Angela Maddock, artist and writer.

Jeanette Orrell | Maker in Focus

01 July – 03 August 2014

Jeanette Orrell originally trained in ceramics at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, now she mostly works with needle and thread, threads of all kinds. Jeanette stitches because she believes it enables greater immediacy, more control and a different experience of making which allows her work to develop alongside everyday living. This is important because Jeanette’s work is essentially autobiographic. It finds its place in the day-to-day experiences that characterise most of our lives: shared memories, objects, conversations and relationships with others, and for Jeanette, her life as a mother and granddaughter.

A pair of child’s black plimsolls, a hairbrush casting an extraordinary shadow, tiny socks and mittens and a ballerina’s dress stitched through with hair. Stories stitched into worn out shoes, the tale of a seaside holiday, of custard creams and coca cola shared by teenage friends. This was Jeanette’s work for ‘Maker in Focus’ at Mission Gallery in the summer of 2014 and I was intrigued.

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One of the black plimsolls is dropped into my open hands and I am momentarily confused when they sink at its unexpected weight. Not canvas and rubber, but lead rests in my palms and I am told to wash my hands afterwards, conjuring up childhood appeals for clean hands before food. This uncanny moment unsettles me, provoking thoughts of lead boots and sinking, a toxic plimsoll.

Jeanette has a thing about shoes. She hoards those that belonged to her daughters, shoes that mark their journey from toddlers into adulthood. In this context, the story she describes when we meet at her north Wales home of loosing one of a pair is significant, for it speaks of lost evidence of her daughters’ lives. Her shoe collection is also her raw material. She squirrels them away in her attic studio where, in this waiting room of sorts, the lost one assumed a very particular presence; it niggled at her. It was not its loss that was the issue, but more what is stood for. Her decision to replace it with one cast in lead expresses what she describes as “the weight of loss.” In the end, this lamp black plimsoll serves as a metaphor for the heaviness of searching for the mislaid, misfiled or lost forever. Jeanette sees the new one as describing: “a burden […] loss is a burden, it’s there all the time.” This lead twin is a substitute of sorts, but it is not a replacement – for, as Jeanette tells me, we can never replace the original.

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There are other plimsolls or pumps laid out on Jeanette’s kitchen table, one stitched through with the story of her daughter Honey’s first seaside holiday without the family, a tale of biscuits and pop shared on a seaside bench. Like much of Jeanette’s work, these shoes act as both memorial and fetish object; memorials to childhood pleasures and fetish objects that testify to Jeanette’s continuing attachment to her children, her desire to keep traces of their childhood close as they become physically distant. Soles worn soft from daily wear and canvas uppers that perform as carefully stitched diary pages, witness to their many ‘home from school’ chats.

In another room sits a wooden ironing board with a cover embroidered in red text. This ironing board belonged to her paternal grandmother; its role as domestic object brought to a full stop by the hand stitched transcription of stories she shared with Jeanette during her last illness. These uneven letters recall a child’s hand, a child practicing independence. Jeanette tells of a deep attachment to her grandmother and describes the stitching as her “labour of love”, a time consuming, meditative and absorbing process that enabled her to work both with and for her grandmother in what she describes as the “year of mourning” following her death.

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Shoes are not the only things Jeanette keeps close. She also collects her daughters’ hair: “all their hair from when they were babies until now.” There is a postcard image of this hair, plaits snipped from heads and held together by embroidered ribbon, a collective of Rapunzels. We discuss how haircuts perform as rites of passage, how they mark time. These haircuts, and their ensuing plaits, seem to act as pauses, commas, and in the final snip, full stops: a grammar of the journey to adulthood. Somehow, in gathering this hair, Jeanette holds onto time and in using it as embroidery thread, she extends its life.

Individual pale red hairs trace across tiny white scratch mittens and pierce the cloth of a baby vest once worn by her husband, Steffan. All these small things are perfectly flat, as if freshly pressed, and are stored in individual, hand made boxes. They are intriguing, uncanny and somewhat abject and, like the stitches that rendered the ironing board ‘useless’, the hair in these baby garments makes them unwearable: these are scratch mittens that will scratch. In all these things the quality of Jeanette’s stitching is striking, a painstaking, perfectly measured running stitch, which might echo the care we hope is given to children. We look at the baby vest, a vest I describe as more a ‘hair shirt’ and Jeanette offers a truth: “Motherhood can feel like that.”

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In threading hair through the ballerina dress, Jeanette has introduced a disquieting aspect into her work. She explains that this piece makes some people feel ‘uncomfortable’, a discomfort brought about, I suspect, partly by tactile dislocation but also by the intervention of signs of adulthood at the site of a child’s body. This reminds us that empty garments are never empty.

