Quiet Revolutions: Works inspired by Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland

January 13, 2022

Quiet Revolutions is an exhibition of ceramic pieces inspired by the lives of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland that will run from 22nd January to 27th March 2022 at Dorset Museum.

Five works by Bristol-based artist Amanda Chambers are displayed within the Museum’s Artists’ Dorset permanent gallery, in a section devoted to the artistic and literary Chaldon Herring community. Novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893 – 1978) and poet Valentine Ackland (1906 – 1969) were part of this community, and it was here that they fell in love and became life partners.

The ceramic pieces can be viewed alongside items on permanent display such as a patchwork jacket made by Sylvia for Valentine, and a portrait of Valentine by Eric Gill.

Bristol-based artist Amanda Chambers explored the Sylvia Townsend Warner archive and collection held by the Museum in 2013 and created the pieces in 2014

Leading a rich life of literary and political pursuits, Sylvia and Valentine lived through an intense period of the 20th century. However, it is largely the domestic sphere of their lives that inform the six ceramic works being displayed. Living openly together in rural Dorset in the early 1930s, Sylvia and Valentine shared a deep-rooted commitment to each other despite extreme challenges notably the prospect of a three-way relationship with author Elizabeth Wade White, and Valentine’s struggle with alcoholism, which she endured for several decades in secret. The works highlight the immense resilience shown by both women during their partnership.

Amanda Chambers is a multidisciplinary artist. The primary focus of her work is making connections to the past through an exploration of both found material and imaginary concepts. She is often stimulated by textual and archival sources and has worked with some of the most significant museum collections in the UK. She is an Academician at the Royal West of England Academy and a member of the Royal Society of Sculptors. Her interest in Warner and Ackland began in 2013, and in 2014 she produced a series of works inspired by their lives.

Amanda Chambers says: “I loved the idea of two very driven women being quietly industrious in revolutionary politics in rural Dorset, but also living openly in a partnership that was unconventional. It also worked well when I considered how clay is formed and on the potter’s wheel. I like the way pottery contains a human imprint, a charged quality and I began to see how Sylvia and Valentine’s life might emerge from it.”

Dorset Museum Director of Collections and Public Engagement, Elizabeth Selby said: “We’re excited to be displaying these contemporary ceramic pieces by Amanda Chambers within our newly developed Artists’ Dorset gallery. The lives and work of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland continue to inspire and enthral artists, writers and researchers. Amanda Chamber’s work is an evocative response to the challenges the pair faced in their personal relationship, but also the resilience they showed. It is particularly fitting that these works will be displayed during 2022’s LGBT+ History month.”

The exhibition will take place during February’s LGBT+ History month and a special online talk on the 12th of February will feature Chambers discussing the creation of the ceramic pieces. She will be joined by writer Frances Bingham who will discuss her recent biography of Valentine Ackland ‘Valentine Ackland: A Transgressive Life’. Both speakers will discuss how the collection held at Dorset Museum inspired and shaped their work.

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