Activist Artists

MAUREEN ROTHSTEIN studied art in London in the 1950s and fell in love with pottery. She trained at Camberwell Art College and set up the Shepherd’s Well Pottery in Hampstead. It was quite unusual for women to set up as potters at this time. As a ceramicist, Maureen’s socialism and leftist views has always led her to produce functional work.

Maureen converted to socialism in her teens.

“I think that’s an age when people do start thinking about what they believe in. And I think it all rather went together, find that religion didn’t seem to be necessary to one’s life, and politics was a lot more interesting.”

Maureen came to Portsmouth with her husband’s work in the late 1960s after they had spent a few years living in Moscow. Maureen was already a member of CND and became an early and active member of the South East Peace Council, set up by a friend who had heard about the peace movement and the groups that were springing up around the country.:

“She was a Quaker, and I think she knew a lot of other Quakers, and I think it was through that that she heard about it.
And so she started the Peace Group in North Portsmouth. And people came from very wide to start with, I remember at the inaugural meeting, there were about 60 people came, from as far afield as Southampton and Petersfield, and Southsea, and Chichester, a very wide area, and a lot of clergymen were involved… And it still is just about continuing, in a very, very small way.”

Maureen organised successful campaigns against the proposed Conservative Party cuts in Adult Education, and for quite a while the classes continued. Maureen’s long-term involvement and advocacy for adult education was based in many years’ experience of teaching all-comers, especially when classes could be offered for free:

“I had people of all ages. I even had students who were doing their A levels, who got special permission to come to pottery classes, and lots of young married women came during the day, their children were at nursery school.

… And of course, a lot of pensioners, a lot of retired people came. So, it was a very wide range of age groups, which made it very interesting, and a lovely thing, if you’ve been to adult education, you probably know, a very wide range of abilities…

I think it’s probably true of all adult education, but certainly the ceramic classes, they were very sociable, partly because when you’re working like that, you can chat to each other. I have one example that I always think of, I had a young woman who was in her forties, she’d got Down’s Syndrome…

And there was somebody there who actually taught at what was The College of Art, which of course, doesn’t exist as a College of Art anymore, and they got on really well together, and helped each other, you know? …

And one time [the project] was to do with the sea and boats which seemed a fairly corny sort of suggestion, in Portsmouth, and she did a ship in a bottle…she thought it up herself, nobody told her, you know? And she did it beautifully, and it was like a half bottle, ‘cause obviously it was pottery and not glass, so you had to be able to see it, and she did it beautifully.”

Maureen was one of the main organisers of the protests against Adult Education classes, mostly attended by women, being closed down. Because the Government of the time

‘didn’t want to spend money on… subsidising people to enjoy themselves’

Some examples of Maureen’s pottery

MANDY WEBB has always been a creative person, using art as an escape to create her own world in her childhood years. As she went through her schooling, she became increasingly aware of gender stereotyping and was disappointed that there were no female role models offered to her.
After Mandy received an HIV diagnosis, she became much more focussed on her art and the expression of her own story and that of other women. Mandy used her art and her humour to express the frustrations of suffering from a long-term illness, but also as a way of being open about her condition. Her work used the red ribbons of the AIDS campaigns to draw attention to the condition.

Like many feminist artists, Mandy wants to draw attention to women in history and women’s place in society today. She frequently uses women’s clothing to represent the issues concerned. She has recovered female composers, suffragettes and suffragists, women on strike and much more. Her work often includes naming women, to bring their ‘herstories’ to the fore in the hope that this will inspire others to research these women of our shared history.

Mandy’s famous “Bollocks to Austerity” dress is something she has worn on demonstrations in London to make a political statement against the Conservative Party’s policy of austerity. Mandy wanted to protest but decided:

“There’s not enough room on a placard, there’s so many things I want to write, and so I’m going to write a dress. And so I made this dress and it was really in austerity style. I didn’t buy anything new, I used all my old things from the other pieces I made.

This dress is quite Frankenstein, a bit like this monster, where you see all the pieces sewn together and you see the pieces of Frankenstein with all the lines. And I then I just daubed it with all these different rants about saving our NHS, and ‘Revolution is the only Solution’ and even the badgers got a look in: ‘Don’t cull the badgers, cull the Tories’. This is what inspires me now.”

Mandy has also completed work inspired by D-Day and is currently working with Bangladeshi women of Portsmouth, recording their names and stories through painting and embroidery on Saris.

Mandy wearing her
Bollocks to Austerity dress