Eventually we return to the shadows, the things that struck me most when I first encountered her work. Jeanette shares a practical explanation, she draws each object – simple, domestic tools – at different times and as the light changes the shadows overlap, elongate and become dense. This makes sense, but there is something else, these dark shadows have a melancholic quality, suggesting an absence and longing that I feel says something about mothering and separation.

I leave with one thought resonating beyond others. Jeanette embellishes, yet her stitches are more than decoration, much more than surface. These stitches are tiny marks of care, acts of love that resonate with the complex nature of our relationship to others and their ‘things’.

New Perspectives | A Showcase of Swansea’s GCSE Talent



30th September – 25th October 2015 

We are proud to have been able to host an exhibition of GCSE work  to celebrate the variety and quality of work produced in schools across the Swansea region.

The exhibition New Perspectives has been extremely well received by our visitors. Members of the public have gone to great lengths to make sure that they tell us how amazed they are at the quality and talent of young people in this area.


The work was selected by contemporary artists Shelley Holden, Anna Lewis and Tim Stokes, who are also lecturers on the Art Foundation Course at Swansea College of Art, and the exhibition was professionally curated by Mission Gallery. Our Learning and Participation Officer Lucy Donald and the above artists visited the ten schools art departments across the region and selected work from portfolios gathered by teachers at participating schools.


The exhibition has enabled the art community and visitors to Mission Gallery realize the level of attainment happening in our local schools, as well as stressing the importance of celebrating the achievements of young artists. We hope to encourage these students to continue their studies in art and to have confidence in the creative industries; so that they might one day consider The Arts as a potential career route.

Many thanks to Heads of Art and most importantly the pupils involved from:

Bishop Gore, Bishopston, Bryntawe, Cefn Hengoed, Gwyr, Gowerton, Morriston, Olchfa, Pentrehafod, Pontarddulais.


Swansea Museum Residency: Matthew Thompson

Mission Gallery are working in partnership with Swansea Museum to create space for an artist in resident to explore and develop their work in response to  the Museum’s photographic archive for artistic research.

The chosen artist for this residency is Matthew Thompson, a BA (Hons) Photography in the Arts graduate from the Swansea College of Art, University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Highly commended for his degree show work Mission Gallery felt that this residency would be beneficial to his practice.

​His work represents a personal pursuit of significance within the vernacular, the everyday. By photographing the world aroundhim, everyday movements and engagements serve as means to form a narrative; highlighting poignant moments, reminding – to quote Barthes – of what has been. As a photographer, this relationship with the transient becomes a form of meditation. Responding to curiosity with little conscious contemplation involved, he takes an intuitive approach at the time of photographing. In subsequent editing and sequencing, he embraces formality. The images exist in the moment they took place – interested only in the atmosphere that emerges.​


Matthew: My work has always been centred around this notion of the found; I don’t like to plan or intervene with subjects. For me it has become really important to aim to approach things with equanimity. I’m really attracted to the idea of reacting to something intuitively through photography.

I entered the residency with very minimal knowledge and experience of Swansea Museum itself, and what struck me straight away was the volume of items, all logged, categorised and stored away somewhere. I immediately started to photograph items within this collection, but was drawn towards the objects, over things like the paintings and photographs.

For me the endless props and items I found almost bizarre.

I often think about photography within book form and in a linear and sequential fashion and want to re-appropriate as much of the Museums archive as possible into my own catalogue, hopefully pulling out interesting juxtapositions.

I want to try and form an abrasive relationship between images, something that doesn’t sit too neatly or easily on the page. I’m not entirely sure why I am feeling this way inclined so far but I’m hoping that will become clear through the next two weeks. It may perhaps be to do with the surface disorder that surrounds the clearly heavily organised nature of the whole archive. There are these pockets of seeming disorder, where things appear to have been pushed aside, forgotten and almost hoarded. That is what appeals to me most through the archive.

Anything that is property of Swansea museum I want to try and utilise, whether that be something that is a part of the official archive, or something that sits quietly to the side. For instance, I’ve been down to the cellar underneath the museum, I’ve photographed parts of the buildings I’ve been in, in search of something interesting to explore.

Ultimately I want to have photographed thousands of things within the granted time-frame and then work the images down into a coherent body and sensible number.


New Designers 2015 and the search for Mission Gallery’s Graduate Showcase

New Designers 2015. Image by Rachael Leahy WEB

As part of my new role as Retail Assistant within the Mission Gallery  I was invited to accompany a colleague to Part One of the New Designers show 2015 in London.  The show gave me a whole new outlook on the possibilities and the innovation within contemporary craft and design.

