Sara Gilbert

Sara has an established studio practice based upon her explorations of land and sea through painting and printmaking. As part of the Erme Art Studios partnership established with painter Belinda Ireland in 2019, Sara works from a converted mill complex in Ermington village in the South Hams, combining her studio practice and formal commissions with workshops and small-group teaching.

Sara’s family worked in the cotton weaving industry and she is exploring her Lancashire textile heritage through archival research and visual practices. In this journey she develops her practice and ways of recalling past lives with quick sketches and memory work. Immersing herself with the imagery of personal letters, photographs, stories and handed-down paraphernalia, she creates work that become archival portraits, linking her record to our own industrial heartlands. Currently working with gum-arabic prints on cotton calico she uses different materials such as fabric remnants, ephemera and plaster to reveal historical and social connections long hidden from view.

The ‘Meet the Ancestors’ wall hanging is central to her current body of work. The calico was woven at Queen Street Mill in Burnley, Lancashire cotton mill and transforms the faces of her ancestors into a tangible piece of work. The images are hand-printed and then stitched together by hand, taking time to reflect on the saved histories that bind the family. Picking through the threads of generations past – Sara is also the daughter of a sculptor and a fabric designer – the work offers a way to re-root in a history of making relevant to her family’s industrial working past.

In the continuing development of this work, Sara is finding ways to engage with a wider audience through collaboration with artists, the public and specific sites that bring the making of personal histories closer to their origins. ‘Heartlands’ offers a way to explore local industrial heritage via this memory-object centred approach that values personal keepsakes, letters, photographs and word of mouth tales. Her aim is to create site-specific works and group experiences that will engage the public in new settings reflect the relevance of local families as traces of our traditional industries.