East Anglian Stitch Textiles display comes to Braintree Museum following success at Ally Pally

Josef, Diane and their three daughters

Josef, Diane and their three daughters - Credit: Archant

When textile artist Lorna Rand had to make something about the First World War, she struggled for a while. Then she realised the answer was under her nose.

Lorna Rand with her textile piece. 'I still think of all those brave young men, doing what they thou

Lorna Rand with her textile piece. 'I still think of all those brave young men, doing what they thought was best for their own country, who didnt live to become friends,' she says - Credit: Su Anderson

Steven Russell hears how love united anew two nations that had seen too much violent conflict

‘Far away on the other side of the world there is a child like me, head full of thoughts, heart full of wanting. If we laugh, our laughter will meet in the middle of the ocean and we will be friends’

Life keeps us on our toes, doesn’t it? One minute your head is full of the most beautiful poetry and, the next, January has stirred and things are on the blink. You’re brought crashing down to earth and forced to think about mundane matters.

Textile artist Lorna Rand's piece in the First World War exhibition at Braintree Museum.

Textile artist Lorna Rand's piece in the First World War exhibition at Braintree Museum. - Credit: Su Anderson

“My internet has just gone up the creek,” reports textile artist Lorna Rand, with resignation. “I don’t know if it’s the wind or another problem.”

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It’s vexing, but someone’s coming in the next few days to check it out. And, in any case, there’s a pretty big positive to offset these technological frustrations. For an exhibition of work by members of the group EAST – East Anglian Stitch Textiles – has opened closer to home after stops last year at Alexandra Palace, London, and Harrogate.

It’s called Between the Lines and is members’ response to the centenary of the First World War. Lorna’s piece is entitled Hope Springs Eternal: a haunting yet hopeful wall-hanging all the more powerful because it’s personal.

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It was a couple of years ago that the textile artists started thinking about what they were going to do. Lorna, 81, researched the First World War and found it difficult. “Too emotional. Plus the fact I was an evacuee during the second war and didn’t have a very happy time. It brought all that back.”

Lorna's grandfather, Charles Allen Howard, is the soldier sitting on the chair.

Lorna's grandfather, Charles Allen Howard, is the soldier sitting on the chair. - Credit: Archant

She was sent from Essex to Derbyshire. “I was only up there for about 18 months, but I don’t think I could have been a very well behaved child. I was in three different places in that time!”

Harder memories rose to the surface. A pretty and extensive “scrapbook” accompanying Lorna’s piece records some of her thoughts as she mulled over what to do.

When she was young, for instance: “I saw a child being carried from a building which had been hit by a V2 rocket. She was alive but her brother died. He was in my brother’s school class.”

The scrapbook also captures some of the sifting of ideas – some used, some discarded – behind the work. It contains some poignant images, too, such as a ration book that belonged to her grandfather and one from Munich in 1917.

Graham and Lorna, who were married in Chelmsford on January 22, 1955

Graham and Lorna, who were married in Chelmsford on January 22, 1955 - Credit: Archant

“The Great War – where to start?” she writes. “A massive subject – most stories seem to be on the trenches and the great loss of life. The whole of Europe seemed to be involved but I think I will concentrate on England and Germany as I have German family – both sides affected.”

And: “I think it seemed at the time, to those young men, that it was a big adventure. Little did they know the horrors they would face.”

Her focus on her family gives the piece its force, once you know the background.

For in the 1970s Lorna’s daughter Diane, who’s now 53, travelled to Germany as part of her agricultural training.

Josef Brunklaus, born in 1884

Josef Brunklaus, born in 1884 - Credit: Archant

“She wanted to go into farming and went to Harper Adams College” – in Shropshire – “and had to have at least six months’ work experience. She tried in this country but couldn’t get anything, so she went to Germany.”

And there she fell in love with Josef Brunklaus. He was working for his father, who ran a farm between the city of Bremen and the Dutch border. Diane went to work for another of the family members, who farmed close by.

The couple got engaged in 1981 and married in 1984. “England and Germany become united in our family!” Lorna writes, alongside a wedding picture in the scrapbook.

Diane and her husband have three daughters, aged from 22 to 27, and run a 600-strong pig farm in Germany. None of the girls is showing much interest in taking over the business when the time comes, reports their English grandmother!

It was one of the granddaughters who helped Lorna with her project by digging out information and photographs of the German family, going back generations.

