Coming Soon... The Family

Author: Jen Boland, Learning Manager
Here at The Dowse we're just about to swap out one set of favourites for another.

This is the final week of The Cabinets, our peek into how we care for our ceramics collection, which ends on Sunday 20 January. We've had a lovely response to The Cabinets (including this blog post on Over The Net) and it's been a treat to see people's long, slow examination of all these carefully wrapped treasures.

Before you feel too bereft though, take heart: on 25 January some of the best-loved pieces in our collection go on show, when we open Malcolm Harrison: The Family

Harrison, a textile artist and self-confessed magpies, started making quilts in the early 1970s. In 2004 he was the inagural recipient of the Craft Object Art Fellowship award for outstanding achievement. We hole several of his larger works, but The Family has a very warm place in our hearts.


The first member of The Family was Jerry. Jerry—a doll made from a piece of wool, an old cape, an antique dress and a worn quilt—came into being following a request from a dealer of antique fabric. Other projects came calling on Harrison's attention, and Jerry was put away on top of a bookshelf, forgotten until the day he fell to the floor. Seeing Jerry lying there all alone, Harrison decided to make another doll, Chloe, to be Jerry's wife. Chloe was made with a swollen belly, and soon enough, Mungo joined their—and The—family.

After that The Family grew, as Harrison described it. 'as with any family, [not] in a flash of inspirations, not planning, but with random growth and fate playing a part'.

When we put The Family on display later this month, each member will be accompanied not only by the story written for them by Harrison, but also the detailed notes on all the fabrics and decorative elements used: a treasure trove of detail for the magic-inclined amongst our visitors. Here is a sneak peek, starting—appropriately enough—with the founding members of The Family.

Malcolm Harrison, The Family (Jerry, Chloe and Mungo) (detail), 1983-1987. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum

Malcolm Harrison, The Family (Jerry, Chloe and Mungo) (detail), 1983-1987. Collection of The Dowse Art Museum


A factory worker with a liking for the outdoors. His day dreams are of constant amusement for Chloe. 

Jacket – American homespun c. 1900

Shirt – American hand-woven cotton c. 1840s with Indian Calico c. 1980

Belt – English 'American Cloth'c. 1930s

Trousers – American cotton c. 1860s

Boots – American quilted cotton, walnut dyed  c.1820s

Scarf – American cotton c. 1860s

Neklace – 1960s love beads

Cap – American hand-woven cotton c. 1840s with alnut dyed cotton c. 1840s

Jewellery – Lord Kitchener stick pin c. 1918



Their son of one year. He sleeps a lot.

Dress – Machine made and hand-worked lace, English Victorian

Blanket – American Linsey-Woolsey c. 1850s

Quilt – Piece of quilt which Chloe's skirt is made of c. 1840s



Jerry's wife and a writer of romantic novels. Chloe lived all her childhood years on her father's ship. She now loves town life.

Shawl – American printed cotton c. 1810s with ric-rac braid c. 1950s

Blouse – Georgian white work

Skirt – 'Broken Dishes' design made from worn quilt c. 1840s

Slip and Knickers – 1980s handkerchief with hand worked Victorian edgings.

Hat – Printed cotton c. 1800 with 1940s flowers

Boots – American quilted cotton. Walnut dyed c. 1820s

Jewellery – Tibetan and African beads. Gold plated chain and locket


The showing of The Family has been organised by our Education Manager, Jen Boland, with help from the curatorial team and Bev Eng, our Collections Manager. It'll be a real treat for magpies, story-lovers, textile fans and more. We look forward to introducing (or re-introducing) you to The Family.


Jen Boland, Education Manager, and Courtney Johnston, DIrector.

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