Barbara Sawyer (1919-1982) was a truly skilled weaver but gained little critical recognition in her lifetime like many of her female peers. Anni Albers (1899-1994) is one of the only female modernist weavers to gain critical recognition after the first large-scale exhibition of her work in the UK at Tate Modern in 2018. Although more of these women artists are now being represented in large art galleries, they seem to be forever stuck in the category of retrospective exhibitions.
Sawyer was contemporaries of and mentored by other prominent weavers whose work was appreciated by the art world. During the 1940s Sawyer studied under the weaver Ethel Mairet at her studio ‘The Gospels’ in Ditchling, East Sussex. At the time, Ditchling was a hub of arts and crafts with many creative practitioners and artists having studios there. Sawyer and Mairet had a long relationship which developed from student-teacher to peers when Sawyer started taking her own students to visit Mairet’s studio.
Another weaver with whom Sawyer had a working relationship with was Peter Collingwood (1922-2008) who shared a studio with her around the 1950s. Collingwood was regarded as a master/pre-eminent weaver known particularly for his Macrogauze wall-hangings. Collingwood was exhibiting his work internationally within his lifetime and had a joint exhibition at the V&A with potter Hans Coper in 1969.
Despite the success of her close friends and peers, Sawyer never received the same attention. Some of the only commercial success Sawyer gained was with her placemats; a number of these are now in prominent collections including the V&A.
This curated collection of objects from the Barbara Sawyer Archive aims to show key pieces which demonstrate Sawyer’s considerable skill and finally recognise her contributions to the development of modernist weaving.