The main objective in attending the show was to scout for recently graduated designers to exhibit within our annual Graduate Showcase. Having never been to New Designers before and not knowing what to expect, I was astounded at the size of the space and the volume of work to see. The show gave me a chance to develop and expand my knowledge of work created within the bracket of craft and design.

Through being trained within the discipline of Fine Art I’m used to talking about creative practice in a slightly different way, looking heavily on concept and how well the piece translates its ideas to the viewer. But the work within New Designers was a lot more functional and decorative, with items including clothing, ceramics, utensils, jewellery, etc. I was drawn and focused on asking more practical questions of durability, development of the product and why certain materials and processes were used within certain pieces. Having one to one conversations with the designers really made me connect to the work in a deeper way and gave me the opportunity to question and divulged into further detail of the ideas and making of their products.

With regards to the Graduate Showcase, it was a hard decision for my colleague and myself to choose between such a great group of talented individuals. Mission Gallery has a strong connection with contemporary craft and design and for the show we were focusing on artists, makers and designers who have showcased excellence within their specialised field; highlighting those that are pushing the boundaries of traditional concepts and ideas.

Watch this space for August 4th; you will certainly not be disappointed.

Written by: Rachael Leahy, Mission Gallery’s Retail Assistant

Re-making the Cornucopia


A detailed insight into the design process involved in Loglike’s ‘Cornucopia’. Thanks Jen!

Originally posted on :

Lathe in a country cottage
Recent interest in Cornucopia, (a large sculptural piece made from reclaimed wood) and the opportunity to show it at Mission Gallery and the Ruthin Craft Centre prompted a radical renovation and overhaul. The question was, how to improve an artwork that had already been made once, but so rapidly and loosely that it had fallen apart at the end of its original installation?

Sculpture in Haus of Helfa, Llandudno
The first showing of Cornucopia at Haus of Helfa in 2013 had proved that the design worked well. It was appealing, impressive and understandable. There, against the backdrop of a gutted building, its rough surface made sense. The piece did what it had to, for as long as it needed to. In this new exhibition, Cornucopia had to stand up to close scrutiny and also hold its own against a wealth of work by Welsh design talent. The distressed finish wasn’t doing it justice.

wooden hexagons of different sizes
Solutions we needed…

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Cork Craft & Design Exchange |05 – 07 August 2014

Following an invitation from Cork Craft & Design (which we happily accepted – I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland) for a cultural exchange of sorts.

Cork Craft & Design is a voluntary organisation of Cork craft makers (comprising of all craft disciplines). Its aim is to represent all professional craft makers within the City & County of Cork, working towards making the area a recognized city of excellence – Cork Craft Month (5th August – 5th September) is an important tool in this.

This was an opportunity not only to visit Cork Craft & Design but to share ideas and to research Irish based makers. We had been invited to talk about how we work as an Art & Craft gallery, combining both exhibitions and Craft Space. It is our ethos as Mission gallery ‘to nurture development and to push the boundaries of Visual and Applied Art’, offering exhibition, Craft Space and Residency opportunities to both emerging and established artists and makers.

Having arrived and met Carmel Creaner, CCD’s Secretary (and my guide for the trip), we headed out into Cork – first stop: Designworks Studios, Cork. A beautifully curated jewellery gallery and workshop space run by jewellery designer Tuula Harrington, renowned for hand-selecting Ireland’s most prestigious and talented jewellery designers and goldsmiths. Following a tour of makers work, Tuula, Carmel and I fell into conversation over the importance of aiding new and emerging makers – not only through volunteering and internships, but offering forums to which these makers can be introduced to those already in the industry.

A brief visit to the English Market for some much needed sustenance, followed by a visit to the Lavit Gallery. The Lavit Gallery is one of Cork’s longest established galleries, dedicated to promoting the work of artists and makers who have achieved the highest artistic levels ranging from the traditional to the contemporary. Filled fit to bursting – it was hard to know where to look first!

Onwards to Mary Enright’s Goldsmith & Jewellery Gallery in Kinsale, and a sneak peak at a new collection she’s working on (simple yet beautiful) for IJL: International Jewellery London. A quick detour to Enibas and coffee then to the main event of the day – the launch of Cork Craft Month with the curated showcase exhibition of Motive, at the Old Mill, Kinsale. A chance to see some selected makers work, nicely curated by Stephen McNamara (the sheer amount of vinyl lettering was phenomenal, yet it brought the whole exhibition together in a simple and effective way – vinyl and I do not get on by the way).

