The 11th Muir Trust Artist in Residence

For this Muir Trust residency James will be selecting items from the varied museum collections in store and responding to these through his work to create new readings and interpretations. He is fascinated by political protest and trade unions and also by craftsmanship and groups on the fringes of social history. His residency will complement The Beautiful Stitch exhibition of treasures from the Embroiderers’ Guild Collection also at the Museum.




Harris Museum and Art Gallery artist in residence

Article taken from TextileArtist.org

Merging archive detail, local history, printing and textile techniques to create a piece of work which would represent ‘The People’s Preston’.

Use of archive materials

In writing this article I will try and give an insight into the investigations and outcomes of my recent commission from the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston Lancashire, which involved using the extensive archive at the Harris as inspiration to produce an artwork for the Gallery. This was a daunting task as the museum has a massive archive with thousands of historical artefacts.

However, the process was full of surprises and I delighted in using the archives given to me as I deemed fit, as well as learning completely new techniques like lino and other types of printing. So, with the help of the history curator, I slowly started to investigate the archives and was drawn to the museum’s photograph library, which covers all aspects of Preston’s history for over one hundred years.

James Fox Archive material

Accidental art

The images of Preston at the height of the Industrial revolution were especially interesting. There was also hundreds of what at first appeared to be small black and white close up images of pavements and streets which looked like semi-abstract artworks.

After enquiring what these images were, the curator asked me to look on the back of the photo where was written the date of the image, where the picture had been taken and most interestingly that this was the scene of a fall, and gave the name of the person who had been involved. These photos had been taken in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and all involved women.

James Fox – Sketches

James Fox – Not now Tory boy

Source material

The museum also houses a collection of fashion photographs and designs from the famous Horrockses Fabric and Fashions, which were produced in the area, and also from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

I had previously produced a series of works which were based on protest, emancipation, social justice and trade unions. This investigation culminated in a solo show, Fabric of Society, at the People’s History Museum, Manchester in 2015.

This museum has the largest collection of trades union banners in the country and keen to continue with these themes I felt the images available from Harris’s collection would fit well with this.

James Fox Sketches

James Fox – Prints

James Fox – Textile art

Merging techniques with historical era and local colour

Using the photographs I produced a series of drawings which developed into designs and experiments bringing in other elements like patterns from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

As part of the invitation from the Harris Museum I had free access to the fantastic fine art print studio at the University of Central Lancashire, as well as superb technical help from the staff there. Utilising these facilities I worked my designs into lino prints.

The process of numerous cuts using lino was intriguing and led me to do a series of 5 colour prints based on a repeat pattern I devised around the idea of ‘protest’.

The prints produced in relation to my investigations dealing with the accident photos were then used to develop the idea further. The culprit paving stone responsible for the falls I decided to make a feature of the images. In the 1960s and 70s, there was a television programme called “The Golden Shot” which featured a target in the form of a golden apple.

From this era, there was also a newspaper feature called ‘Spot the Ball’ where you had to find the missing ball from an image of a sporting event, usually football. I combined both of these and called the intended work ‘SPOT THE FALL’.

The guilty stone would be embroidered in gold thread, which would also pay homage to ‘Simpson’s Gold Thread Works’, a manufacturer in Preston which produced gold thread and constructed badges and emblems for the military, royal outfits, the White star shipping company and the masons to name but a few.

With this in mind, I wanted to bring in a textile element and to work with reverse applique which would lend itself to the pavement grid design and the different patterned material I wanted to incorporate.

James Fox – Textile Art

James Fox – Pillow

Incorporating Preston’s determination through history

During my investigations into the trade union movement and social emancipation, I encountered the suffragette movement in Preston and especially a Preston woman called Edith Rigby who was a key player in the working class struggle and women’s fight for the right to vote. She was the first woman to ride a bike in Preston, where she had eggs thrown at her.

She was imprisoned eight times, set fire to Lord Leverhulme’s house and splashed paint over a statue of the Earl of Derby in 1912. Using this act of protest I applied a splash pattern and incorporated it into a few designs both printed and embroidered.

