The Duvet of Love

Please note that this blog was written before Norwich Castle was closed following national government guidelines due to COVID-19, and refers to exhibitions originally planned for Summer 2020.

Ruth Battersby-Tooke, Curator Costume and Textiles

In August 2016 I went to see the exhibition Pride Without Prejudice, having been invited by David Shenton, artist, illustrator and cartoonist, to see his Duvet of Love with a view to acquiring the piece for the Costume and Textile collections. In the museum sector we talk about ‘gateway’ objects: they are the significant, eye-catching objects that can communicate big themes, they pique your curiosity and draw you in. The Duvet of Love is all this and more. You can’t help peering closely, pointing out your favourites, feeling nostalgic, and above all being moved by this heartfelt labour of love. The Duvet of Love is a mosaic made with thousands of pin badges collected by David throughout his life, starting with his Cycling Proficiency badge earned in the 1950s. He wore badges during his years as an art student in the 1960s that celebrated pop groups and hippy culture but also collected advertising and holiday camp badges to add to the collection.

black fabric intricately decorated with colourful pin-badges, creating the shape of two men embracing

In 1970 David moved to Norwich to live and work for the next twenty years, still collecting badges, some advertising local businesses and events such as the pantomime at Norwich Theatre Royal and even a badge produced by the EDP. It was during this time that David came out and his collection grew to include political badges calling for Gay Rights, supporting the Anti-Nazi League and the Miner’s Strike and, from the 1980s onwards, raising awareness about HIV and AIDS. It was during the 80s that two of David’s close friends from Norwich, Martin and Nicolas, died of HIV but as David says in a statement accompanying the donation “The picture isn’t a portrait of Martin and Nicolas, it’s just a memorial of my time in Norwich, with the local badges, of my friends, with the political and LGBT+ badges, and the tragedy of their deaths with the red AIDS ribbons… and yet I tried to make the picture as loving and happy as I could.”

The collection of badges alone is a social historian’s dream; but David has transformed his collection into a work of art. Initially arranging them into a rainbow formation in his flat in London where he lived and worked until his recent retirement, he created the Duvet of Love in the early 1990s for an exhibition and the badges have stayed put ever since.

detail of the Duvet showing badges supporting Gay Pride and Gay Rights, including 'Gay Pride '80'

The composition and graphic style of the figures reflect David’s practice as a cartoonist and the way the image is built with small units or ‘pixels’ of colour is also reminiscent of knitting pattern designs.
Knitting is another creative medium used by David in his artistic practice to create knitted medals, storyboards for cartoons and even a knitted protest placard—its message? ‘Kindly Ease The Tension.’
For the past few years the Duvet of Love has been on display in the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell to coincide with Norwich’s Pride March in July. This summer it will take pride of place in our Textile Treasures exhibition which is due to open on the day of the Pride March, 26 July.

David Shenton smiling happily, standing next to the Duvet of Love. The Duvet is about as tall as him, and over twice as wide.

In this show the Duvet will be placed next to another wall hanging, this one made by an engaged couple in 1890s Great Yarmouth, a scrapbook quilt with applique and embroidered motifs of everyday life and popular culture, not a million miles away from a collection of badges. Further along the same wall will be a panel from Anna Margaretta Brereton’s patchwork bed-hangings which she made as a therapy while grieving for her son. These three objects, separated by 200 years express love and friendship, joy and grief, giving an insight into people’s lives through the textiles they created.

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