Lorna’s piece is divided in half, vertically. Running down one side are pictures and symbols relating to her family in England, beginning with her grandfather, Charles Howard, who was born in King’s Lynn, lived from 1876 to 1952 and was with the Royal Artillery.

Down the other side are generations of her son-in-law’s people in Germany, starting with his grandfather, Josef Brunklaus, who was born in 1884 and died in 1971.

The First World War is depicted at the top: photographs of soldiers and images of upheaval and terror – planes and ships and shadows. Refugees.

Towards the bottom, after the forbidding grey background has given way to brighter and more cheerful colours, the union of Diane and Josef is marked with a picture of their silver wedding celebrations. Nearby are the flags of their respective countries.

As a piece of art it makes us think how two peaceful farming families, one from each side of the conflict, became involved in horrific wars not of their making and how, eventually, the shadows of conflict were usurped by friendship and love.

“When we had the exhibition at Ally Pally, I had two German ladies in tears – because I’d included the German side - which was... very nice,” says Lorna. “Funnily enough, they were both married to English men.”

She says of those two world wars: “It’s all political, isn’t it, and we have to do as we’re told. The majority of people” – on both sides – “don’t want it.”

The project was emotional, “especi doing Josef’s family, because I knew nothing about them. I knew his parents, obviously, but I didn’t know anything about the rest of the family. And, of course, looking back on my own family was quite emotional”.

Bearing in mind the human toll of The Great War, it’s fortunate – amazing, perhaps – that members of neither family came to harm.

It must also have been poignant for her fellow textile experts. “I think so, yes. I think everybody has been sad, in a way, looking back into their families and everything that happened.”

The poem at the start of this article is by American writer Eloise Greenfield and is in Lorna’s scrapbook.

It “reflects feelings I had as a child whilst watching England and German fighter planes shooting each other down… I still think of all those brave young men, doing what they thought was best for their own country, who didn’t live to become friends.”

Lorna adds: “This poem reflects my thoughts and hopes for all future conflicts, which sadly seem to continue throughout the world.”

And she tells us, with feeling: “From enmity to love, which is what I would wish for the whole world. If only this could be possible.”

Gripped by graffiti

Lorna’s original focus – ecclesiastical and historical embroidery – shifted to three-dimensional pieces. Later work has included a collection of hats inspired by a trip to Australia and New Zealand and a set of kimono-style garments.

The more recent garments sprung from a trip to Prague and an interest in graffiti. She was taken by the contrast of the historic city’s beauty with this modern artform.

“It just fascinated me. I like to see what the youngsters do, as an expression of art and an expression of feelings.” Mustn’t condone the daubing of surfaces, though, must we? “Well, in Prague, they had a specific wall set aside for the youngsters to do it on!”

Travelling looks to be quite a passion. “Well, I’m getting a bit old now! But I have booked to go to Iceland, so hopefully that will come off all right. The scenery up there is very good.”

Want to see it?

The exhibition Between the Lines is at Braintree District Museum, in Manor Street, until March 14. It’s at the Pond Gallery at Snape Maltings, near Aldeburgh, from July 2 to 8.

Each of the 13 artists has researched aspects of the First World War. Themes include life on the Western front, the role of women, and the reflections of writers and artists. The pieces feature a range of textile techniques.

Lorna’s background

Born in Benfleet area of Essex

* Father Charles had a smallholding in the county after the last war

* Then he farmed in Devon until wife Winifred died, when he moved back to Essex

* ‘I’ve always stitched. My mother stitched and both my grandmothers did’

* Lorna wanted to go to art school ‘but I wasn’t allowed! Girls weren’t supposed to have careers when I was young. You were meant to get married and have babies. So I did!’

* She married Graham in Chelmsford in January, 1955

* The couple moved to Devon in 1969, because of his job

* When daughter Catherine was about 15, she wanted to do art evening classes but wouldn’t go on her own, ‘so I went with her. She dropped out and I carried on!’

* Lorna did O-level and A-level art ‘which I’d never done at school’

* Joined the West Country Embroiderers

* Gained a City & Guilds teaching certificate and taught embroidery for a few years. Also got the Certificate of Church Embroidery

* Ran a little embroidery business for about five years

* Graham died on Christmas Eve, 2003

* Lorna moved back to Essex. She lives near Halstead, close to one of her daughters

How was it made?

Lorna’s piece was designed on computer before being printed onto fabric, hand-stitched and machine-quilted.

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