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Ironbridge Artist in Residence sets out to solve the Mystery of the missing portraits. (29th July 2015)

Ironbridge Artist in Residence sets out to solve the Mystery of the missing portraits.

Faye Claridge has been appointed as Artist in Residence at the Darby Houses, one of the ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire. Her six-month residency will feature research, workshops and her own creative work as she sets out to solve The Mystery of the Missing Portraits.

Faye's quest is inspired by the fact that Abraham Darby I, II and III never had their portraits painted because as devoted Quakers they did not want such 'immodest' representations of themselves. She will be seeking alternative ways of visualising the men whose innovations led to the Industrial Revolution; from Abraham Darby I, who perfected the technique of smelting iron with coke rather than charcoal, to Abraham Darby III who went on to create the world's first iron bridge. The legacy of the family is remarkable, which makes the mystery all the more compelling.

Visitors will be given the opportunity to Meet The Artist on 12th August, 22nd August and 9th September at Dale House, one of the Darby Houses, from 10.30am - 4pm, when they will be able to see Faye at work as she creates the elements that will be used to shape, disguise and reveal impressions of the three Abraham Darbys.

The extensive archives held by Ironbridge Gorge Museums will be Faye’s starting point, which contain more than 3,000 items relating to the Darbys alone. Next she will be speaking to local community groups to seek their stories and memories that have passed through the generations. She will also be inviting visitors to take part in creative workshops that will give them an insight into the remarkable artistic process.

Faye's residency is part of Shifting Worlds, a contemporary arts programme produced by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and Meadow Arts. The programme centres upon the impact of the Industrial Revolution and includes a new sculpture by internationally renowned artist David Nash, a massive free family festival run by House of Fairy Tales, which includes free access to Enginuity, the Darby Houses and Museum of Iron on 22nd August and a new contemporary art exhibition opening at the end of September.

Faye will be creating a number of alternative 'portraits' during her residency. These won't be purely physical translations, but will rather be representations of these individuals' legacies, values and personal stories.

Faye explains, “The three generations of Abraham Darby were so true to their Quaker upbringing that they believed that they should be remembered through their deeds rather than portraiture. Thus they made the decision not to have their pictures commissioned, which went against the common practice of key figures during the 17th and 18th century. It is very important to us to be respectful of these wishes, which is why it is their essence of innovation, ingenuity and creativity that we will be symbolising rather than their physical being.”

Once completed the artworks, which will be formed from fabric, photography and sculpture, will be displayed in Dale House, the former family home of the Darby family. They will take their place alongside key parts of the collection that help to tell the story of this remarkable family, including the desk that Abraham Darby III may have used when planning the Iron Bridge.

Shifting Worlds has been funded by Arts Council England through a collaboration between the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, the education and heritage conservation charity that operates the ten award-winning museums in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site and Meadow Arts, the Shropshire based charitable organisation that produces exceptional contemporary art projects in unusual places, bringing high quality contemporary art to areas where few other facilities exist.

The Darby Houses are open 10am-5pm every day until 1st November. A great value Annual Passport Ticket allowing unlimited entry into all ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums costs £27.95 per adult, £21.50 for seniors, £16.95 for children under 18, £68 for a family of two adults and all their children and £50 for a family with one adult; under 5s free (terms and conditions apply); Passports can also be bought online in advance saving 10% and individual entry tickets are available at each museum.

For further information, contact Ironbridge Visitor Information Centre on 01952 433 424 or visit The Gorge is easily reached via the M6 and M54 motorways exiting at Telford (M54 junction 4 or 6).

Faye’s residency can be followed on her blog