The curious tale of Mrs West's hats...

Friday 20th May 2016 6:00 am
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Helen Couchman ()

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MRS West, of Binsted, was a resourceful lady. She was expected to accompany her husband to many important social events, including garden parties at Buckingham Palace.

But cloth was rationed, so instead of a new outfit she wore a different hat for each occasion. Some she bought and others she made herself so that each time it looked as though she was wearing a new outfit.

After Mrs West’s death, her granddaughter, Helen Couchman, who had by now qualified with a BA in fine art and an MA in critical fine art practice, collected together the hats – there were more than 60 of them – and photographed herself in the style of the time wearing them, as well as also her grandmother’s original make-up.

She then turned the resulting photographs into an artwork which she named ‘Mrs West’s Hats’.

Now, Mrs West’s Hats is to be exhibited in Alton’s Allen Gallery in June. The exhibition is preceded on May 26 by an illustrated talk by Helen herself about her grandmother, her hats and what they reveal about life and fashion in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Helen said: “My grandmother was a most influential person in my childhood. In my eyes she was creative, sharply intelligent and ceaselessly loyal toward me. She was most interested in the future – my future. When I tried on her hats I clearly remembered her. Each hat reminded me of a different aspect of my feelings toward her.”

She has exhibited Mrs West’s Hats in galleries all over the world, but she is particularly pleased that her work is to be shown in Alton, so close to her grandmother’s old home. Indeed, Helen herself lived in Binsted for three years and attended Binsted Primary School, so the occasion will bring back even more memories to her.

“It will be great to show my project in the area where my grandmother lived. It means a lot to me,” she said.

The exhibition Mrs West’s Hats runs at the Allen Gallery in Church from June 2-30. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10.30am-4.30pm and entry is free.

The talk ‘Mrs West’s Hats, the life and times of my Binsted grandmother’ takes place at the Allen Gallery on Thursday, May 26, at 7.30pm. Tickets, priced £5 are available at the gallery or by calling 01420 85063.

Both events also feature on the website of Hampshire Cultural Trust, at hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk, while further information about Helen Couchman’s work can be found on helencouchman.com.

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