Maybe it’s the power of the imagery, or that once you scratch the surface that imagery has ripples and repercussions which continue to this day. Look around and ask yourself how far we’ve all traveled from superstition. That’s why the touring exhibition Certaine Wytches: Fear, May and Magic, by Anne Jackson at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen has such allure.
The exhibition features a a series of knotted tapestries of varying sizes. They explore the themes surrounding the idea of witchcraft and historic witch-persecution across Europe, both as commemoration and as a metaphor for our contemporary fears.
The work derives from detailed historical research, using original witch-trial documents and populist pamphlets of the Early Modern period (circa 1500–1800). Anne’s tapestries bring to life a dark period of European history with resonances of what is happening in contemporary societies.
The voices of the persecuted women are woven into the striking tapestries and Anne’s research and its sources are explained and featured on wall-texts/panels accompanying the individual works.
Suspicion and violence
The word witch often carries a negative charge signifying an outsider who is seen as frightening or difficult. She is an ambiguous figure, seen by some as the wielder of occult power and some as the healer and protector. This has often been met by suspicion and violence.
The Witchcraft Series
“For some time, I have been pursuing a long-term project, entitled ‘The Witchcraft Series’,” Anne told ArtsCulture.
“Through it I am seeking to represent the power that the idea of ‘the witch’ holds in Western culture, both as metaphor for our fears, and as historical representation of social injustice towards women.
Individual stories and power
“I deploy historical texts and original illustrations, along with contemporary scientific and cultural references, to depict the stories of individual women, or to comment on contemporary attempts to exert control over our world and our own lives.”
This series of contemporary tapestries attempts to ground these ideas in images and texts from Early Modern witch-hunting pamphlets with reference to authentic magic spells and symbols.
Women caught up in injustices
The exhibition is also intended to commemorate the individual women who were caught up in the injustices of their times.
Certaine Wytches will place the narratives played out in these contemporary tapestries with authentic historical artefacts from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall.
This exhibition is part of Anne’s project, “The Witchcraft Series”.
The Devon Witches
The inspiration for this project was a plaque in Rougemont Gardens in Exeter, in memory of ‘The Devon Witches’. The first three named on the plaque were Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles, known as “The Bideford Witches”.
They were tried and executed between 1682 and 1685. They were charged with sorcery or witchcraft on the basis of accusations which to modern ears would be dismissed as malicious gossip or hearsay. Lloyd was accused of causing the death of several persons through the black arts to which she confessed. The other two were convicted of causing sickness through witchcraft. A fourth “witch”, Alice Molland, was also tried and sentenced to death at the same time, though it seems no documentary evidence of her actual execution has been found.
Alongside these works there will be a number of additional events, including a day of artistic and academic discussion at The University of Exeter on 24th April. Free drop-in workshops ‘Make a Witch’s Broomstick’ 9th April and ‘Exploring the Vertues (and Vices) of Herbes’ 13th April, and ’Witch’ a dramatisation by Circle of Spears 2nd May.
Certaine Wytches: Fear, Myth and Magic
A touring exhibition of recent work by Anne Jackson
is at the Devon Guild of Crafstmen from March 23 to May 6
top image: Anne Jackson: ‘Certaine Wytches Chelmsford Essex, 1566’, 156 x 195cm, 2009. Knotted tapestry cotton linen synthetic yarns.