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Arc of History · Newnham College, Cambridge

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Polishing photo-etched panels in studio
Photo-etched panel showing the founding members of Newnham College

Arc of History · Newnham College, Cambridge

Illuminating Newnham College’s rich history

Haberdashery was commissioned by Newnham College; the iconic institution at the heart of Cambridge University. ’Arc of history’ sits in the heart of the new buildings created by Walters & Cohen Architects for the women’s college, floating above the students in the Iris café and recreation area.

We were given access to a fantastic archive of letters, photographs and personal correspondence from throughout the pioneering history of this famous college. By recreating details from key documents across 270 etched and rolled brass ‘pages’ positioned in flowing arcs across the ceiling space, we invite the audience below to contemplate those who have gone before them.

Brilliant minds like Rosalind Franklin; a chemist and x-ray crystallographer recognised posthumously for her significant contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA, classicist Jane Harrison who uncovered the more subtle-layers beneath the ancient Greek civilisation paving the way for Mary Beard, and Philippa Fawcett who came top of her year’s mathematical exams at Cambridge but could not be officially recognised by her male counterparts are stories that deserve to be celebrated.

Each historical document was carefully selected, digitised and converted into textured illustrations photo-etched on to brass sheets, each carefully rolled to give them a perception of delicate movement.

By perforating the designs on each unique brass sheet of ‘paper’ the light from overhead skylights pierces the sculpture creating patterns of light and shadow, giving a unique interpretation of an aesthetic first used by Japanese artist Hokusai in his woodcut ‘Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri’ (c.1832).