Beamish Museum and the Learning Team have been fantastically supportive and informative throughout this WW1 Mail Art & Trench Art project. A recent trip with students from High Tunstall College of Science to Beamish Museum Resource Centre allowed students to explore the life of Thomas Pascoe, a local Coal Miner from Beamish Village who joined up and took part in WW1. Students were give first hand experience exploring the museums stores, guided by Rosie, who was able to explain the history behind Beamish, its archives and conservation procedure. Lisa Peacock, presented a collection of Thomas Pascoe’s personal objects, ephemera and photographs, identifying where he may have been at a particular point in the conflict.
Heading over to Germany right now is a selection of collaborative Mail Art by young people from Throston Youth Centre. Siobhan Tarr, based in Bad Oldesloe Germany art practice involves smashing up plates, cups and porcelain figurines to be reconfigured into mosaic type sculptures. With no formal training Siobhan’s has a natural eye for balance and works intuitively to create unique pieces of work. The young people at Throston Youth Centre explored aspects of the First World War through research and information gathered at Beamish.
Below is a summary of information provided by Beamish Museum and posted with the Mail Art incorporating hand knitted pieces.
Knitting woollens for the soldiers
During the First World War, many British women volunteered their time with the Red Cross sewing and knitting garments for wounded servicemen.
When outfitters and clothiers ran short of certain garments, relatives of British soldiers were enlisted to knit for the war effort. What started as a response to small gaps in uniform supply became a mass knitting frenzy, which made the government very nervous about the quirky, un-military garments reaching soldiers at the front. Official signs of anxiety about over-production and rogue knitters were such that they issued knitting patterns, warning women to narrow the range of garments and to use only khaki wools.
When the passion to knit comfort’s brimmed over, it threatened to become an anti-establishment protest. The sheer scale of the effort, its anarchic spread nationally and internationally, gave wartime knitting political potential, with parallels in the craftest projects.
To send something personal, and lovingly homemade, to a relative in real mortal danger, gave knitters the satisfaction of making a direct intervention, but crafting such personal items also meant contemplating fear and loss. This was not what the authorities wanted. Wartime was supposed to be cheerful and optimistic, not dark and ponderous.
World War 1 was a step into the unknown- much of the war effort had to be improvised. So knitting was far more than a timid pastime for women on the home front. When these subcultures of creative activity spontaneously erupted, they were healing the damage to communities caused by mass recruitment. Unexpectedly, knitting became a force for good that forged vital bonds between home and battle front.
There is nothing new in the impulse to knit for a cause: it appears that volunteer crafters have been making their modest humanitarian efforts for at least a century.
A shorted version of an internal briefing from Beamish Museum, County Durham UK