On Saturday morning last week, something rather unexpected landed in my lap:
Stephen Inggs, head of Michaelis Fine Arts at UCT, popped around to my studio with a portfolio of fabric prints by somebody called Anne Finsen, who died last year at the age of 94, as he thought I might be interested in her work.
He was right.
Inside the portfolio is a fantastic collection of strong designs released under the label Falcon House Hand Crafts, made during the 50s and 60s. I’ve photographed them all, and here’s a small selection of the designs. The rest I’ve uploaded onto Flickr here.
Stephen didn’t know a lot about the designer, just that she had worked at a point under the label Anne Scarr, and that her maiden name was Anne Clough. He put me in touch with Jeni Cole, a friend of Pam Clough, who was Anne’s cousin, and responsible for the clearing of the house and the preservation of its treasures. Jeni and Pam were in the process of clearing the house in preparation for new owners.
I could find nothing about Anne Clough or Anne Scarr online, and the names didn’t ring bells for anyone I asked, so I called Jeni, and on Tuesday I drove out to Chelsea-Wynberg to find out more.
I was shown through the near-empty rooms of a very old, thick-walled house, which is at the end of being cleared for new owners, up some stairs, and into the most amazing attic space.
And here, in amongst the final remnants of her home and studio since 1956, I chatted to her friend Jeni Cole, and found out a whole lot more about Anne Finsen.
She was born in 1917 as Anne Clough, and started her working life as a milliner, under the name Anne Scarr. She married Øle Finsen in 1956, which is when they moved into this house, and when the two of them worked together in the attic producing her screenprinted designs.
In the pictures below, you can see the many variations of Anne’s name: firstly, the initials A.C., for Anne Clough, on her steamer’s trunk, Anne Scarr on her satin milliners’ ribbon, and lastly, the initials AF for Anne Finsen on one of her silkscreens.
After her death in October 2012, Anne Finsen’s attic was filled with her creative efforts over the decades she’d spent in the house. There were Milliner’s lasts, cupboards and trunks, and all manner of treasures. These have been cleared, moved out and moved on, and all that is left are a couple of printing tables, and the walls lined with beautiful old wooden screens, still stretched with her designs on them.
Nobody was able to tell me how long she produced these designs, or even where she sold them. Judging by the designs and colours though, I’d guess that it may have been something like a 10 year burst of energy in the 1950s and 60s.
Apart from her screenprints on fabric, it seems that Anne Finsen did other screenprint work as well. She was a politically active woman, and a founder member of the Black Sash (read their tribute to her life here).
I love this screen for a Jazz concert with some pretty impressive performers playing.
The screenprints in the portfolio Stephen showed me were produced under the name Falcon House Handcrafts – derived from the name of her house, which dates from the 1800s.
After thoroughly exploring the attic, Jeni showed me around the rest of the near-emptied house, which is where Anne Finsen lived until she died last year at the age of 94. All the wall calendars in the house are still open at October 2012, which was her last month on earth.
I hope that my research and my photos might jog the memory of long-time Cape Town people. I’m working on a Wikipedia page for Anne Finsen, which I will link to once it is up, and have uploaded images of her prints and home to my Flickr in a set called Falcon House / Anne Finsen.
Please let me know if there’s anything that needs changing in any of these, and anything that needs adding.
I feel quite fortunate to have been able to encounter this small segment of Anne Finsen’s long and interesting life. Thanks to Stephen Inggs, Jeni Cole and Pam Clough for giving me this unexpected opportunity for inspiration and exploration.