Print your own Mary Lobb zine!

You may have seen a few months ago I made a zine about Mary Lobb and the sound piece I made to accompany it, in response to the lack of mention of her and her relationship with May Morris at Kelmscott Manor (you can see the original posts about it here, here and here).

I’d now like to share a print-your-own PDF of the zine!

Follow this link here

Then download the PDF (from the link along the top menu bar) and once downloaded, select ‘print’ and select ‘print on both sides’ and make sure to select the option to flip on the side edge, as otherwise the pages will be upside down. Obviously the PDF will look a bit jumbled, as the pages are in an order to ensure it can be printed as an A5 booklet. Once it is printed, fold in the middle, and hopefully all the pages should be in the correct order!

The sound piece to accompany the zine is here:


Thanks again to Joe and Ellie Lewis-Nunes for patiently lending their voices and recording skills.

Please share this with anyone who might be interested- and enjoy!

‘The village folk had a lot to say about it’ – a sound piece for Mary Lobb

Back in July I contacted the staff at Kelmscott Manor about the neglectful way they had dealt with Mary Lobb in their interpretation. I subsequently offered to put together a sound piece for visitors to listen to, to the staff at Red House in Bexleyheath, that was made from verbatim snippets from sources I had found during a visit to the William Morris Gallery archives in Walthamstow.

The aim was to show that even when they were both alive, contemporaries of Mary Lobb and May Morris considered their relationship to be more than just ‘companions’ and the hope was that this sound piece, presented as gossip, would serve as a small way of remembering the close relationship between the two women, that has for so long been overlooked.

Unfortunately, the staff at Red House refused this interpretation, saying first that the exhibition programming for 2015 was to be all about architect Philip Webb, as 2015 is the centenary of his death. When staff from the London Project asked about it again, they were told it was due to staffing and budget issues, which seems odd, as I was offering to make the sound piece for free.

Fast forward to the end of 2014, and the opportunity arose to be part of a group show at the Institute of Education to showcase the work of five PhD students in the Art, Design and Museology department whose research includes elements of practice. Rather than just showing some of the work I’ve been doing with Sutton House, I instead decided to use this as an opportunity to revisit the idea for addressing Mary Lobb, and alongside the sound piece, I created a protest banner out of a William Morris tea towel, and a fan zine for Mary Lobb, explaining who she is, and how she has been overlooked at various heritage sites.

While the sound piece (recorded thanks to Joe Lewis-Nunes and Ellie Lewis-Nunes) obeys the convention of heritage interpretation, it is offset by the objects more closely aligned with activism: a banner, zines.

It’s important for me to consider how my work changes in an exhibition environment, to consider what it becomes. I want to avoid fetishising paraphernalia (such as banners, zines) used to enact change. The inclusion of such objects here raises questions about what is allowed and expected in a gallery space, but refused (as it was) as legitimate interpretation in a heritage site. Interestingly, and perhaps proving that the inclusion of these objects was not successful in fetishising them, at the private view, the plinth upon which a stack of zines (masquerading as museum objects) rested, was treated by visitors as a table, rather than a plinth, people leaned against it and rested drinks on it, rather than revering the plinth as is often the case. Observing people interacting with the plinth in this way was a nice piece of accidental data.

On Thursday 29th 4.00- 7.30, there will be a seminar in which we will discuss the nature of practice-based research.

In the mean time, here is the sound piece.

I will make the zine available online at some point, when I work out the best way to do it.

Kelmscott Manor: a reply

If you read my previous post, you will know that I recently emailed staff at Kelmscott Manor to voice my dissatisfaction with the interpretation of Mary Lobb there. After chasing up the lack of response with the Kelmscott Manor twitter feed, I was given a direct email address for someone, and received a response the same day.

The response is as follows:

Dear Mr Curran,

Thank you for your recent comments, which I was pleased to receive. There are, as you will know, many people who were connected in significant ways with the Manor, and since arriving in post relatively recently Sarah Parker (Property Manager) and myself have been working on ‘unlocking’ some of the many narratives connected with them and addressing this in new interpretation for our visitors. This season new labels were installed throughout the Manor, a new Room guide was introduced, and in addition we undertook a research project with volunteers during our closed season, of which Kelmscott Manor’s Wider Cast of Characters was the outcome. Having made these initial steps we are undertaking additional research with the assistance of interns and aim to improve interpretation still further, incorporating, of course, Miss Lobb.

I was very interested to see that you describe yourself as having some degree of knowledge about Miss Lobb, and would be delighted if you would like to share this with us, in particular any relevant archive sources of which you may be aware. As she was a pivotal figure in May Morris’s later life we are eager to ensure that our visitors are given a more rounded picture of her than is, admittedly, currently the case.  It is regrettable that you have taken this omission to be in any way deliberate, and I would like to assure you that this is far from the case; Miss Lobb’s sexuality or physical appearance are certainly not informing factors but the reality is that when running a visitor attraction with a small team, lack of time and resources unfortunately, are.

I would like to thank you once again for your observations and look forward to your response.

