Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Simple Samplers at the Bowes Museum

On August 19 The Bowes Museum are holding a "Simple Samplers" day where you can see some amazing samplers in the Museum collection and get stitching during a drop in workshop to create your own sampler bookmark to take home. This could be a great way to introduce and inspire a friend to start stitching !


There is a wonderful textile collection to explore at the Bowes museum. It has a very wide selection of all the best styles of the past four centuries.

The museum's own website describes the collection as:

The museum’s textile collection was started by John and Joséphine Bowes, who were pioneers in the field of textile collecting. They began acquiring 'antique' textiles to furnish their own homes, which led to the formation of one of the largest and most significant European collections in Britain. In buying for the Museum, they chose to represent all textile techniques and all the European centres of production, from the 15th to 19th centuries.


The collection includes a wide range of tapestries, and a collection of needlework seat covers. Other types of European embroidery include ecclesiastical examples from fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, seventeenth century English work and embroidery from the East. The Bowes also collected carpets, woven textiles and lace.


Later collections represent more regional themes: a large collection of quilts, part of a larger collection of quilted, patchwork and embroidered bedcovers, and flat-woven carpets, with examples from the nineteenth century carpet weaving industry in Barnard Castle.


The Bowes Museum now houses The Blackborne Lace Collection, containing important study collections and the remaining stock of nineteenth century lace dealers, Anthony and Arthur Blackborne, given to the Museum by their descendants in 2006. It includes many rare pieces including a cavalier’s collar of English needle lace from around 1635, making this one of the largest and most important collections of lace in the world.

In 2007, an important collection of vestments and textiles came from St. Clares Abbey in Darlington. They were donated by the order of the Poor Clares, who had brought them from Rouen, France, where the community ran a school for English Catholic girls, from 1644 to 1793. After the French Revolution the sisters were evicted from their monastery and returned to England.


The massive building on the edge of the moors in Teesdale houses the life work of John and Josephine who devoted all their talents and energies, helped by his vast wealth to compile this amazing collection. The museum is the result of a love story and a passion for collecting that bordered on obsession.


John, the son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore, was born at No 13 South Street, Chelsea, London. His mother was a commoner, Mary Millner, who caught the Earl's eye when she worked on his Teesdale estate and ended up living with the Earl to all intents as his wife for many years. The Earl married her just 16 hours before his death in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his son’s succession. Two very long court cases ensued, finally settling the Durham estates on John, but not recognising him as the legitimate heir to the Strathmore title.

John was educated at Eton and became a very successful businessman who profited from the coal reserves on his land. From 1847 he spent his time between France and England exploring his interest in the arts. It was here he bought a theatre and met the Parisian actress Joséphine Coffin-Chevallier.


Joséphine was born in 1825. She was an actress in the Théatre des Variétés, Paris, owned by John Bowes. Joséphine was a talented amateur painter and shared with Bowes his love of fine art and collecting; together they dreamt up the idea of creating a museum at Barnard Castle in his native Teesdale. What makes the museum so unusual is that it is not a former stately home that has been adapted to display the possessions of an aristocratic family no longer able to afford the inheritance tax. It is purpose built to house a collection that was amassed with one idea in mind: to create a place where the people could come to marvel at some of the world’s finest treasures.


The prospect was daunting; nothing had matched the scale, grandeur or location of this colossal proposal in their lifetime. Plans were meticulously scrutinised and painstakingly formed in order to give the North East a truly magnificent edifice, a home suitably fitting for all the precious treasures which would be contained within it.

As the Bowes began constructing the building that paid homage to Josephine’s French ancestry and that would house their epic collection Josephine fell ill and by the time the foundation stone was laid, she was too frail to do anything other than touch it with a silver trowel saying ‘I lay the bottom stone, and you, Mr Bowes, will lay the top stone’. As the building grew, so did their collection and an astounding 15,000 objects were purchased between 1862 and 1874.By the time their magnificent endeavour was completed and the Bowes museum opened its doors in 1892, John Bowes was dead too. Neither had lived long enough to see their dream become a reality.

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