Approximately 150 beautifully hand-crafted, British-made objects are featured in the Pleasures of Peace exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery. But the rarest is the Changi Quilt, one of four embroidered by women interred in Changi Prison in Singapore after the Japanese invasion in 1942. Sixty-six women worked on individual squares of rice sacking, with varying degrees of expertise, stitching their names and adding a personalised motif.
Given their circumstances, the beauty and humour of some squares is quite breath-taking: a tiny, exquisitely stitched picture of an elaborate but at that time all too imaginary meal; a view of hills, sheep and a cosy cottage entitled "It's a long way to Tipperary ..." and the poignant "Bonnie Scotland for Aye" with embroidered bluebells. When the quilts were donated to a nearby military hospital, they helped to provide a list of women prisoners.
The Pleasures of Peace concentrates on crafts from the post-war era. But earlier hand-made objects have been included to illustrate how creativity survived in desperate and unusual circumstances and how some was used for war-time propaganda.
Crafts in Britain flourished after the war. A ban on decorated, factory-produced crockery for home use until 1952 led to a boom in studio potters, whose work can be seen here, as can a mass of new work produced for English churches. The post-war local education authorities in England also became patrons, buying paintings and sculptures and commissioning ceramics, stained glass and embroideries for the schools and colleges being built.
But the beauty and simplicity of post-war craftwork gave way to a more pop art look in the Sixties and Seventies where this exhibition ends, produced by art school graduates who had no memory of war-time deprivation. As well as exploring new methods and materials, many became more politically aware. David Poston, for instance, stopped using gold and diamonds in 1975 because he saw gold as central to the continuation of apartheid and advertisements for diamond jewellery as demeaning women. On show is his steel neck manacle bearing the legend "Diamonds, Gold and Slavery are Forever".
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