“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Shelley’s often-quoted boast comes from a poem whose content is as relevant to the Internet age as it was two hundred years ago. Ozymandias’ name has survived only by accident, that two-line inscription on a fragment of sculpture in the desert all that remains of him and his works.
It’s still common for a maker’s works to vanish in time, even in this so-called age of information. I recently did some research on the work of Eirian Short. There’s material about her on the net, but most of the entries are attempts to sell books or magazines featuring her work. Yet she’s a remarkable artist, not just because she works both as a sculptor and embroiderer, but because of the range and variety of her work. It’s often both profound and funny, sometimes deliberately vulgar, always referring back to nature and her roots in Wales.
Born in Fishguard in 1924, she studied sculpture and embroidery at Goldsmith’s College, London, and then taught at various London colleges from 1953 to 1985 alongside developing her own art. She has produced a remarkable body of work exploring a range of styles and forms. Goldsmiths has a few of her works online, including a 1950s piece, a Green Man from last year and portraits of herself and her husband.
What first caught my attention and sent me looking was a small image of a series of embroideries featuring black crows, made in the early 1980s. Some were exhibited as part of a crucifixion series in a show by the 62 Group of textile artists at the London gallery of the Royal Institute of British Architects. They reminded me of Japanese screens now in the Seattle Art Museum, goldwork covered with images of crows.
One of these screens was exhibited at the Royal Academy during the Japan Festival in 1991. It astonished me with its freedom and dynamism, the way the birds were depicted so simply that they were almost abstract, yet entirely natural . Short’s crows had a similar impact. I wanted to know more about the artist who made them, and find out why her name seemed familiar. Although there isn’t much information on the Net, it helped me put together a booklist and make plans to see more of Short’s work.
It also reminded me why her name was familiar. She contributed a superb exhibit themed around snakes at the 1998 Knitting and Stitching Show, exploiting her skills in three-dimensional work as well as in embroidery. I was delighted to learn that, more than ten years on from that show, she’s still active at 85, making art from scraps and stitches.
This year she spent St. David’s Day watching the Pembrokeshire Banner, which she co-designed, paraded before the whole community. Her husband Denys is also an artist, and they can be seen with their work in a short film made by the Fishguard Arts Society.