Angela Chalmers – Something About Mary

Posted on Posted in Project Reviews

Anglea Chalmers talks to us about her cyanotype interconnected works ‘Something About Mary’, ‘Floral Poetry’ and ‘The Flower Collector’ that respond to the history of Miss Mary Craven and the Victorian popular pastime of collecting and preserving botanticals with a modern-day twist.

The 'Something About Mary' Dress installed in St Martins Church (c) Angela Chalmers
The ‘Something About Mary’ Dress installed in St Martins Church (c) Angela Chalmers

Tell us a bit about your project.  Can you tell us what attracted you to this specific project and how it is different from your other work?

The Flower Collector is a body of work that responds to the life and times of Victorian spinster Mary Craven (1814-1889). It also connects strongly to the church of St Martin-on-the-Hill, Scarborough, which opened in 1863. Mary was one of the founding members and financed the building of this new church, which includes Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows by artists such as William Morris, Rossetti and Burne-Jones.

The project began after I discovered that I live in the same property belonging to Mary. I was given an exciting opportunity to exhibit my work at the church in 2015, and this kick started my project.  I like to use camera-less photography techniques and print my images using the cyanotypes process. I am very interested in history and was attracted to alternative photography whilst studying for my art degree. My final degree show was a combination of paintings using ink on paper and digital photography based on the female form.

This on-going project is vastly different, as it’s been my first venture into public art. It is distinct from earlier work due to being site specific and working with textiles to produce 3D sculpture. The pieces connect to stories that I discovered about Mary through research and conversations with local historians.

Detail from the 'Something About Mary' Dress (c) Angela Chalmers
Detail from the ‘Something About Mary’ Dress (c) Angela Chalmers

Can you talk us through your decision to use cyanotypes for this project rather than a different alternative process?

I was first attracted to the cyanotype process after exploring the work of Robert Rauschenberg during my degree studies. I was inspired by his large photograms of figures, often incorporating flowers.

I am currently looking at 19th century photography by Julia Margaret Cameron and the botanical photograms of Anna Atkins. She learned the cyanotype printing method from its inventor and family friend, John Herschel in 1842. I am particularly drawn towards the rich Prussian blue tones and its origins of the Victorian era.

The process was appropriate for the dress sculpture, as the colour blue is symbolic of faith and heaven, and is traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary.

Using only two iron-based chemicals, ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, along with sunlight and water it is a relatively simple process, yet its aesthetic qualities fascinate me.

Detail from the 'Something About Mary' Dress (c) Angela Chalmers
Detail from the ‘Something About Mary’ Dress (c) Angela Chalmers

You mention that this work is site specific and also your first venture into 3D textile sculpture.  How have those aspects influenced the work and your practice?

This project highlights a new journey for my practice in both research and exploration of media. The possibilities of utilising different supports, such as printing on wood panels and glass are interesting potentials for future work. The piece was developed for St Martin’s Church to bring attention to the history and founder Mary Craven. It was also produced for a one-day event, yet due to the church’s admiration it remains to this day on permanent show. However, it will be travelling to Sweden in May 2017, to be displayed alongside ‘The Flower Collector’ – a series of work responding to the story from 1870 about Miss Craven illegally collecting flowers. These prints were produced using digital negatives and include photogram elements. I am intrigued by the upsurge in popularity of tattoo collecting in contemporary culture, and have chosen to incorporate figurative elements and flower tattoos.

Flowers feature prominently as part of the dress.  Why is this?

I spent many hours studying the stained glass windows designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artists. I noticed many recurring themes such as pomegranates, roses, sunflowers and white lilies. I decided to incorporate lilies into my design, as they are symbolic of new life and growth. In Christian religion they represent the purity of the Virgin Mary.

During my research into the respected and generous Mary Craven I read an interesting tale dated 1870. She was caught picking flowers and was threatened with court proceedings if there was any repetition. The lower pattern of the dress refers to this story – a cliff top walk through oak saplings, ground-creeping ivy, long grasses and wild flowers.

'The Flower Collector' (c) Angela Chalmers
‘The Flower Collector’ (c) Angela Chalmers

What is your favourite and least favourite aspect of this project?

My favourite aspect of this project is the knowledge of living in the same property as Mary once did. This has been a major force of inspiration allowing me to fully immerse myself into the spirit and history of the house along with its previous owner Mary Craven. My least favourite part has been the challenge of finding a photographic representation of her. It’s been frustrating… the search continues!

'The Flower Collector' (c) Angela Chalmers
‘The Flower Collector’ (c) Angela Chalmers

You mentioned this is an ongoing project.  Can you give us some more details about this aspect?

My research into Mary Craven has led to a further interest into the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Craft movement. The church has become my muse. I have been invited to become artist-in-residence, so I am currently applying for a grant to allow me to do this. I hope to set up a studio/exhibition space in the crypt of the church to further my research and to assist with raising awareness of St Martin’s.

'Floral Poetry' (c) Angela Chalmers
‘Floral Poetry’ (c) Angela Chalmers

Have you studied photography or art? If so where and when?

I first studied Photography in 2001 during my art foundation in London. I went on to gain my BA in Fine Art from the University of Hull in 2005.

What is your connection to the north east?

I have lived on the east coast of North Yorkshire for most of my life.

'Floral Poetry' (c) Angela Chalmers
‘Floral Poetry’ (c) Angela Chalmers


What is it about the north east that attracts you?

My father was born in Middlesbrough, so I hold great affection for the area. My time in London made me homesick for the cliff top views of the sea, the beautiful countryside and the more relaxed pace of life.


Where can people find out more online?

Website :

Facebook : angelachalmersart

Twitter : @angela_chalmers

Instagram : @angelachalmers


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