With all good wishes,

Kathy Haslam

This is a great response, and I am so pleased to see it has been taken seriously and that it looks like they are committed to looking into this and expanding Mary Lobb’s biography in the house to include a more sympathetic and less one dimensional interpretation of her.

I will keep you posted.

To celebrate, here’s a lovely picture of Morris and Lobb, taken from the William Morris Facebook page (I presume it’s not actually his).

a letter to Kelmscott Manor

On Wednesday myself and a few of the lecturers and students from my department hopped on a minibus to Kelmscott Manor in Lechlade, Gloucestershire, the former home of William Morris. I was keen to visit to see how the relationship between Morris’ daughter May and her ‘companion’ Mary Lobb was addressed.

I’d found out about Mary Lobb by a chance conversation with a Central Saint Martins student when I lectured there. She had written an essay about photographs of May Morris and suggested I might be interested to know she had a close relationship with Mary Lobb who had previously worked on a neighbouring farm. When May died in 1937 she left £12,000 to Lobb. Mary Lobb seemingly took her own life two years later. You can read a nice little summary about Lobb here.

I was really distressed to see only a very brief mention of Mary Lobb in the house, which was a small caricature of her, accompanied by a quote from George Bernard Shaw: ‘I was soon on the garden flag way to the ancient door of the Manor House. It was opened by a young lady whose aspect terrified me. She was obviously strong enough to take me by the scruff of the neck and pitch me neck and crop out of the curtilage; and she looked as if for two pins she would do it as she demanded sternly who I was. I named myself apologetically….’

In the final room, there was a booklet containing biographical information about other people mentioned in the house, but Mary Lobb was not one of them. Her only mention in the house was through the eyes of someone who did not know her and clearly did not think highly of her, and while there was a photograph of her with May beneath, the main visual representation of her was a rather cruel caricature from behind. Annoyed and saddened by this, I spoke to two volunteers about her lack of mention and they both shrugged, one of them rather shiftily. I decided to write an email to the staff at the house:

Hello,

I am writing with a query from a recent visit to Kelmscott Manor. The house was very beautiful and I was pleased to see so many visitors. However, I left the house with a rather sour taste in my mouth due to what I felt was a misstep and an oversight in the interpretation in the house. I’m referring specifically to the way in which Mary Lobb is portrayed.

I had some knowledge of Mary Lobb before I arrived at the house, and when I finally got there I was not only surprised at how little of her story was told, but extremely saddened that she was only mentioned as a figure of fun, while the deep affection that May Morris had for her was not mentioned at all.

Alongside the caricature of her in the small nook coming from the right hand garret, is a cruel description written by George Bernard Shaw. While this is really interesting, and definitely has a place in the house, it should not stand as the sole representation of a woman who clearly played an important part in May’s life, important enough to inherit everything of May’s that wasn’t donated to the University of Oxford when she died. The obvious counter to this would be John Betjeman’s account of her and their warm relationship, which is alluded to in the guidebook.

In the final attic room I came across the ‘Wider cast of characters’ booklet and assumed that the brief mention of Lobb would be elaborated upon in it. Surprisingly, in spite of the rather remote and tangential figures to whom there are pages are devoted, there was no further mention of Mary Lobb. I asked two volunteers about this oversight, neither of them knew why her story was demoted to a mere footnote of ridicule, so hopefully I can get some answers this way.

The exhibition in the display space by the ticket office mentioned Lobb briefly, but I believe that this is insufficient. There was no mention in the house of the fact that the two slept together in the same room, or about the controversy their relationship caused, or about how May’s affection was so strong that she bequeathed most of her possessions to Lobb. I can think of two possible reasons for this oversight, the first is that those who oversee the interpretation at Kelmscott Manor are not willing to explore the relationship between May Morris and Mary Lobb because they do not wish to be faced with the possibility that the relationship could be considered, in contemporary terms, a lesbian one. Secondly, and equally as concerning, is that in a house full of Pre-Raphaelite beauties, Mary Lobb is not considered sufficiently beautiful to warrant covering her role in May’s life in any great detail.

Either way, to demote a person to a mere caricature is unkind. I eagerly await a response about why this is the case, and hope that by raising this matter, it can be addressed and that the bond between May Morris and Mary Lobb can be given the attention it deserves in such a beautiful and important heritage site as Kelmscott Manor.

Best wishes,
Sean Curran
scurran@ioe.ac.uk

I really hope they will respond, I’ll be sure to post it here if they do. I think heritage sites must be held accountable for their treatment of the narratives of people with non-normative identities, to overlook them is both irresponsible and distressing for queer visitors and their supporters alike. For those who think this is excessive, I hope you never have to experience finding the rare historical figures that you can relate to being reduced to a figure of ridicule. People like Mary Lobb and May Morris are part of a still barely visible queer heritage that can contribute to legitimising contemporary queer identities, especially when encountered by children, who see themselves as outsiders or marginalised because of who they are.

In spite of this, Kelmscott was really beautiful, and worth a visit!

I’ll blog again soon about my Taiwan trip.