Shuttles and Shafts
STUDIO / DESIGNER
Paul Kelly (Lead Designer) with Trish Belford (Printed Textile Designer), Barbara Dass (Weaver), Beth Milligan (PhD Research Assistant), Sharon Adams (Artist), Simon Mills (Photographer)
Design Challenge and Design Ideas
‘Shuttles & Shafts – Reviving The William Liddell Collection’ is a Heritage Lottery funded project to archive, share and celebrate a unique collection of 1600 photographic glass plates, discovered in 2007 during the dismantling of the Ewart-Liddell Linen factory at Donacloney, County Down. These fragile monochromatic plates, now preserved in the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University (UU), document the design and development work for Liddell’s Damask patterns – an insight on the highly skilled workforce of designers, draughtspeople and weavers working for the company during the 1900s to 1970s.
The key elements of this project were; to contextualise and interpret this artwork as a compelling story for the public, make it engaging, accessible and have legacy, and link the historical design process to contemporary practice. The intention was to create a valuable archive, linking the past to the present, which celebrated the globally renowned design excellence of the Irish Linen Industry.
How the brief was fulfilled
The initial stages of the project focussed on the preservation of the glass plates, photographing them and their digitisation for archiving.
To encourage community awareness and engagement with the project three roadshows were organised at Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Cultra, Orange Hall, Donacloney and Lisburn Library, each venue chosen to facilitate the anticipated older audience. A selection of plates were exhibited and attendees were invited to bring linen industry related stories, photographs and artefacts to be recorded for the archive. They were well attended and provided evocative materials, books, and valuable oral histories from former employees of Liddell’s, now in their 90’s.
The plate collection was studied by the project team at UU and given four key classifications: logistics (shipping, trains and air lines), hospitality (cafés, restaurants and hotels), organisations (clubs, societies and institutions) and domestic patterns (with sub-themes of floras, rural scenes, geometric, Celtic, neo-classical and constructivist). This enabled a clear way to appreciate both the breadth of design competence and the global reach Liddell and Irish Linen had. Inspired by the collection Barbara Dass (weaver) and Trish Belford (printed textile designer) designed and developed a body of contemporary textile work in response. This work is currently exhibited in the Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum and was launched during the Linen Biennale NI. The exhibition combines the stages of the project to; describe the Liddell company, their context in the Irish Linen Industry, their social impact, show a selection of the extensive glass plate collection and the contemporary textile work. The entire project is documented within the exhibit using six large format books, colour coded to the classifications. These books became a mobile and accessible copy of the project to easily share with; the roadshow communities, be sent to design and education institutes as a physical archive and information tool, and for public presentations. The exhibit has been used to facilitate outreach activity workshops on paper weaving, Lisnagarvey Men’s Shed group were inspired by book’s global collection of logos and have started developing their own identity to assist funding.
To encourage further exploration of the collection all images of the plates and roadshow materials have been made available in a public archive online at www.shuttlesandshafts.com.