Harlow Open 2024: Bishop’s Stortford artist Gunta Andrews embroiders the truth about new town’s history
Nifty needlework earned Bishop’s Stortford artist Gunta Andrews third prize in the Harlow Open 2024.
Gunta uses textiles to tell stories and titled her winning mixed media piece Harlow – Who Knew.
“The idea came to me when I visited the Parndon Mill Open Studios event in September,” she said. “I was astounded at the diversity and talent among the artists who have studios there, so close to the centre of Harlow yet off the beaten track, and I felt ashamed that I’d been oblivious to so much of what Harlow has to offer.
“When I mentioned this to one of the artists, she jokingly said that coming from Bishop’s Stortford, I should ‘get over myself’ and take a closer look at Harlow, so I did.
“Visits to Harlow Museum, the park, the sculptures and online research about Harlow’s social history provided me with so much inspiration and led me to create a set of 30 small, stitched squares that relate to different aspects of Harlow and its history.
“I used several different textile techniques on the squares, including embroidery, appliqué, cyanotype and image transfer. Some squares are obvious, some are abstract.”
The mother of two, whose daughter Mo is also an accomplished artist and musician, said: “The squares were small and easy to fit in my pocket, so I used to stitch them on the train to Cambridge where, at the age of 58, I’m a first-year student at Anglia Ruskin University, studying for a BA (Hons) in fashion design.
“It’s clear that women of my age are completely ignored by the fashion industry in this country – and ignored generally.
“Tired of trying to find clothes that are well made from sustainable fabrics, comfortable without being remotely frumpy, I decided to improve my skills with a view to launching my own small brand in the next few years.”
Gunta’s success in the Harlow Open 2024 show followed last year’s success when her work was selected for inclusion for the first time, along with lino prints by her husband Adrian, who is also a talented artist.
“I was thrilled to have my art included – the standard is high and I have a huge sense of imposter syndrome,” she said. “To be awarded third prize by the judges was totally unexpected and means so much to me.
“It’s good to see that textile art is finally being recognised as art, and it’s a lovely feeling when people like your work enough to give you a prize.”
Gunta was one of almost 200 artists from across Harlow, Uttlesford, East Herts, Epping and Broxbourne districts who vied for a place in the exhibition at the Gibberd Gallery in Harlow’s Civic Centre, which is open Mondays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, until March 16.
It is organised by the Harlow Art Trust, an independent charity which is the guardian of the new town’s public sculptures, which include works by modern masters Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. It also looks after the Gibberd Gallery, which houses Harlow town planner Sir Frederick Gibberd’s watercolour art collection including works by John Nash and Elizabeth Blackadder.
This year, the Open’s independent judges were Anne Schwegmann-Fielding, a mosaic artist and sculptor, Sebastiano Barassi, head of Henry Moore collections and programmes at the Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green, near Much Hadham, and Sculpture Town Artist in Residence Tom McDonagh.
The exhibition has been curated by Elaine Tribley and includes the first prize-winning work by Liz Loveless – a cyanotype print titled Stilt Houses, Harlow – and a linocut hand print titled Essex OAP by Linda Prosser, which was awarded second prize.
As well as Gunta, the Bishop’s Stortford area artists who feature include Luke Hayes, who was highly commended for his photograph Concrete Crossing; Nick Dittrich with both Fall(en) Rise and Study Observed From Afar (it spells SOFA); Toni Frostick with “Wosit even bout?”; Ray Whyard with Fishing Boats; Julie Arnall with Sycamores; Weena Jones with Der Mer Calme and Jordan Cook with No Hands (Netteswell Tower).
This story will appear in the February 14 print edition of the Bishop’s Stortford Independent