Exhibition Review: A Singular Woman

Alter Ego by Marion Adnams (1945)

I am completely ashamed to admit that, having lived in Derbyshire, England for the majority of my life and having a degree in Art History, I had never come across the work of Marion Adnams. Up there with the likes of Dorothea Tanning, Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington, Adnams was a female artist inspired by the Surrealist movement of the 1920’s.

Marion Elizabeth Adnams was a Derby-born artist with a self-confessed “unusually vivid imagination.” She spent most of her life working in Derby as a teacher of Art and Linguistics whilst also pursuing a career as a professional artist. Her links with numerous galleries and curators means that today she has work in public and private collections across the country. So through partnership with museums such as Salford and Nottingham Museums, and the Art Fund, Adnams’ work has now been returned to its hometown in Derby through an exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery entitled Marion Adnams: A Singular Woman.

The exhibition itself is the first retrospective of Adnams’ work in its entirety and traces her journey as an artist. From her beginnings as a wood engraver, whose father taught her to make the paper models that would later inform her work, Adnams went on to train as a teacher and was appointed Art Mistress at Homelands Grammar School in Derby in 1937.

She was particularly affected by the second world war and during this time looked after her sick mother, whose death also made an impact on her work. Later in her life she was appointed Art Lecturer at Derby Diocesan College of Education and despite her hectic schedule, she continued to exhibit professionally all over the country, and in addition to this learned to drive and bought herself a car! A formidable and inspirational individual!

One of my favourite things about the work of Adnams is the fact that she never provides an explanation, or justifies her work. Motifs in her work such as skulls and shells were used to “create an atmosphere or period of time” but even with that information there is still plenty left to the individual mind — a clever nod to the Surrealist movement that inspired her so.

So yes, I am very ashamed that I was one of the many who had never heard of Marion Adnams. But to add to my embarrassment, on visiting this exhibition, I also discovered that Adnams was commissioned to design seven murals for the Immanuel Church in Stapenhill, my local polling station which is about five minutes from where I live! This just goes to show that you never know what you’re going to find when you visit a museum.

That it has taken this long for Adnams to receive true recognition and an entire exhibition to herself is almost an embarrassment to the artworld. Her contributions have gone unnoticed for too long and that is why I am incredibly thankful that this exhibition exists and that it has enlightened an ignorant art history graduate like me.

A Singular Woman is on display at Derby Museums until 4th March 2018.

-Rebecca King
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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