Sylvia Pankhurst

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Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) made a profound impact on the fight for women’s rights as both a campaigner and an artist. Trained at the Manchester Municipal School of Art and the Royal College of Art, she was a key figure in the work of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), using her artistic skills to further the cause.

In 1907 Sylvia Pankhurst toured northern England and Scotland to document the lives of women workers. Living in the communities she studied, she painted and wrote about industrial processes and the women who performed them.

Her visit to the Staffordshire potteries in 1907 resulted in a large group of studies where she contrasted the working conditions in different factories. Two works from this series were acquired for the Parliamentary Art Collection in 2002.

(The text on this page has been adapted from the Tate Britain BP Spotlight Display: Sylvia Pankhurst, devised by Tate curator Emma Chambers with The Emily Davison Lodge.)

On a pot bank, Staffordshire - Apprentice \'thrower\' and his \'baller\' at work On a pot bank, Staffordshire - Apprentice \'thrower\' and his \'baller\' at work
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Old Fashioned Pottery: Transferring the pattern onto the biscuit Old Fashioned Pottery: Transferring the pattern onto the biscuit
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In this work the young female ‘baller’ prepares the clay for the male ‘thrower’ to turn on the wheel to make pots. Pankhurst later wrote: ‘In the potteries I also saw the subordination of women workers. A woman was turning the wheel for the thrower, a woman was treading the lathe for the turner: each was employed by the man she toiled for – the slave of a slave, I thought!’

Pankhurst’s depictions of old-fashioned pottery processes emphasise skilled craftsmanship. In this drawing two women working at a bench apply transfer designs to the unglazed biscuit. The skill of the female workers is emphasised by the beautifully-decorated soup tureen in the foreground.