I had lots of interest in Mary Frances Heaton after my Instagram post last week so I wanted to share some more information about Mary and her life. I’m currently working with Stitched-up-theatre on their project The Unravelling Fantasia of Miss H. During January and February I will be running a series of embroidery workshops with women’s groups in Leeds, Wakefield, Halifax and Doncaster. The embroideries will then be display in the venue where the opera is being performed.
If you are based in Halifax you can attend my workshop at Artworks, more details can be found on their website.
Mary Frances Heaton was a 19th century piano mistress who worked in Doncaster and London. Following an altercation in the street about late payment from one of her clients, she was held in Doncaster Gaol overnight, deemed a dangerous idiot and admitted the next day by the local magistrates to Wakefield’s Pauper Lunatic Asylum without trial or conviction. She remained incarcerated for 41 years.
During this time with no means of defence or advocacy her creative resolve led her to embroider messages in fellow patients’ clothes and document her experiences and injustices through embroidery by creating beautiful and ornate stitched samplers (on exhibition in the Mental Health Museum, Wakefield). One sampler was addressed to Queen Victoria, another suggested an affair with Lord Seymour to whose children she had been Governess.
As an textile artist specialising in embroidery and living with OCD I am drawn to Mary’s work, finding parallels with the work of Lorina Bulwer. Using fabric an thread to tell stories and share our inner thoughts is a powerful tool. Think about protest banners and craftivism projects around the world that use these techniques to convey and important message.
I’m looking forward to sharing some of the work we make for the project and you can find out more about the performance dates and see the trailer on the project website. There is also more information about Mary on the Forgotten Women of Wakefield website.