South of London is a charming little town, Sunbury, which welcomes embroidery with open arms!
Photos – © TheSunburyEmbroideryGallery – photos copyrighted – thank you
Text by Michiko Gardner on questions from Claire de Pourtalès
The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire
The Sunbury Millennium Embroidery © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
How did the whole project start?
The village of Sunbury wanted to create a special project for the millennium. Sunbury-on-Thames has a history of embroidery thanks to our close proximity to Hampton Court Palace*. One of our village street is called French Street because French Huguenots** settled there and produced silk work for Hampton Court Palace. The Sunbury Millennium Embroidery was designed by John Stamp from an idea by David Brown. It aims to be a permanent commemorative record celebrating our ancient riverside village and its community in the year 2000.
The core team starting this project were all parents at the same school (Beauclerc School in Sunbury) and were all friends. This team was the motor that pushed the project forward and kept it going!
*Where the Royal School of Needlework is located now.
** Here some information about the Huguenots Huguenots – Wikipedia
Horse and rider © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
The embroidery work, overseen by Pam Judd, involved 150 embroiderers: men and women from across our community of different ages and varying skills levels, some of whom had never done embroidery before. The youngest was 13 years old (they embroidered the rider on a horse on the left of the village piece). The Heron (on the right) was embroidered by a lady who had never done embroidery before! It took her 3 years to make this piece.
The final work is the results of over 100,000 hours of effort.
In June 2001, her Majesty the Queen visited Sunbury Walled Garden to view the embroidery and meet the many people who created it. In November 2002, the works were exhibited at the Palace of Westminster.
The Embroidery, which was completed in 2000, consists of the main Village Panel, eight supporting side-panels (each representing various aspect of village life) and over 120 tent stitched emblems of Sunbury Organizations.
Pomfret House © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
Hawke House © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
The project was first drawn on a piece of paper – full scale. A notice was put in the local paper to look for embroiderers. Each embroiderer picked a piece they wanted to do and went back home to do it, so details like windows and roofs all look different as each embroiderer had their own interpretation of it. It all got assembled together at the end.
The bottom section, under the wording was supposed to be roses. However, when all put together, it looked terrible! So, the embroiderers went back to work to create the brown leaves and foliage.
The building was designed by architects Robert Shaw and David Brown and Partners. It was opened in the summer of 2006. It is purpose-built to house the Sunbury Millennium Embroidery. The Gallery was largely financed by the local community who have generously supported the project since its inception.
The building is on the site of an old manor which doesn’t exist anymore. However, the wall leading to the Walled Garden remained. The Gallery is shaped with curves to reflect the shape of the original wall (which led to the Walled Kitchen Garden, our current walled garden).
The old wall © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
Heron © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
How does the Charity work?
We are a registered charity relying on a mixture of paid staff and volunteers. About 50 volunteers are helping us run our Gallery and Café.
The Gallery is open year-round, and entry is free. Our aim is to be an educational resource with a programme of exhibitions, workshops, and talks.
As a registered charity we have a board of Trustees and here some of our Staff:
- Robert Shaw is our Chairman. He is the Architect who designed our Gallery and his mother, Pam Judd, was the chief embroiderer of the Sunbury Millennium Embroidery.
- Barbara Robertson is the Gallery Manager & Curator
- Nick Tilt is the Treasurer
- Michiko Gardner is the Gallery Administrator
- Denise Doherty is our Kitchen Manager
How did you come to the idea of exhibiting embroidery as an art?
From the very beginning, The Sunbury Millennium Embroidery was created as a piece of art. Pam Judd, the Chief embroiderer was very creative and artistic, though she took up embroidery only in her seventies!
Who are your visitors?
Our visitors are the local community, students interested in Art/textile, and groups from further away interested in embroidery and our project. Currently we are well known in our local community, but as we are building our fundraising programme, we are aiming to expand our reach.
Chaffinch © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
Monksbridge © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
Do you see a change about how embroidery is perceived?
Visitors are interested to find out that Britain is in a unique position: Embroidery was taught as Fine Art at University and founded on drawing. So, we have many embroiderers who are highly skilled and trained in Fine Art.
Now embroidery is mostly viewed as a craft but when you explain that embroidery is painting with thread, visitors understand and embrace it. We feel that with Covid and lockdown, people are now more receptive to art and stitch!
Your National Centre for Embroidery sounds really great: can you tell us more about it?
Thanks. In part to our success and our solid financial position, the Gallery was able to acquire the Diana Springall Collection. Diana Springall is an internationally renowned, British textile artist. She was taught by Constance Howard. Her mission is to raise the profile of the Contemporary Art of Embroidery.
Diana has assembled an extensive collection of contemporary pieces showcasing embroidery as Fine Art from various artists. The collection is made of 250 pieces (including drawings) and is visible online. She keeps adding to her collection – with these latest artists joining her collection: Fil Orange Suzy Wright , Estefania Tarud Karl, Sabina Lima , Kate Wells.
Traditions © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
The gallery is currently being expanded to accommodate this collection, which will be displayed and accessible on an ongoing basis.
This collection will set us on the path to create a ‘National Centre for Embroidery’ to celebrate the Contemporary Art of Embroidery. It will offer a valuable resource and study centre close to London and to world-leading educational institutions such as the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court. An Archive and Study Centre will be provided to conserve, store and make available the collection for research and study. Pieces will be exhibited in the Gallery on a continuing basis as well as being available for loan.
The provision of a new Guest Gallery, a separate workshop and event space in the extended building will enable the current Gallery to be entirely dedicated to the Millennium Embroidery. An interactive multimedia exhibit will create uniquely powerful means of educating, informing and inspiring visitors of all ages, enhancing their appreciation of the content and context of the Millennium Embroidery and increasing their insight into the architecture, environment, flora, fauna and cultural heritage of the village and surrounding area.
We are starting our community fundraising campaign this Jubilee week-end (4-5 of June 22)! We are lucky to have our local community behind us!
Reed bunting © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
Walled garden café © The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery
What are the challenges ?
- We need to raise £3M!
- Transitioning from a local community project to a Gallery of national significance will require some bridging.
- Some operational improvements will be required such as refining the communication strategy (have a media pack!), broaden our offering, improve our database system to reflect our predicted growth among many, many things and probably more!