Motive Annual Showcase Exhibition | James O’Neill Building, Kinsale | 05 – 14 August 2014

Having met some lovely makers and seen examples of high quality work, it was fair to say that the first day had given me some food for thought!

An early start (with a full stomach) for day 2 – Cork Textiles Network’s Re:View exhibition was first point of call. The presentation at the ready (and slideshow working – thankfully), I introduced the network to Mission Gallery – a selection of exhibitions, craft space, makers, education and aims. The Re:View exhibition itself is held in Macroom. A large space can sometimes be daunting yet it had been filled well – the work had been curated in a way as to draw you around the room, allowing each maker their own exhibition space which merged well with the next.

Re:View exhibition | Cork Textiles Network | Town Hall Gallery, Macroom | 01 - 23 August 2014

Re:View exhibition | Cork Textiles Network | Town Hall Gallery, Macroom | 01 – 23 August 2014

A short car trip through lovely countryside to Tony Farrell’s workshop and an array of hand-turned bowls and platters await us – elm, beech, oak and lime. The Clay Works exhibition awaits us (although still being set-up), fortunately due to Carmel’s forward planning this does not impede us – we are expected and are free to wander through The CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery. Even in its unfinished state it is easy to see that the exhibition will be a success!

Clay Works Annual Members Exhibition 2014 | CIT Wandersford Quay Gallery, Wandersford Quay, Cork

Clay Works Annual Members Exhibition 2014 | CIT Wandersford Quay Gallery, Wandersford Quay, Cork

The Cork Craft & Design Pop-up shop at the Douglas Village Shopping Centre conveyed how effective it can be to take Craft out from a gallery environment. As most galleries or Craft shops will know it can at times be a challenge to introduce the general public (who are not used to visiting art establishments) into a space like this yet the pop-up shop seemed to do this easily.

Back again to the city centre and to the collective studios at Sample Studios. A visit to Nuala O’Donovan’s studio is on the cards and I’m getting just a little excited! A sculptural ceramicist based in Cork, her work is pattern based, intricate as well as pristinely clean. From there we visit Lesley Stothers with her wire spoons and paper pieces at her very organized studio and Thomas Campbell at his somewhat less organized but equally creative space.

The day underlined the importance of keeping in touch and working with others within a creative space – of not only creating work but of discussing/sharing/swapping/chatting/arguing ideas and concepts. To look for opportunities to broaden our own and other’s practices and to find Craft’s place within a business orientated society.

Mission Gallery and I would like to thank everyone (especially Carmel and Tony) for this fantastic opportunity of viewing a small snippet of Cork Craft & Design and to wish the very best to all with their own practices. This exchange is a relationship we hope to build on in future, and following the trip we would like to offer a Maker in Focus opportunity to selected Irish makers (names to follow soon)…

Go raibh maith agat

Ephemeral Coast | Gemma Copp


I work predominately with film and installation, often filming in isolated and secluded places or places perceived to be so by the viewer. My work aims to raise a flux of visceral emotions relating to identity and basic human emotions and concerns.


Gemma Copp is a Welsh artist, who currently resides in Swansea, her city of birth. Graduating with a BA in Fine Art from Swansea Metropolitan University in 2006, Copp went on to complete an MA in Contemporary Dialogues in 2009 at the same University. Copp has recently taken part in the Glynn Vivian’s Artist in Residence program. Copp has shown work nationally and internationally and has recently exhibited work at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh, and at the Mannheim Film Festival in Germany, where she received a special commendation from the judges. She was awarded Welsh Artist of the Year in 2012.

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Space  2014

Film, 40 mins.

With its continuous body of salt water covering most of the earth’s surface, the sea is seen as a geophysical body with the tidal rhythms acting as its lungs. The sea is a constant reminder of life, where its continuous tidal motions breathe existence into nature’s habitat and fuel the cycle of regeneration. But what if that were to stop? Life is given value because of its transient and impermanent nature, and the coastline can be just as fragile and ephemeral. What if the rhythm were to be damaged and the cycle broken? Would nature’s balance disappear with the low tide, never to return? Within the piece you see a melancholic, motionless figure, dressed in black, with her back to the viewer. It appears that she is stood, balancing on top of the sea, as the waves repeatedly roll around her. The sea appears to be in balance at this point but as the once high tide turns to low tide and disburses around the figure, it gives the impression that something menacing is about to happen. The colour and focus of the horizon, that once was clear and inspiring, creating feelings of happiness and limitless possibilities, instead now offers the viewer visceral feelings of concern and desolation.