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“The links of the chain are of equal strength” – Revisiting Preston’s Rich Textiles History: Hand Painted Mural from Local Artist Gavin Renshaw in collaboration with the Courtauld Set to Adorn the Harris Building

Gavin Renshaws Preparatory Sketch

To commemorate the history of textile manufacturing in the Preston area, the mural celebrates the journeys, long and short, that Courtaulds Ltd employees made drawing attention to the diversity of the workforce that came together and continues to contribute to Preston’s rich textiles heritage.

Year 9 students from Penwortham Priory Academy and Christ the King Catholic High School took part in a series of workshops with local artist Gavin Renshaw and illustrator Toya Walker to develop key themes for “The links in the chain are of equal strength”, creating artwork to be incorporated into the planning stages of development. 

Local industrial heritage is the main focus of the mural, which features a collage of images including portraits of former employees who worked at Courtaulds Ltd factory in Preston. Opening in 1939, the factory quickly became one of the biggest employers in Preston at the time.

Beginning with a series of oral history recordings of former Courtaulds Ltd employees, students considered their own connections to themes around migration and textiles heritage, thinking about what it might have been like to work in the textiles factories in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Students explored the history and processes of the mill through drawing, collage and mark making with ink. Following these initial workshops in March 2022, artist Gavin Renshaw developed further on the poignant messages the students identified in their artwork

Image of two students from a local school creating a collage in the planning stages of 'the links in the chain are of equal strength

Councillor Peter Kelly, Cabinet member for arts and culture at Preston City Council, said: “We are delighted to support Preston artist Gavin Renshaw and the two local schools responsible for the design and creation of this beautiful piece of art which will be displayed outside the iconic Harris building. An integral piece of Preston’s industrial history is being captured and revitalised by a new generation.”

Alice Hellard, Heritage and Learning Officer at The Courtauld commented: “The students involved in the project responded to the brief brilliantly, making some thoughtful observations about the research material and developing a clear set of themes for Gavin to work on. When they visited him again during the painting process they were pleased to see how he’d put their ideas into the piece and provided some really insightful feedback.”

This project is part of the ongoing collaboration between The Harris Library, Museum and Art Gallery and The Courtauld. Since 2019, both parties have been working together as part of the Courtauld National Partners Programme, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This includes loans of artworks from collections, work with schools and colleges and a volunteer programme, with the aim of developing both learning and knowledge about art history and the industrial heritage of Courtaulds Ltd textiles manufacturers.

The mural will be unveiled in September at a celebratory event celebrating Preston’s textile heritage through local contemporary artworks.

Image of a collage taken at one of the initial school workshops which provided inspiration for “The Links of the Chain Are of Equal Strength” Image of a collage created by school children in the planning stages of the Harris MuralSchool workshop ink drawing designed for the Harris MuralImage of a second ink drawing from the school workshops of textile historic machinery

The Harris Museum, Art Gallery and Library is being reimagined as part of the Harris Your Place Project. The Museum and Art Gallery will be closed until 2024 for the exciting Harris Your Place project. The Harris has been granted £4.5m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund which will allow for the Grade I listed building to be refurbished. The aim of this project is to protect the building and the architecture for future generations, improving the services for everyone and increasing accessibility. Positioning the Harris as a community and cultural hub for Preston and Lancashire.