During the lockdown of February 2021, textile artists everywhere were invited to make and donate a panel, set to a template, on the understanding that it would be stitched together with others for exhibition. Separately and together, the aim was to create a sort of 'Bayeux Tapestry', a lasting record of the pandemic, made during the pandemic. This was the brainchild of artist Wendy Bliss, who devoted two and a half years to turning her idea into a reality.
Now complete, The Covid Chronicle measures 36 x 1 metre and is comprised of 140 panels each measuring 50cm2, with an additional 'title page' which is 1m square. Every panel received from 15 countries and three continents from around the world has been included. Curated for colour and style, the squares were stitched into metre-square units and mounted onto poles for ease of hanging in different spaces.
Thanks to a Crowdfunding page and donations made towards the project, a full-colour catalogue was printed to accompany the work on its tour of prestigious exhibition venues around the UK in 2022. The original idea was to auction the squares in aid of MIND, but once made, the general consensus was that The Covid Chronicle made a stronger statement if it stayed together... and so a permanent venue was sought and found, thanks to the Chelsea & Westminster Trust.
A donation will still be made to MIND thanks to proceeds from the sale of catalogues and a sale of textile hearts made by the artists for the opening at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Fittingly, it has also been agreed that The Covid Chronicle itself will be donated to the Chelsea & Westminster Trust for display at their Fulham & Twickenham hospitals, in thanks and tribute to all our NHS staff who made so many personal sacrifices during the pandemic.
MIND Charity was chosen because working with slow-stitched textiles has proven benefits for mental health. Looking back in history, Mary, Queen of Scots produced many embroidered panels with her ladies-in-waiting during her years of incarceration: Nicholas White, an envoy of Elizabeth I, reported a conversation with Mary, "I asked her Grace... how she passed the time within. She said that all the day she wrought with her needle, and that the diversity of the colours made the work seem less tedious, and continued so long at it till very pain did make her to give over." Today, Naomi Adams, a participating artist for The Covid Chronicle, reflected,"Literally stitching my own story to that of others seemed like a perfect antidote to the disconnect I felt.'
The final word goes to Diana Springall, Art Collector, Author and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Broderers, who wrote, "The Covid Chronicle is a stitched textile of one hundred and forty parts. It is the result of a masterpiece of vision by artist Wendy Bliss. To have recognised that this epidemic was worthy of recording by seeking an international response through interpretation of thoughts was unique in itself, but to have collated and organised the resulting testaments with needle and thread is a triumph. The work clearly demonstrates mental creativity and agility from all those who have so skilfully stitched their memories transposing them into a moving and unique work of art."
This project has generated so much enthusiasm and support that if I were to list all the names I'd never stop - the list just keeps growing. I can make a solid start by thanking my husband Vaughan, who supported me in February 2021, when my own artistic mojo was so depleted during the second lockdown, and who encouraged me to create something positive out of something so destructive. I'd like to thank Maxwell Flood and Liam Murphy for securing the name The Covid Chronicle for social media and this website; also Jessica Flood-Murphy and Matilda Fox for their help navigating behind the scenes of Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/the_covid_chronicle/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thecovidchronicle).
Without the engagement of the amazing artists represented here, there would be no Covid Chronicle, so my heartfelt gratitude goes to all those who embraced this project with their time, talents and trust, to craft and donate their personal stories so beautifully shared in images and text. Particular mention and thanks must go to Lesley Fudge and Jo Butler for making stunning title panels for The Covid Chronicle, and to Michelle Gilder for organising 15 makers in Iran. I would like to thank you all for the friendly chatter and ongoing support behind the scenes.
Without my 'Dream Seam Team' who helped me stitch together and line the panels in January 2022, I may have struggled to turn around the assembly of 140 panels into metre-blocks in time for the first exhibition at Sunbury Embroidery Gallery in February. Help came in the shape of Elizabeth Reid, Kristin Ursell and Diane Boiling, along with Patricia Fraser, Jane Thomson, Lucy Tubbs, Deb Farmelo, Jan Hopkins, Jenny Jeffris, Jenny Myers and Manoela Grigorova, followed by Nick Tilt, Maxine Pringle, Diane Boiling and Debbie Stewart who gave invaluable help and advice on hanging systems for textiles.
My thanks go to the brand consultancy, Grotesk Studio, where The Covid Chronicle logo and website were designed and built; to Nick Bolt who arranged the layout of the artwork and words for the catalogue as well as dealing with the printers on my behalf; to Michael Escolme at Spode Gallery in Stoke who masterminded the production of a video interview for use in the tour venues (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bm14Q53oNWY); and to Diana Springall, greatly respected textile-artist collector, who visited Sunbury and wrote a much-valued endorsement for the project.
Thanks go to Marcus Beale Architects for acting as poste-restante for the panels, and for their continued support and sponsorship of my community arts endeavours. I am also grateful to Peter Thomson whose enthusiasm helped build awareness by encouraging donations to the Crowdfunding page. Peter's practical help also directed me to various NHS Trusts, along with the Lightbox Gallery, Riverside Studios, and Tinx Newton writing for Surrey Life.
My thanks also go to the artists who stepped up to make textile hearts for sale at Riverside Studios in aid of MIND, and all who so generously donated to the Crowdfunding page for the setting up and running of The Covid Chronicle tour. For their additional sponsorship of the publication of the catalogue, my gratitude goes to Chippenham Museum; the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Birkenhead; Studio 40 in Neath; and Sunbury Embroidery Gallery.
As the exhibition has moved around the country I'd like to extend my special thanks : to Rachel Tackley and Chris Martin at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, for hosting a wonderful launch event; to Melissa Barnett's team at Chippenham whose online shop dealt with a tsunami of requests for catalogues; to Alison Bailey-Smith for arranging for a live interview with Helen Jones on BBC Radio Merseyside; to curator Niall Hodson at the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum in Birkenhead, for especially reopening their Gallery 1 to house The Covid Chronicle; to John Hawks of Merton Priory Trust who installed a new hanging system funded by the Wandle Fortnight organisers; and to Bethan Ash and Rosemary Cassidy-Buswell for the live music at the opening launch in Queen's Street Gallery in Neath. In addition it has been my pleasure to deal with Christina Peumalu at the Chelsea & Westminster Trust and Andy Lesnianski at Acrylidex Framers, South Wales.
The final exhibition for The Covid Chronicle is now confirmed for 5th May 2023, details to follow soon, to mark the Trust's 30th anniversary and the coronation of King Charles III, from when it will be displayed in the public spaces at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in Fulham, and the Middlesex Hospital in Twickenham, as a mark of sincere thanks to the NHS staff for their personal sacrifices made during the pandemic.
Thank you for your interest in this very special project.