Thinking about the Suffragette protest and the methods they used I came up with a design which could be used as a quick method to distribute a protest message in the form of print. I wanted to use images from the suffrage history, the window smashing campaign and Edith Rigby’s cycle through Preston, as well as slogans from the labour movement like ‘Unity is Strength’.

I wanted to bring a contemporary element into this design as well as something slightly more light- hearted, so I used ‘Austerity my arse!’ as a punchy statement on the design. This led me to take this term literally and developed into a cushion which was embellished with piping and embroidery.

Edith Rigby was also famous for helping children, especially girls, who worked in the industrial factories of Preston. She had a long battle with the owners of Woods Tobacco Factory, the factory building is still standing today.

Edith had the factory closed down until it was made safer for the staff which was predominantly young girls. I photographed the building and produced a series of screenprints using colour schemes based on Kodachrome film to give a feel of the passing of time. These images were set as a triptych.

James Fox – Screenprints

James Fox – Screenprints

Previously at the People’s History Museum I was struck by how much pride the makers of trade union banners had in the craftsmanship of even the smallest detail in the making of the banners- and the pride felt in all craftsmanship of that time.

While photographing Preston for my fact finding I was drawn to the detail and artistry in a drain cover.

At the time, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader had been derided for collecting photographs of drain covers. I used the exact size for the cover I had photographed to make a template to develop three designs to be shown in conjunction with the three screen prints of the tobacco factory.

These designs would use reverse applique and freehand embroidery using the elements I had been investigating, the pavement accident photos, the golden culprit paving stone, patterns representing the three eras and Horrockses Fashions of Preston.

James Fox – Drain Cover

James Fox – Sparks

These textiles would be placed if front of the prints with the words ‘SPOT THE FALL embroidered around the images.

Having fulfilled the requirements of the commission I have been left with a whole new set of destinations to head to on the art bus, and a few new skills to use along the way.




In an exhibition entitled ‘Fabric of Society’, my work was most recently displayed at the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

The initial inspiration for this exhibition stems from my lifelong interest in, and passion for, the representation of human beings in the contexts of work, culture and politics; how they are viewed and how they view themselves.

I have made a series of works which will deal with various topics prompted by this motivation, including the class struggle, imperialism, modern political choices (or the lack of them), whilst using humour and irony to question ideas about expectations regarding gender roles, working life, history and culture and other aspects of our social and personal lives.

The People’s History Museum has been an ideal reference point; I have been utilising their archives and collections to fuel my inspiration further and ultimately to exhibit the results of these investigations and interpretations. In particular, I am inspired by their collection of Trades Union banners, their history, design and construction. The use of textiles to present messages of protest through history has been powerful and enduring, from the intricate and colourful banners of the previous centuries to the hastily daubed instant statement or woven badge.

The concept of protest underlies all the investigations and resulting imagery in the exhibition. My criteria in choosing the slogans and protest images in my work were initially based around the discovery of early Trades Union banners. However, as my research continued, I found countless slogans, motifs and illustrations which have become instantly recognisable as symbols of protest and which proliferate during times of economic hardship, social injustice and desperate need. They provide their own concise commentary on our shared social history.

Nowadays, we utilise the convenience of social media, instant access to, and redistribution of news in sound bites and photographs, via the myriad of gadgets which enable this instant and ever-changing communication network. However, when people require a high-impact visual show of protest, they still often employ the traditional public demonstration complete with signs, badges, flags and banners displaying their pithy and incisive slogans.

I hope that the visual effect of the exhibition will evoke not only recognition of the broad and far-reaching purposes of protest, but also awareness of the sense of pride in the craftsmanship of the protest message, evident in the traditional union banners. The craftspeople of the past took the task of presenting their message seriously, with great attention to detail, colour and clarity. My aim in this exhibition is to deliver a hard-hitting modern political message using the historical and creative medium of textiles in banners, badges and insignia, whilst maintaining the artisanal aesthetic appearance in the use of font, fabric choice, composition and construction.

My professional development as a textile artist has been enhanced considerably by this opportunity to create work based around such ideology. It follows on creatively from my previous exhibited work on domestic gender roles, social groups and fraternities e.g. criminal gangs who use tattoos as a language of protest and unity, perceptions of individuals or groups based on their appearance, dress and culture.