Archives highlight work of female artists and designers

Have you considered how difficult it was for a woman to be taken seriously as an artist or designer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? This, after all, was a period when an external examiner criticised the School of Art for awarding too many prizes to 'amateurs', a thinly veiled term for female students. 

As part of Women's History Month, we'll be highlighting a number of different women artists and designers who feature in our collections. Despite the prejudice against them, late nineteenth-century women students were surprisingly successful in gaining awards, not only in such traditionally 'feminine' areas as watercolour painting and needlework, but also in metalwork and enamelling. Florence Camm (1874-1960) is especially noteworthy in this respect. She attended the School intermittently between 1892 and 1908, successfully winning national competitions in stained glass and book illustration. 

Florence Camm, Preliminary drawing and colour scheme for stained glass design featuring the story of the Prodigal Son, 1901.

Florence Camm, Preliminary drawing and colour scheme for stained glass design featuring the story of the Prodigal Son, 1901.

We have more than 300 of her artworks in the Archives, including life studies, stained glass designs, designs for greetings cards, portraits, botanical illustrations, historical studies and designs for jewellery and metalwork. They include the design drawings for a silver and enamel casket that she and fellow student Violet Holden made in the late 1890s in honour of John Thackray Bunce, then editor of the Birmingham Daily Post and a member of the sub-committee of Birmingham Education Committee responsible for managing the School of Art. 

Following her father's death in 1912, she and her two brothers successfully ran the Smethwick-based stained glass company that he founded. One of her most technically accomplished set of windows is in the permanent collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. They depict the story of Dante and Beatrice. Designed for the English House at the Turin International Exhibition in 1911, they were awarded the Grand Prix in three classes. Why not go along to see them?