Displayful at Scarborough Art Gallery: Angela Knipe's journey from greeting cards to textile jewellery and Chinese Zodiac rabbits

Scarborough artist Angela Knipe has been creating since she was five in a variety of mediums. Eighty years on, her work can be seen in a new exhibition. John Blow reports.

Angela Knipe has a thing about rabbits. Having spent much of her life creating and crafting, she turned her artistic attention to the animal, a Chinese Zodiac sign, and found a fulfilling subject.

Her latest works, made from recycled or found objects such as shell, can be seen at the new Displayful exhibition, for which a selection of artists have explored archives in Scarborough to find inspiration.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Not that Angela, 84, ever needed much prompting to be creative – she took a lead from her parents when she was a young girl growing up in the North Yorkshire seaside town during the Second World War.

Angela Knipe with one of her rabbit works. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.Angela Knipe with one of her rabbit works. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.
Angela Knipe with one of her rabbit works. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.

“I made things from the age of about five, you know. My mother was an upholsterer, and she worked for a store that used to be here in Scarborough called Tonks,” says Angela, whose family links to the area go back to the 1800s. “And my father was a tailor, so we always had homemade clothes... in fact, I longed to have something bought from a shop. So I was always brought up surrounded by people making things. I mean, not as artists, just as ordinary people did in those days.”

After he was demobbed from the Army, her father, Wilfred, having worked for Montague Burton’s in Scarborough, got his own shop over the border in what was then Lancashire, so the family moved.

Later on, Angela lived in London for a long time and about 40 years ago got into selling greeting cards.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She says: “It was during the time when people didn't print their own cards as they do now. It is terribly easy in nowadays with printers and computers and Photoshop and everything else. But in those days you had lots of card companies, and I used to go to the big fairs and take some portfolio of the stuff I'd done. And I was picked up by a lot of the major co mpanies, which was very good for me.”

Angela was inspired by the Year of the Rabbit in 2023. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.Angela was inspired by the Year of the Rabbit in 2023. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.
Angela was inspired by the Year of the Rabbit in 2023. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.

Angela’s were made using collage when she had time to experiment, creating them with whatever shapes took her fancy.

“For some years I worked in a gallery in London, and I used to make cards there for people to buy and so on. So having realised that people were buying my cards I decided, you know, who else would like to buy them? That's how that began.”

Over the years she was commissioned by the likes of Oxfam and UNICEF, and worked with companies abroad too.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Then about 25 years ago, she transitioned from cards to creating textile jewellery. These often depicted animals – birds, bees, cats and dogs –on brooches and necklaces.

One of Angela Knipe's pieces. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.One of Angela Knipe's pieces. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.
One of Angela Knipe's pieces. Picture: ©Tony Bartholomew.

“It was just a natural progression from going from cutting up bits of paper to then cutting up bits of fabric,” says Angela, who lives on South Cliff.

She sold her work at galleries throughout England and, still living in the capital, at the Portobello Market in London.

“If you don't keep moving on, you get rather stale and sort of bored and I think I suddenly wanted to do something different.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She adds: “Like most people who make things, you live and dream them. That’s what you think about all the time, is what's the next thing you're going to make? You just find ideas a bit of a nuisance, really – they come to fast so you never have time to catch up.”

Angela was particularly pleased a few years ago to create some yellow chair brooches for a Vincent Van Gogh jewellery exhibition at London’s At Work gallery.

After the death of Angela’s mother, Dorothy, she inherited her flat and came back to Scarborough about 20 years ago and, until the pandemic, had her own shop on Bar Street.

In recent years, she has been producing tea cosies and these days is more interested in folk art.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She got into making rabbits last year because they are one of the animals used as a Chinese Zodiac sign.

“I'm actually a rabbit, and my son is a rabbit and my great-grandson’s a rabbit. So we've got these rabbits in the family and I needed to make something very special for somebody as a talisman. I actually carved a little wooden rabbit from some clothes pegs my mother had. They were about 50 years old. And I realised that I was moving on a bit and started doing things with bones and bits of wood and things as well as cloth.”

As one of the artists involved in Displayful, Angela was able to look through Scarborough Museums and Galleries’ extensive stores at Woodend – a “fascinating place,” she says.

Alongside fellow artists Luke Beech, Kate Fox, Wendy Galloway and Liberty Hodes, she could choose from thousands of objects to stimulate her creativity, some of which will be on display alongside their works.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Angela says: “It was a special Year of the Rabbit, I was sort of in rabbit mode when I went down and then I spotted these two wonderful dolls houses and I spotted a China dog, which is a fox terrier, and of course fox terriers were actually bred to go down rabbit holes to catch rabbits,” she says. “The rabbit started flashing up in my head and I thought, instead of habitat doing ‘rabbitat’.”

Among the boxes in the archives were items related to social history, haberdashery, even gardening tools, she says. Consequently, each of her pieces in the display represents something she had seen in the boxes.

To make them sustainable, she uses found and recycled objects to create them.

The grandmother to three and great-grandmother to one says: “We all have a certain amount of guilt about how things are panning out. And certainly as a great-grandmother, you really do feel you've got all those people behind you who are going to be stuck with a world which is not as good as the one you had.”

Perhaps, as the Year of the Dragon gets under way next month, she can keep changing it through her art.

Displayful is on at Scarborough Art Gallery from Saturday, January 20 to Tuesday, May 7.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.