A textile narrative of John Edgar Bell, conscientious objector

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

(Enscription by Henderson of York and Smith of Leicester, conscientious objectors, Richmond Castle cell, 24th June 1916).

The images in this exhibition are part of a research project exploring the influence of content, cloth and context on viewer perceptions of textiles. The textiles were developed to create a visual narrative about the experiences of John Edgar Bell, a Quaker and conscientious objector in WW1. The textile panels are based on the family at the start of the war, the imprisonment of the objector, and the hostility towards the objector’s family that continued into WW2 and beyond. The panels were located in galleries, museums, churches and corporate spaces to collate viewer responses to the work in different contexts. The images in this exhibition show inscriptions and drawings from conscientious objectors’ cells at Richmond Castle, visual work undertaken to construct the image-based narrative, and details from the textile installations.

This work relates to my current research that positions textiles within a communication paradigm. The research considers the practitioner’s role as encoder of cultural meaning through the visual image in textiles.  A critical framework based in semiotics and communication theory was adopted as a generative and analytical tool in the research to explore the visual communication process. Visual paradigms were developed from which to select imagery based on specific semiotic criteria, forming visual syntagms of combined imagery on cloth to create meaning, then finally testing audience perceptions of the work and how this correlated with authorial intention.

Further details can be found in The Journal of Visual Arts Practice, 12: 2, pp.195 – 221, doi: 10.1386/jvap.12.2.195_1

The Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) license applies to the images in this exhibition.

The photographs of conscientious objectors’ cells at Richmond castle were taken with the kind permission of English Heritage.

Dr Sonja Andrew, University of Manchester

  • Image of Richmond Castle: conscientious objectors’ cells
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  • Image of Richmond cell walls: drawings
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