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Artist in Residence - Lee Lapthorne

Lee reflects on his experiences as our artist in residence last November.

In November 2016 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust invited Lee Lapthorne to undertake a short residency with us, focusing his time on the many varied museum, library and archive collections we hold. 

The aim of the residency was to enable Lee to discover new insights into the collections and their potential to tell new or different stories from those we might traditionally choose to explore.  We invited Lee to share his experience and some of the beautiful photographs that he took during his time with us.

Holy Bible (detail)
83313443 The Holy Bible (cover detail)

My consciousness has been lit brightly with a new interest in literature and history.

This is the only way I can describe my newly-found curiosity since starting my artist in residence at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Bodice (detail)
SBT 1993-35 Bodice

The Trust’s archived items are aesthetically rich. They have both excited me as beautiful pieces in their own right and as totems of all that our creative forebears can teach us about the past, and the present.

Sitting in an unremarkable, cold schoolroom holding a study book of Shakespeare and overlooked by an intense English teacher with little charisma was not the best first introduction to the Bard’s work.

The Trust founded in his name, and its remarkable, extensive archive, has taught me more about Shakespeare’s life and work in the past 6 days than a whole lifetime of trying to understand the fascination for it.

Embroidered Cap (detail)
SBT 1995-47 Embroidered cap

During my residency I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to visit and view the archives with experts explaining the fascinating collection to me personally.

I soon learnt that Shakespeare is a cherished classical figure and revered, and romanticised, around the world. 

I’ve had access to amazing items, some more than 500 years old, that have inspired me to create new textile pieces.

Gentleman's Nightcap and Parish Register
SBT 1994-70 Gentleman's nightcap (left) & DR243/1 Parish Register (right)

What is also exciting is that there is an enthusiasm from the staff to develop ideas and initiatives inspired by the archives.

Shakespeare’s life and times seems a complex one: charged by the nation’s position in the world in his day, society’s class system and laws governed by Crown and social status.  His works reflect the popular culture of the day and the appetite for entertainment, which today are revered as a high culture bench mark.

Having access to items and photographing archives rich in texture has certainly inspired me to create.

Stratford Tithes
ER27/2 Shakespeare's lease for a share in the Stratford tithes


Considered one of the country’s most significant talents in fashion and design, Lee has achieved success as a designer, curator, show director / producer, event manager and mentor.  Lee set up creative events agency Doll and the company has worked for clients including Gucci, the BBC, ITV, Land Rover, John Lewis, Sky and Italian Vogue. He founded On|Off, which stages fashion shows and supports emerging design talent, in 2002. He mentored Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts for the launch of her new make-up label and appeared on national TV shows including ITV’s Lorraine and Sky’s Britain’s Next Top Model and Make Me a Supermodel. His first collection of fashion accessories have been worn by Paloma Faith, Jessie J, Fearne Cotton, Jo Whiley and Kate Nash. Lee is also a practising artist, and has undertaken commissions and installations at The Barbican, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and Gloucester Cathedral. He officially documented in textile art the redevelopment of The Bullring.  Lee has been described in Design Week magazine as one of the country’s hottest creative talents, and was included in the top 100 of The Observer/Courvoisier’s Top 500 ‘Generation Next’ individuals.

Photo credit: Lee Lapthorne