Events took a surprising turn this week: I had a really useful appraisal with my new colleague, Jon Beaverstock. Appraisals, for those of you fortunate enough not to know, are meetings where you discuss your performance for the previous year and plan for the coming one. John Cleese made a fortune out of training videos and one of the most successful was called ‘The Dreaded Appraisal’. I am not sure why they are so unpopular: an hour to talk about yourself ought to be a luxury, but people often resent the time, or dread the attention or feel as if they are being blamed for something. There is a wonderful example of a terrible appraisal in The Office, which suggests it is painful for the appraiser as well as the appraisee. All this is a preamble, to a really good question that Jon asked me when we were talking about applying for research funding (which is the one part of my job which is really difficult for me as I don’t need much money to do my research). His question was, ‘If you got £50,000 to buy yourself out of your teaching for a year, what would you do?’ This is a great question because there are things that I would like to do if I had a substantial block of time. After thinking about it, here are two answers:
I would like to develop a project which has gradually been coming together over the last few years looking at textile businesses which are headed by women: Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston, Gudrun Sjoden, Amy Butler and maybe Orla Kiely. I am interested in knowing whether women associate with the woman behind the brand, and what sort of images of womanhood they are promoting. I see Amy Butler as the spiritual heir of Laura Ashley, with a fresher colour palette and bolder designs but with the same vision of femininity. Plus I am interested in the materiality of the objects they sell – does the fact this is cloth with all its associations in our life cycle – which I have blogged about before, make any difference to the brand and its image. This would involve a trip to Sweden to see Gudrun S and one to the US to see Amy Butler, so it would involve a slab of cash.
I would be interested in researching the Manchester-Africa printed cotton trade in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The cloth I am thinking of was printed in Manchester for the export trade, so it looks as though it is African but the design was all done in England and then shipped. Yinka Shonibare OBE uses something very similar in his work, although his is called Dutch wax cloth, it is pretty much the same thing.We had a talk years ago at Bristol Quilters on this trade as the last factory was about to shut down and all the archives junked. At the time I wasn’t in a position to much more than say, ‘that’s a shame’, and the archives have probably long since disappeared which is a real problem as once they are gone they are gone. But this was a big trade and a significant part of our textile history which may just have disappeared and that would be a real shame.
So, just in case the universe is listening, I have changed my mind and would really like a grant to do one of these projects. I’ll let you know if the universe delivers.