So­cial his­tory blow­ing in the wind

Glas­gow Green project tells the story of the wash­er­women

The Herald - Arts - - VISUAL ART - JAN PA­TIENCE Words of Wash­er­women, Laun­dry Poles, Glas­gow Green (be­side Tem­ple­ton on the Green), Glas­gow. Ends Mon­day. To­day from 1pm-3pm, artist Penny An­der­son will give a guided tour of Words of Wash­er­women and an in­ter­ac­tive artist’s talk. Meet at the

UN­TIL artist Penny An­der­son sent me a di­rect mes­sage on Twit­ter (the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of the steamie) telling me about her forth­com­ing art project at the clothes poles on Glas­gow Green, I con­fess I didn’t know such a place ex­isted. But then, I’m not a na­tive Glaswe­gian, un­like many of the passers-by I met when I vis­ited An­der­son’s Words of Wash­er­woman in­stal­la­tion on its first day in situ. Mostly dog-walk­ers, many stopped in their tracks with a shock of recog­ni­tion as they pro­cessed the sight of 28 white muslin sheets hang­ing on newly-strung lines of string from the neat rows of 36 cast iron clothes poles which served the women of Glas­gow well over sev­eral hun­dred years.

Each of the muslin sheets has text stitched – al­most in­vis­i­bly in white thread – into the mid­dle of the fab­ric. Peo­ple were weav­ing in and out of the sheets read­ing the texts; a mix of real and imag­ined tes­ti­monies from women who hung out their clean wash­ing on Glas­gow Green over the cen­turies.


(Re­fer­ring to Scot­tish Suf­fragette, He­len Craw­furd, who spoke at a meet­ing at Bridgeton Cross.)


(A quote from Mar­garet Con­nor, who re­mem­bers her mother dry­ing laun­dry on the Green.)

Ac­cord­ing to one passer-by, Carla White, 56, a trip to the dry­ing green was a great day out when she was a a wee girl grow­ing up in nearby Bridgeton. “There were three wash­houses around here at one point,” she re­calls. “One on Parnie Street, one on Steven­son Street and an­other one in Green­head Street. I used to get sent down to the steamie to book a bath for my dad on a Fri­day night and pick up a ticket for whites and a ticket for coloureds at the same time.

“We played at the dry­ing green and watch the wash­ing. If you didn’t keep an eye on it, hawk­ers would take it and sell it at the Bar­ras be­fore you knew it!”

Janet Dal­las, 72, who has come for a look-see with her hus­band after hear­ing about the project on BBC Ra­dio Scot­land, lived in nearby Green Street.

“I was the youngest of eight chil­dren and my mother would take the wash­ing down in an old pram. She’d leave us with sand­wiches and bot­tle of wa­ter. We’d plan it like a day out and you had to get there early or it would be too busy. This was in the late 1940s, early 1950s. Ev­ery­one watched out for each other and we kept a close eye on the wash­ing. That was the way it was.”

There’s no doubt that if these clothes poles could talk, they would have a lot to say. What Penny An­der­son has done in a very sim­ple and ef­fec­tive way, is give a voice to the thou­sands of women who laboured over their wash­ing like it was an art form in it­self. Which it was. In its own way.

I have mem­o­ries of my own mother in­struct­ing me how to peg out wash­ing. There was a way to do it and a way not to. The way she hung out wash­ing was the way her mother had shown her how to do it; un­der­wear to­gether with socks pegged in pairs us­ing one side of the ‘leg’, sheets in three sec­tions so they could air prop­erly, tow­els by the cor­ners, and shirts by the seam.

Even to­day, I feel a sense of sat­is­fac­tion at be­ing able to peg out wash­ing on a good dry­ing day and – thanks to so­cial me­dia – I know I’m not alone in this. You know who you are…

Ac­cord­ing to Penny An­der­son, Words of Wash­er­women is not a his­tory les­son although she has an abid­ing in­ter­est in place and mem­ory. The lit­tle de­tails are what makes this work. She has cho­sen muslin as a re­minder of sev­eral muslin mills which once op­er­ated nearby. The stitch­ing is white which is a ref­er­ence to the white work which women work­ers made. “I have all the ref­er­ences for the texts, but have left some de­lib­er­ately oblique,” she ex­plains. “Some of the cloth is blank as not all voices are heard, even if I place them in pub­lic view again.

“I imag­ined one wo­man through­out mil­len­nia, and her view on the world as she saw it. “

It may not be a his­tory les­son, but the his­tory stitched into An­der­son’s sheets, has the ef­fect of open­ing your eyes to the events which the wash­er­women who laboured here must surely have wit­nessed, in­clud­ing; ex­e­cu­tions, the Cal­ton Weavers’ Mas­sacre, the en­camp­ment of Bon­nie Prince Char­lie, Suf­fragette Gath­er­ings and much more.

Aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing too, the vivid green of the late sum­mer trees and grass con­trasts with the white muslin sheets wav­ing in the wind. An­other layer is added when you view the work against the over-the-top glazed red brick, tiled and ter­ra­cotta on the fa­cade of what was Tem­ple­ton’s Car­pet Fac­tory. Now flats, of­fices and a pub.

“When I was a wee girl, I used to think a a fairy princess lived up there,” says Carla White. “This was my play­ground.”

The ghosts of many pasts are cur­rently hang­ing for all to see down at Glas­gow Green. Catch them while you still can.

Penny An­der­son’s work con­sists of 28 white muslin sheets. Each has a mix of real and imag­ined tes­ti­monies from women who hung out their wash­ing on Glas­gow Green stitched into the mid­dle of the fab­ric

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