Community artwork at Cromford Mills will pay tribute to the forgotten workforce and slave labour in cotton industry

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Women and children who were critical to the success of Sir Richard Arkwright’s cotton spinning mills in Derbyshire during the industrial revolution will be commemorated in a new artwork.

British artist Hetain Patel, whose ancestors picked cotton in Kenya and India, will be spearheading the Cotton Labour project at Cromford Mills which also pays tribute to the victims of slave labour.

Cromford people are being invited to contribute unwanted clothing and cloth towards the artwork which will use yarn to weave portraits for a sculpture.

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Hetain said: “Sir Richard Arkwright is remembered today as one of Britain’s great industrialists, and his legacy is celebrated at Cromford Mills.

Hetain Patel is leading the Cotton Labour community art project at Cromford Mills.Hetain Patel is leading the Cotton Labour community art project at Cromford Mills.
Hetain Patel is leading the Cotton Labour community art project at Cromford Mills.

“Cotton Labour is about shining a light on the hundreds of forgotten workers that helped build the cotton industry, many of them women and children. It’s also a poignant reminder of the enslaved labour involved in the wider cotton industry.

“Like all my work, I want Cotton Labour to make a human connection, and show how the cotton industry connected people of all ages, races, genders and backgrounds.”

The large-scale symbolic portraits will be woven into a mesh structure using yarn from clothing, textiles and materials. Hetain is keen to work with members of the area’s community to create the yarn and inspire the portraits.

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Residents of Cromford who would be interested in featuring in the artwork through the depiction of their portraits are asked to contact learning and engagement co-ordinator Eleanor Gunn via email at: [email protected] by April 4 to find out more.

People are also being invited to donated unwanted clothes or samples of cloth, clean and ideally in bright colours, to be turned into the yarn for weaving the portraits. Donations should be dropped off at the Mill Shop, Cromford Mills, labelled ‘FAO: Eleanor Gunn’ before May 15.

Cromford Mills will host two workshops led by Hetain to create the artwork. If you live in the community and want to take part in the workshops on June 25 and July 2, email Eleanor at: [email protected] by April 30.

Hetain will be sharing more information about the Cotton Labour project in an online talk on Thursday, March 31, at 7pm. The talk is free, and you can book your ticket at: