Pick a slide, any slide…

The Visual Resources Centre at Manchester School of Art contains more than 300,000 photographic slides. This collection was once at the heart of the Art School’s teaching practices. Its contents document a century of art education. But times have changed. In the rush to embrace the digital and all it can do, the value of such ‘obsolete’ technologies is in danger of being lost.

Prompted by proposals to dispose of the collection, Adopt a Slide began as a collaborative student project. In May 2015, we invited people simply to browse the collection, pick a slide and respond to it. The response has been amazing – from students, staff, alumni and other friends of the art school; from academics, librarians, journalists, artists and other interested parties further afield. Some have been fascinated by analogue image-making processes. For others, it is the collection’s particular history of art and design. And for others still, it is the jolt of the familiar, the unexpected find of images that resonate with personal significance. Such responses have clearly demonstrated the collection’s ongoing relevance, both as historic artefact and source of creative inspiration. Our project, disseminated via the internet, demonstrates how digital technology complements rather than replaces the unique qualities of the analogue image.

In July 2015 the Art School announced its intention to transfer the entire collection to the University’s Special Collections. The collection will thus be preserved in its entirety as a historic archive document. However, its future accessibility, for students, staff, and anyone with an interest in the diverse histories and creative possibilities it contains, remains, for the moment, unresolved. We are hopeful, though, that the richness of responses such as those gathered here will continue to make the case for the future potential as well as historic significance of this collection. Our invitation to adopt a slide remains open, though the practicalities of doing so are now less straightforward. But we still invite you to pick a slide, any slide – write something about your choice – and post it to the blog. Here’s how.

Adopt a Slide

Hi, my name is Clair, I’m a PhD sculpture student at the Royal College of Art.

I’m working on a similar mission, trying to rescue the RCA slide collection from the damp basement it’s being kept in.

Could we do a quick interview about your project to write up on my blog? Maybe by text chat like WhatsApp? Or a Google Doc?


Judy Barry: 13. Embroidered Fabrics

The final slide that I have chosen to adopt is also from the VRC’s extensive archive of images of students’ work. At some time this slide must have been re-mounted, with the incorrect date of 1992 written in at the top. In fact, I recognize it as being from 1995, when these embroidered fabrics formed part of Deborah Kemp’s final year collection exploring dyed and machine-stitched surfaces. The fabrics were further developed as details for male attire. Something wonderful happens when stitch becomes an integral part of the cloth, as here, and not something that merely sits upon it!

Taking part in this project has led me to reflect on the historic role of the slide collections as an academic and creative resource within the art school. In particular, I like to think of all the diverse members of staff who, during the life of the ‘Slide Library’, have over the years made their way to specific drawers and pockets of slides so relevant to their teaching and specialisms. Or how, by chance, a pocket of slides left out on one of the lightboxes might sometimes suddenly fire a connection between one art form and another, thus setting off some line of enquiry not considered before.

There is just SO much information held within those drawers!

Judy Barry

Embroidery Lecturer, 1966-2005


Judy Barry: XM70.1

Another slide from the archive of students’ work held by the VRC, this one from the 1986 Embroidery degree show records a collection of linen garments with integrated bags by Joanie Finnerty. For me, these remain a pinnacle of excellence and creativity.

For the very first time, the Blind-Hemstitch machine was used to create an all-over surface feature (its usual purpose was simply to sew an invisible hem). Machine stitched and applied decoration transform the linen cloth. Within this collection, both construction and surface detail are co-ordinated superbly, and the garments form a stunning and timeless composition when seen as a group.

It has given me immense pleasure to view this slide once again.

Judy Barry

Embroidery Lecturer, 1966-2005


Judy Barry: EMB 2.01

This slide is from the section of the VRC’s slide collection that records final year student work. From 1975, it shows a quirky mitre made by Helyn Kenyon in response to a project involving history and the architectural details within a church interior. It is hand worked, made of silk, with raised leather appliqué, metal threads and some Italian Quilting. It reflects so well this particular student’s personality, tackling what might have seemed a daunting project, with humour, individuality and skill.

