[H]eather Belcher, one of Britain’s leading textile artists, brings her remarkable new exhibition to the Lake District Holocaust Project in Windermere this summer.
Belcher’s Hidden Threads exhibition centres around ‘The Overcoat,’ which she has specially produced, using handmade felting processes. The inspiration for her creation comes from a man called Mayer Hersh, a Holocaust survivor with deep links to the Lake District.
Hersh, who died last year aged 90, came to the Lake District in 1945 when he was just 18 after spending 18 months in Auschwitz. He became known as one of the ‘Windermere Boys’, a group of three hundred child Holocaust Survivors who came from Eastern Europe to the Lake District in 1945 in order to begin their recovery from years of unimaginable suffering.
Hersh later moved to Manchester where he set up a very successful tailoring business. The coat in Belcher’s exhibition is based on one of Hersh’s overcoats which he handmade in the 1960s. Belcher travelled to Manchester to work at close quarters with the overcoat and also a three piece suit also made by Hersh. These items are currently held in the Platt Hall Costume Museum collection in Manchester.
Trevor Avery, Director of Lake District Holocaust Project, explains some of the background to Hersh’s story: “When he arrived in Auschwitz in 1943 he was asked what his trade was and, as his father had been a tailor, he replied that he was a master tailor himself. Of course he was far too young to be a master tailor but this response undoubtedly saved his life. He was then chosen to go and work on clothing in the camp, even working on the guards’ uniforms.”
“Hersh’s story is a remarkable story of survival. The pressure for him to work at the highest tailoring level, way beyond his ability at that young age, was immense. One mistake and he could have been murdered. It was skills learned in Auschwitz that he continued into his own tailoring business in Manchester after he came to Britain in 1945.”
London based Heather Belcher’s work has all the ingredients to make a dramatic appearance at the Lake District Holocaust Project. It has a quality of contemplation that sits alongside a profound sense of history, both personal and much broader. She describes the inspiration for the overcoat as “a motif which I have returned to a number of times. Clothing can be a powerful marker for both the absence and the presence of the human form. Overcoats particularly, cover and protect us”.
She continues: “My mother was a skilled dressmaker, making clothes for myself and all my siblings. She taught dressmaking and tailoring and passed her skill on to me. At various points in my life I have fallen back on those skills to ‘earn my living.’”
Heather Belcher’s Hidden Threads exhibition takes place at the Lake District Holocaust Project in Windermere Library from 6 July until 27 August.