Saturday, June 30, 2012

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My friend Katy Amory recently told me about a project that feels very Permanent Record-ish. Here's the deal: In the mid-1700s, a British philanthropist named Thomas Coram opened the London Foundling Hospital, where poverty-stricken mothers who couldn't care for their newborn babies could anonymously "donate" the babies for adoption. In each case, the baby's record at the hospital was accompanied by a small piece of fabric or cloth provided by the mother -- a sort of textile fingerprint that could later be used for identification purposes if need be. As you can see from the example shown above, the fabric swatches were sometimes accompanied by heartfelt (and heartbreaking) notes from the mother.

Two and a half centuries later, the Foundling Hospital is now the Foundling Museum. All of the hospital's records have been kept and conserved, including the little fabric swatches (which also serve as one of the best surviving collections of 18th-century textiles). In 2010 the museum ran an exhibition called "Threads of Feeling," which focused on the swatches. You can see the exhibit here, and there's some good background information here and here.

These records feel like cousins to the Manhattan Trade School report cards -- each one represents a story waiting to be told, and collectively they tell an even bigger story. Great stuff.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting story -- (and of course .. the fabric and patterns are fascinating. so many beautiful examples.) -- Lianne