Creating and Networking: Female Networks Postgraduate and Early Career Study Day

This week’s guest post comes from Freya Spoor and Nia Clark who organised a Female Networks Postgraduate & Early Career Study Day in June.

The Female Networks (1750-1950) Postgraduate and Early Career Study Day held at Glasgow School of Art on the 29th June 2017 encouraged new friendships, collaboration and future research through a variety of dynamic activities.  During the morning session, delegates got to know one another whilst participating in academic speed dating.  They had five minutes to introduce themselves and converse on their research.  Once the buzzer sounded, delegates moved on to meet a new person.  Such a fast-paced set up helped the participants to express themselves in a concise way and spurred some interesting discussions.

The Organising Committee (L-R) Freya Spoor, Rachel Purse, Karen Mailey-Watt and Nia Clark

The Organising Committee (L-R): Freya Spoor, Rachel Purse, Karen Mailey-Watt, Nia Clark

Following this introductory activity, we were treated to an object handling session by Cat Doyle and Peter Trowles from Glasgow School of Art Archives.  The collection of objects included costume designs by Dorothy Carleton Smyth (1880-1933), a velvet and fur collar by Grace Melvin (1892-1977) and fashion illustrations by Margaret Olive Brown (1912-1990). Such a varied range of objects showcased the talents of female artists who trained at the GSA.  These pieces highlighted past inconsistencies in art historical research on female artists, designers and lesser-media practitioners whilst offering a very rich resource for future study.

During lunch, delegates had a chance to chat in a relaxed environment.  Then, in the second half of the break we received an impromptu talk by Dr Robyne Calvert, (GSA) on Margaret and Frances MacDonald, the sisters who form one half of ‘The Four’.  Robyne also took a group to view the Margaret MacDonald gesso panel, The Heart of the Rose, 1902 which was rescued from the devastating fire in the Mackintosh building in 2014.  This was a great opportunity to directly view a work by a female artist whose practice encompassed the spirit of collaboration which the Study Day was designed to foster.

Treasures from the Glasgow School of Art archive collection.jpg

Treasures from Glasgow School of Art Archive Collection

We then braved the Glasgow summertime weather (rain, rain and some more rain) to go on a walking tour led by Glasgow Women’s Library. This organisation which opened in 1991 aims to be ‘a catalyst for change by taking a lead role in redressing the neglect of women’s historical and cultural contributions to Scottish society.’[1]  Our guides gave us an insightful tour of landmarks in the Garnethill area of Glasgow related to local female artists.  We learned about the gable-end mural, visible from Garnethill Park, painted in the 1970s by artists Margaret Watt, Carol Rhodes, Irene Keenan and Jane Sutherland as part of a regeneration project.  The guides also shared personal reminiscence on some of the landmarks including some of the formidable teachers who worked in Notre Dame School for Girls and the location on Dalhousie Lane where the Women’s Library had its origins.

Braving the rain, Glasgow Women’s Library walking tour.jpg

Braving the rain: Glasgow Women’s Library Walking Tour

After a restorative cup of tea, we rounded off the Study Day part of our event with a keynote lecture by Dr Elizabeth Cumming (Hon Fellow, University of Edinburgh).  Her talk ‘From studios to pageants: networking in fin-de-siècle Scotland’ highlighted the creative possibilities that can be achieved through the interdisciplinary connections forged by both male and female artists.  It was a privilege to learn from Liz’s expertise both on this subject and as professional art historian.  This was a great end to a day which showcased the multiple and often overlapping nature of Female Networks 1750-1950 and enabled those present to form similar links that may lead to new research or creative projects.

The Study Day was followed by an evening event in The Art School, GSA. The interdisciplinary workshop ‘Creating and Networking: Collaborative Making through Liz Lochhead’s Poetic Imagery’ was led by Nia Clark (University of Glasgow) and arose from a collaboration with Edinburgh College of Art’s Textile Department, with all materials used ‘second life’ offcuts kindly donated by their textile students.

Hard at work Rebecca and Jenny selecting 'colour quotes'.jpg

Hard at work: Rebecca & Jenny selecting ‘colour quotes’

The workshop enabled participants to explore and make connections between words, imagery, colour and texture through their textile responses to ‘colour quotes’. Meanwhile, the relaxed atmosphere provided space to share ideas relating to female networks and beyond over a glass of wine – always a welcome aide-de-networking! The ‘colour quotes’ were snippets of lusciously layered language taken from the poems of Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s Makar from 2011-2016, and the Poet Laureate of Glasgow (2005).


Having spent the day in Garnethill, where Lochhead shared a flat in her early twenties,[2] and in Glasgow School of Art, where she studied from 1965-1970, Lochhead seemed a fitting choice both linguistically and geographically. In terms of ‘Female Networks’, she is often considered ‘a rare female presence’ in 1970s Scottish poetry, ‘enabling and inspiring’[3] subsequent writers. However, she is also keen not to be defined by her gender or nationality.

As well as ‘paving the way’ for female writers, Lochhead has also spoken out about the treatment of women artists more generally, suggesting there has been a ‘gross injustice’ suffered by 20th-century female artists. Lochhead spoke out on this topic after visiting the recent Modern Scottish Women exhibition held in Edinburgh in 2015, stating:

If your feminism is flagging, you can, whilst revelling in delight, discovery and novelty, fire up anew your outrage over the gross injustice of the eternal marginalising of the female sex with a visit to the fabulous exhibition. Why have you never seen these powerful paintings before? Why have you never even heard of so many of these fantastic artists?[4]

Considering how women artists and female networks have historically been overlooked sparked a number of interesting conversations surrounding gender, inclusion and exclusion. By the end of the day, we were all in agreement that Female Networks (1750-1950) contributed to the continued unveiling of the work of women artists in this period, as well as highlighting the value of their work for today’s audiences, regardless of their gender, when looking to the future.

The student committee who organised this event would like to give special thanks to all of the people who contributed to the success of the day including the SGSAH who provided vital funding for this initiative.

[1] Glasgow Women’s Library, <> [Accessed June 2017].

[2] Julie Davidson, ‘Poet from The Wastelands’, The Weekend Scotsman, 10th June 1972, University of Glasgow Special Collections, MS Hobsbaum BL/3, pp. 1-2, (p.1).

[3] Scottish Poetry Library, ‘Liz Lochhead’, <; [Accessed June 2017].

[4] Brian Ferguson, ‘Liz Lochhead hits out over treatment of female artists’, The Scotsman, 5th May 2016, <; [Accessed June 2017].

Freya Spoor has recently completed her thesis, ‘Transience of a Modern Medium: the rival of pastel in late nineteenth-century Britain’ at the University of Edinburgh.  She has been working as a research assistant on a Leverhulme-funded new critical edition of Emile Zola’s, Ecrits sur l’art.  In addition, she has been a co-convenor for the Nineteenth Century seminar series at the University of Edinburgh for two years.  This is an interdisciplinary forum that encourages postgraduate and early career researchers to share their findings in a supportive peer environment.

Nia Clark is an AHRC-funded first year PhD candidate studying at the University of Glasgow. Her research, titled ‘Self, Mirrors & Others: Voices in the Poetry & Plays of Liz Lochhead’ centres around a chronological re-evaluation of Lochhead’s poetry and plays, from her first collection Memo for Spring (1972) to the end of her term as Makar, or Scotland’s National Poet, in 2016.

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Joanna via email at, or find her on Twitter

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