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Constance Howard

Article

MBE 1910 -2000

"Those who think of 'embroidery as an occasional sedative occupation... must think again. A quiet revolution has been taking place in this field for some years, and the results can be clearly seen at Goldsmiths College, London, where an exhibition of embroidery and collages, by staff and students, has been organised by Mrs Constance Parker, head of the department."
The Guardian, 5th February 1964

Born in Northampton in 1910, the daughter of an impecunious schoolmaster, she studied art at evening class from the age of ten. After leaving school at 14, she was denied a grant at the Royal College - on the grounds that the money would be wasted, because she would end up getting married. The authorities were right: in 1945 she married the sculptor, Harold Wilson Parker.

In 1947, she joined the staff of Goldsmiths as a part-time tutor. She went on to establish a Department of Embroidery in the Arts School, and to become Principal Lecturer in charge of textiles and fashion.

 

Textiles at Goldsmiths came to influence the field everywhere - partly because of her energetic proselytising and vigorous example, which helped to nurture the idea of embroidery as an art form and vehicle for self expression.

Constance's most celebrated commissions in this period included a large hanging (The Country Wife) for the country Pavilion of the festival of Britain in 1951, two hangings for the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery; and embroideries for Lincoln Cathedral, Eton College and Makerere University, Kampala.

A small slight figure, Constance Howard remained a powerfully individualistic personality to the end of her life. Her enthusiasm for textiles communicated itself to everyone who knew her, while her kind and patient approach to teaching endeared her to generations of students.

At the same time, she was no shrinking violet. It was symptomatic of her style that, long before the arrival of punk, she had bright green hair. In the 1930s, she allegedly used lithographers' ink as dye. Later, she switched to florescence: at a Goldsmiths lecture held in her honour just before she died, the head of an indomitable nonagenarian flashed like a traffic light, unmistakably from the middle of the audience.

Professor Ben Pimlott
Former Warden, Goldsmiths, 1945 - 2004