Anne Kelly: Textiles in the garden

<i>Anne Kelly:</i> Textiles in the garden

Subject of a recent article and co-author of ‘Connected Cloth’ (with Cas Holmes), Anne Kelly is 2014 artist in residence at Sussex Prairies Garden near Henfield in West Sussex.  As part of her residency, she is  producing a collaborative wall piece to fundraise for the RSPB. Here Anne discusses how the project is developing…

Anne Kelly - Wall piece

‘The Natural History of the Garden’ a collaborative installation for the RSPB

Anne Kelly: My association working with the RSPB started when I was preparing for my solo exhibition at Trinity Town and Country Gallery, Tunbridge Wells, in September 2013. I had been observing and making pieces about house sparrows, that congregate in the hedge in front of my house.

Anne Kelly - Bird Tree
Anne Kelly – Bird Tree

When I looked into information about the species, I discovered that these birds are in decline world-wide and in the UK. My feeling was that if even these humble and conspicuous birds were in trouble things could be worse than we feared.

Anne Kelly - Sparrow Stories
Anne Kelly – Sparrow Stories

I was inspired to make the community collaborative piece ‘Sparrow Stories’ and to fundraise for the RSPB. I asked for donations to the piece and was delighted with the quality and variety of the work I received.

Anne Kelly - Sparrow Stories (Detail)
Anne Kelly – Sparrow Stories (Detail)

I then contacted my regional branch of the RSPB in Brighton and their senior community fundraiser, Nichola Willett, attended the Private View. Through a raffle and sales, we raised a substantial amount that evening. The piece has since toured to the RSPB ‘Hive’ educational centre on Hampstead Heath and will be seen by volunteers and educational staff through the summer season.

The Hive, Hampstead Heath
The Hive, Hampstead Heath

In 2012 I was approached by Pauline McBride, the owner of the RHS-partnered Sussex Prairie Garden , near Henfield in West Sussex.

Sussex Prairie Garden Centre
Sussex Prairie Garden Centre

She and her husband Paul, who has worked with eminent garden designer Piet Oudolf, have established a naturalistically planted prairie garden, with 30,000 plants of 600 varieties. From its inception, they wanted to use art and sculpture as part of the landscape.

They now offer a range of courses and activities each season, and sponsor an artist in residence. I take up my post in June 2014 and have been developing a collaborative installation piece ‘The Natural History of the Garden’ as part of my residency.

Anne Kelly - The Natural History of the Garden
Anne Kelly – The Natural History of the Garden

Recently, I have been working on the installation area at Sussex Prairies. I wanted the theme to reference the American West and to contain elements of naive and folk art, which often provide me with inspiration.

Anne Kelly - sketch plan

I drew a rough plan, using Shaker Trees of Life, birdhouses (looking at the shape of those at the garden) and simple flower shapes.

I then scaled these up and made templates in brown paper. Pauline and her team cut them out of hardboard using a jig saw and lots of patience!  We then covered them in recycled quilted fabric and felt, velvet and hessian remnants.

The fabric was stapled onto the reverse of the templates. We then decided where to place the individual pieces. Pauline had saved some beautiful dried branches from the previous season and these were incorporated into the tree element of our design.

Anne Kelly - Trees
Anne Kelly – Trees

The central area of the wall was reserved for the contributions from students, course attendees and from an appeal on social media.

Find out how you can contribute here.

They are displayed in a zig zag formation, like a washing line. The contributions are then pegged onto the line.

These have been absolutely superb in quality and range from poetry to fabric stitching. I used one particularly wonderful addition as an example and stitched it onto a poster to describe and advertise the call for work.

Poster of appeal

I’m also giving courses at the garden throughout the season. I’ve set up a ‘covered wagon studio’ at the garden, with some hangings and storage continuing the western theme.

Covered Wagon
Prairie Dungarees

We have organised a fundraising weekend at Sussex Prairies for the RSPB on the weekend of 19th and 20th July. This will include many activities for families and children, including pond dipping and wildlife guides. I will be helping to create more additions for the wall and demonstrating.

Anne Kelly - Bird Stitching

How you can help

Please send us drawings, collages, cutouts, pictures of animals, birds, insects, reptiles, fish, amphibians (our natural wildlife), small sized (no bigger than A5) which can become part of the work. Maybe you have a poem, piece of writing or phrase which you feel would fit in with our theme and which you would like to see incorporated. All your work will be credited with your name. We are happy to accept pictures, images by email to, or you can message/send items through Facebook or Twitter. You are also welcome to send original pieces if you wish, which we will copy and return back to you. Visitors to the garden will also be invited to contribute to the piece by making textile craftwork.

Anne is offering four courses at Sussex Prairies this Summer. Find out more on Anne’s blog.

Anne Kelly - work shop

Anne is also curating a fundraising exhibition at RSPB Rainham Marshes’ Purfleet Bird Hide in the summer of 2014. It’s called ‘Birds of a Feather’ and includes work by textile artists, painters, printmakers and mixed media artists. Find out more here.

If you have enjoyed this article, why not let us know by leaving a comment below. 

Monday 22nd, July 2024 / 13:03

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe Pitcher



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