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Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Tuesday, 11 January 2011
Devon's political archive inspires artists
By Jemima Laing
BBC Devon

Detail of Semper Fidelis by Jonathan Velardi - Exeter Phoenix
Detail of Semper Fidelis by Jonathan Velardi

A new exhibition in Devon is an innovative fusion of art and history.

Artist Catherine Cartwright and Katherine Weston, outreach officer at Devon Record Office (DRO), came up with the idea for Politics in Print.

Work by seven artists inspired by the DRO's political archive will be on show at Exeter Phoenix from 14 January 2011.

"We have some amazing records and this is a wonderful way of highlighting a different aspect of the collection," said Katherine.

"It's the first time the Record Office has done anything like this and it's a good template for future projects.

"We were really flexible and said to the artists come along and have a look at the records and see what you're interested in - and that's what they did."

Steven Paige's Stratagem - Exeter Phoenix
Steven Paige's Stratagem

Catherine and fellow artist Nicci Wonnacott began the investigation for their piece by looking at some of the letters held at DRO by Christabel Pankhurst which led them to the story of The Three Suffragettes of Clovelly, as recorded by Todd Gray in his book Remarkable Women of Devon.

"We knew we were looking for documents relating to women's politics and we found some really interesting letters.

"I know it's a cliche but history does really teach us about now."

Catherine and Nicci's final work is a film which will be shown as part of the exhibition.

Gary Powell's work looks at the slave trade relating to Devon and Plymouth while Steven Paige's Stratagem looks at the process of redaction - the blacking out or removing of information from documents to keep sensitive information from being distributed.

For Lucy Brett it was Devon's lost railway lines which inspired her.

Lucy Brett - No Porter - Exeter Phoenix
Detail of No Porter by Lucy Brett

"I focused my research on one particular branch line and the five stations along its route - the 1893 Primrose Line which ran from South Brent to Kingsbridge.

"I read letters such as one from the engineer on the progress of work and hold-ups due to weather and reports to the committee of the Railway Company.

"I then produced a small series of prints depicting the railway's political marking of the Devon landscape - noticing what has disappeared, what remains and what has been replaced."

Volkhardt Muller focused on recreating a girl he uncovered in the archives in his Trying to meet Matilda Brimmacombe piece.

He used court records relating to a 15-year-old Matilda Brimmacombe who stole two yards of ribbon and a bonnet from her master Mr Wood at a now demolished chapel on the High Street.

She was punished with six months of hard labour with periods of solitary confinement.

"My idea of the unruly girl is replaced by questions about Matilda's character and mindset, her aspirations and the motives driving her actions," said Volkhardt.

Political conspiracy and intrigue was the focus of Jonathan Velardi's Semper Fidelis.

"In no other professional practice does division play such a fervent role within the world of politics," he said.

"With division lies the question of trust and it is with the simple action of loyalty, which has been the crux of many a low and high on the political timeline of Devon's history, where I have found inspiration for Semper Fidelis.

"The motto for the City of Exeter since 1660, these Latin words of Always Faithful, rang like a mantra throughout my research at the Devon Record Office."

The exhibition, which was created with Double Elephant, runs at the Phoenix until 31 January 2011.

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