John and Pat Hume ‘connected people not connected before’

Helen Maguire assesses a new exhibit at UU Magee celebrating the life and work of John and Pat Hume

‘Pat Hume’, by Linda Adams.
‘Pat Hume’, by Linda Adams.

There is a moment of awe and a craning of necks to get a look from our prescribed social distance.

The small gathering have come together on the first floor of the Magee Campus library; only the inner circle of the Hume family and a handful of staff from each of the partner organisations: Ulster University, the Hume Foundation and Conflict Textiles.

Mo Hume and Dr Colin Davidson have the honour of unclipping the starched linen serviettes to reveal the carefully stitched artworks below. This is, of course, the climax of the unveiling event, the first public viewing of two artworks dedicated to the memory of John and Pat Hume, commissioned respectively by the John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Peace and Conflict Textiles.

‘John Hume, Peacemaker’ by Deborah Stockdale.

‘John Hume, Peacemaker’ was made by American born and Donegal based artist Deborah Stockdale and the other, ‘Pat Hume’, was produced by English artist Linda Adams.

Before the unveiling, Roberta Bacic, Conflict Textiles curator, explained that her organisation aimed to develop a textile language and assert the value of textile art as a means of processing traumatic or emotional experiences and sharing testimony that could not be shared in words.

Conflict Textiles houses a physical collection of textile works produced in areas of conflict around the world and also manages a digital archive hosted by Ulster University’s Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). It runs workshops, seminars and exhibitions and, although based in Northern Ireland, its outreach is transnational.

Professor Emeritus Gillian Robinson, who acted as MC, shared her own fond memories of the Humes, while Professor Malachy O’Neill, Director of Regional Engagement, spoke of the lasting connections both John and Pat had with the Magee campus. Mo Hume, representing the Hume family, expressed the gratitude they all felt for this new tribute to her parents. As much as they were architects of change, they were equally a loving partnership and the centre of a home, she added.

Dr Colin Davidson, recently appointed Chancellor of Ulster University, and famed portraitist, concurred with Bacic’s earlier words, and shared his own thoughts on textile art. He described the work of the Humes as ‘the drawing of threads… connecting people who were not connected before’.

The process itself began in 2021. It was Roberta Bacic who suggested to the John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Chair the idea of commissioning a work in memory of John Hume. Once details were agreed, Pat Hume spoke with Deborah Stockdale about her late husband before her own passing in September 2021.

It was not long afterwards that Roberta Bacic commissioned a second piece to commemorate the woman who was not only a loving wife and mother, but a peace activist in her own right.

In conversations with Deborah Stockdale, she revealed not only the extensive work that went into planning and sewing ‘John Hume, Peacemaker’, but the care that went into each stage - oak branches after which Derry is named, with five acorns for each of the Hume children; the almost uncannily detailed eyes peering out from behind glasses of shimmering organza; and a tie made from one of John’s own that was given to Roberta Bacic by Pat.

The stitches in the face are so dense the needle had to be pulled through at points with a pair of pliers.

Linda Adams prepared to make her piece by poring over photos of Pat Hume, taking note of style, mannerisms and posture to best emulate her essence - from her pattern silk scarves to the tilt of her head. A member of the family said, ‘that was just Pat’, speaking of how she engaged with others, always compassionate and understanding to any member of the community, regardless of background or beliefs.

In front of the two textiles is a case of personal effects, mostly provided by Mo Hume: two silk scarves, a tie, photos and an old pair of glasses.

Also located on the ground floor is a case of memorabilia ranging from political leaflets to documents from the Derry Credit Union (of which John Hume was a key founding member) to a handwritten letter from a child in 1993 pleading for peace.

For myself, a young woman of the ‘peace baby’ generation, John Hume and his colleagues quite literally shaped my life. Without their perseverance, I might have been born into a much more divided country, but, instead, it was one fresh with hope, the sort of hope that only comes with new beginnings.

We have no memories of checkpoints or rifles and, for us, a bomb scare has only ever been a scare. While the legacy of conflict still lives on, we have come so far not only as a country, but as a community.

‘John Hume, Peacemaker’ and ‘Pat Hume’ is open to the public and can be seen alongside personal effects, memorabilia and a selection of reading materials at Magee Library until July 28, 2022. The exhibit is located on the First Floor of Ulster University Magee Campus Library, Block MM. Members of the public are advised to follow Ulster University’s current Covid guidelines of wearing face coverings and remaining socially distanced while visiting the exhibit.

○ Helen Maguire is a Conflict Textiles intern studying BA Fine Art at UAL Chelsea College of Arts.