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Sheila Bownas: A Life in Pattern

In 2008, while looking for artwork to hang in her newly decorated home, Rugby based gallery professional Chelsea Cefai bought an archive of 210 textile design prints from an auction.  This spur of the moment decision has resulted in a six year quest to discover more about the artist who created them; Sheila Bownas. The mysteries surrounding the vast body of work discovered after the death of this prolific artist were as much unknown to her family as they were to the art world.  

The 210 prints, dating from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s form the nucleus of the collection. Over the past six years Chelsea worked steadily to make connections with artists, designers and traditional makers across the UK in order to create unique products that bring Sheila’s designs back to life.

The highlight and centre piece of the exhibition was a to-scale living room set full of items such as wallpaper, cushions, upholstered furniture and light fittings featuring Sheila’s designs.  These new contemporary pieces were made in partnership with UK artisans and  brought Sheila’s designs to life demonstrating the relevancy of her design work to today.

To accompany the exhibition there was an extensive education programme including an activity space within the exhibition for families and a programme of talks, tours and workshops.

This exhibition explored Sheila’s life, the development of her artistic and textile design practice and the relevance of her designs to the contemporary textile design field.  On display were early paintings and archive material, on loan from Sheila’s cousins and god daughter, including photographs, private letters, business invoices and catalogues for her research. There was also an exciting loan of pieces from the Natural History Museum of botanical studies created by Sheila. In addition to this archive material was a display of a selection of designs from the collection.

An A5 catalogue accompanied the exhibition with short essays by exhibition curator Chelsea Cefai, design historian Lesley Jackson and almost 100 images of Sheila's.  It also included a limited edition print.