Judy Barry

Embroidery Lecturer, 1966-2005


Judy Barry: EMB 19-01

The fourth slide I have adopted is from 1985. The Schiffli* machine was a huge cast iron, multi-needle mechanical industrial embroidery machine that was acquired by the Department of Fashion & Textiles from Hewetson in Macclesfield. It was capable of embroidering lengths of cloth, and served the Embroidery Course well for many years.

Though repeat patterns were the basis of the machine, creative students were able to overcome its formal function through ingenuity, needle threading and colour changes, thus building up layerings of pattern and stitch.

The slide shows Carol Hutchinson’s final year work, whilst still in preparation on the machine in 1985 – a transparent mesh of fine black silk, freely over-stitched in rayon and metal threads.

This was the last mechanical Schiffli machine in the UK, but was scrapped in 2013 when the Department moved to a new building.

*see Melanie Miller and June Hill, Mechanical Drawing: the Schiffli Project, 2007 (ISBN 978-1-905476-12-6) http://www.miriad.mmu.ac.uk/crafts/schiffli/

Judy Barry

Embroidery Lecturer, 1966-2005


Judy Barry: WE.05.50 & 51

In the mid 1970s, the Embroidery course received some fifteen “trade” embroidery machines from a sister faculty within the Polytechnic, whose roots were in education for Industrial Processes in Clothing manufacture and its allied ‘Trades’.

These two slides show a paper design and a machine-worked sample (for a tea cosy) that were amongst the papers and various parts etc that accompanied the machines on their transfer to the art school. The two pieces had been mounted, suggesting their submission for an examination. How they had survived amongst a jumble of oily machine parts is a mystery – as is whatever examination they were destined to pass or fail. But they are, in fact, very typical of taught practical pieces of machine embellishment on domestic textiles during the 1930s and 1940s. Who made them, and exactly when, remains a mystery.

Judy Barry

Embroidery Lecturer, 1966-2005


Judy Barry: EMB 2.01

Without history, there is no future. We learn and progress through all that has gone before. The Manchester School of Art has its own history, having morphed through several changes in name and status, to the place it currently occupies within Manchester Metropolitan University.

Its unique and valuable ‘Slide Library’ grew as a resource for the many and various subject areas taught there, with lecturers adding visual data pertinent to their teaching and subject specialisms. Key exhibitions were also occasionally recorded, opening up access for students without the means to travel, as well as for future generations.

From the mid 1960s, when the Art School became part of Manchester Polytechnic, the Dip AD (Diploma in Art and Design) became the new measure for Art and Design achievement. The final year “Dip Show” formed the culmination of each undergraduate’s submission. With University status, the Diploma Shows became Degree Shows, and the award a BA (Hons) Degree.

Recording these annual final year shows over half a century, the Slide Library (now the Visual Resources Centre) built up an amazing record of achievements in Art & Design education.

Dipping into the collection’s random “pockets of time”, one may see something of the many influences and innovations in use of media, colour, form, pattern and style, reflected in the works of each generation.

I have chosen to adopt seven slides connected to my own particular subject specialism and status as a lecturer on the Embroidery Course within the former Department of Fashion and Textiles from 1966 to 2005. Each slide has a narrative, or a history, pertinent to “Embroidery” as it existed within the Art School, Polytechnic and, latterly, MMU.

Slide EMB 2.01 shows a Girls’ Friendly Society banner that is typical of its early 20th century period. It was photographed for the Slide Library, in a local church, in 1978. As a fine example of its time, it would be useful for lectures on the History of Embroidery.

Subsequent research revealed that the banner had, in fact, been designed and made by Miss Doris Taylor, who taught embroidery at the Art School for several years.

Shortly after this photo was taken, St. Margaret’s Church suffered an arson attack, in which the banner was completely destroyed. So, this slide may well be the only record in colour of this banner, and its links to the subject of embroidery within the Art School’s teaching.

Judy Barry
Embroidery Lecturer, 1966-2005