5 November 2009


I am working on a project compiling photographs, journals and old film footage of my grandmother, Madeleine. 'Just in case,' says Mum, but 'just in case' means inevitably and maybe not too far away, as Madeleine is now in care. It took her a long time to get there, as she has always been a feisty and stubborn woman who never wanted to leave her own home. She turned 98 last week, and looking back through those old photos I realise the ways in which she has influenced my own life. I remember two things she said to me (repeatedly). At the time I didn't pay much attention, as I am stubborn and always right, just like her. She said: "You must go back to your art. But don't worry, you will when you are older." The other thing she said was: "Don't be like me, travelling around everywhere, without a proper home. It can be a very lonely existence, you know. Make sure you settle somewhere and make it somewhere you can always come back to." She did travel a lot, with my grandfather's work, and lived in places that always sounded exotic and desirable: Denmark, New York, Paris.

She had a style that was always trim, chic and streamlined. I realise now that my love of fabric, prints, mid-century modern design and beautiful colour combinations were all inspired by her. She had things in her house that nobody else did - Siamese wallhangings (it wasn't Thailand in those days), handdrawn French illustrations, beautiful sleek Scandinavian glassware.

In this photo, she is with my grandfather Arnold, in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. It is 1963; a hot summer's afternoon. She had a lot of frocks like that; belted, with tasteful floral prints. They are not very different from some of the skirts and dresses I wear today. What I am so surprised by is the fact that up till now, I assumed the things I liked had no connection with anybody or anything else. It's set me off on a whole new train of thought, and a desire to sort through my suitcase of old family photos.

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