Nancy Stanfield (1905 – 1993)

One of the earliest collectors and writers of Yoruban Adirẹ.

Nancy Fisher Stanfield was born in 1905 in Nuneaton, Devon.

She studied at the Royal College of Art in 1923-8, the V&A and the Central School of Art & Design. It was at the CSAD that she developed her interests in vegetable dyeing, spinning techniques and Batik design. (Examples of her studies and her artwork can be found in the Nancy Stanfield archive, which is held at the RAMM).

Soon after marrying her botanist husband Dennis in 1948, Stanfield moved with him to Nigeria where she lectured in teacher training in Nigeria, and taught art and crafts to young students. This led her to produce a book in 1958 called A Handbook of Art Teaching for Tropical Schools. The success of this book led to several reprints.

A Handbook of Art Teaching for Tropical Schools

Her passion for traditional crafts enabled her to be involved with the Western Nigerian Television Service, the very first television service in Africa! Broadcasting began in Ibadan in 1959 and it was Stanfield who produced an educational series on crafts the following year.

Stanfield’s interest in Adirẹ

In the 1950s and 60s, Stanfield made a major contribution to the collecting, identifying and cataloguing of Yoruba indigo-dyed Adirẹ cloth. Stanfield immersed herself in the markets of Ibadan and Abeokuta, and explored how Adirẹ was being produced at the time, paying attention not just to manufacturing techniques, but how the finished cloths were integrated into the latest fashions.

Her chapter on dyeing methods appeared in a 1971 University of Ibadan publication called Adirẹ cloth in Nigeria. This book celebrated a great Yoruba tradition that emphasised the role women played in its production. British museums with African collections would see this publication as a key must-have in the department library. Its contents provided much needed information for the interpretation of Adirẹ textiles, especially for those examples going on public display.

Adire ClothAfter the death of her husband, Nancy returned to the UK in 1967. She took this time to tour the UK and Canada to give talks on Nigerian arts and crafts. Her personal collection of weaving and dyeing were also included in a major exhibition in 1966 at the Horniman Museum in South London. This collection was given to the Horniman.

Stanfield passed away at her home in Maidstone in 1993. A small collection of textiles, dyeing equipment, visual archive, examples of her own artwork were bequeathed to the RAMM in 1998. This rich archive also includes two paintings by renowned Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu.

Want to learn more about Adirẹ? Then look here.

Nancy Stanfield Maidstone 1987-shot2

Nancy Stanfield in her Maidstone home in 1987 showing an Adirẹ cloth from her collection.

An Adirẹ alabere cloth collected by Nancy Stanfield (accession number 284/1998/1)

284/1998/1 Adirẹ alabere collected by Stanfield