Featuring 24 contemporary international and national fibre artists, STITCHED UP gives a voice to the 193 girls who attended The Newcastle Industrial School, in the 150th-year since its opening.
Between 1867 and 1871, one hundred and ninety-three girls aged from two and a half to 18 years attended the Newcastle Industrial School. These girls came from backgrounds of poverty, cruelty and discrimination endemic in immigrant and marginalised communities during Australia’s ‘Gold Rush’ era. Many became notorious in the locality for a series of daring escapes which led to repeated incarcerations. Some of the girls went on to gain national infamy.
The initial concept for the STITCHED UP project came from a chance discovery that some of the girls had been detained in the Newcastle lock up (now The Lock-Up and Timeless Textile Gallery
) after short-lived escapes from the school.
Following discussions with Dr Ann Hardy of the Hunter Living Histories, the project idea was seeded. Having met with local historian, Jane Ison, Curators Anne Kempton and Wilma Simmons were immediately captivated by the life stories of the young girls of the Newcastle Industrial School. The research and writings of Jane Ison and subsequently Canberra based anthropologist, David Eastburn and Bernadette Sheahan have inspired this project to engage worldwide interest in this fascinating part of Newcastle’s history.
24 internationally renowned fibre artists from Canada, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark and nationally across Australia have contributed the project. The pieces include a large quilt as a comforter; dolls to compensate for lost childhood; cloth books for story-telling; shadow threadworks; and visual poetry. Adding further dimension and community participation in the project, 30 women from The Wednesday Maker’s group at Timeless Textiles Gallery stitched embroidered narratives of each of the girls’ lives, working for two years on the project and resulting in seven volumes of cloth books, each page dedicated to one of the girls or a family of sisters.