Portraits in Poetry: a series of tapestries by Daisy Constance May Shields

Portraits in Poetry: a series of tapestries by Daisy Constance May Shields

Back in 2020, the Chelsea-based poet and artist Daisy Constance May Shields commissioned Fine Cell Work to produce a series of tapestries to recreate her typewritten poems.

The finished works were recently exhibited on Kings Road, London. Part of a group show, Instinct, curated by Tilo Kaiser, the vast industrial venue made for a fitting backdrop to these large-scale tapestries. Each piece is comprised of up to 162 hours of hand-stitching, produced over a 13-month period by stitchers in British prisons, and interlined in red church altar linen, enshrining the beauty of this unique partnership.

The poems themselves takes as their subject 'great lives', drawing on letters and historical archives, weaving together fragments and voices from the past to reveal brief glimpses into personal histories, challenging our assumptions around greatness, legacy and mental health.

Daisy Shields - Portraits in Poetry

Daisy says: "An artist friend of mine recommended the talents of Fine Cell Work, which lends new layers of meaning to my poems, whilst also celebrating exceptional craftsmanship and in some mysterious sense, our shared humanity.

Scale lends magic and I was captivated by the idea of blowing up my small paper poems into pieces that could fill a wall. I wanted to fill the letters and words with power and needed the finest museum quality stitching to intensify the black ink lettering of my typewriter, a 1910 Corona that has been on the fields of battle and used in my family for over a century. The typewriter lends itself to Tippex and error both of which I like.

My poetry and song-writing are inextricably linked and I often feel I am ‘catching’ poems and songs rather than consciously writing them, or as Rimbaud called it, stealing fire."

'Portraits in Poetry' by Daisy Shields, in collaboration with Fine Cell Work

The two pieces exhibited at Instinct, 'The Desert Has You' and 'Sroetem Ekil Ezalb' are inspired respectively by the life and death of Victorian explorer, mountaineer and diplomat Gertrude Bell, and Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, both of whom had periods of living and working in Chelsea.

These almost totemic-like objects raise more questions than they answer, inviting reflections on the nature of worth, myth-making and criminality, while celebrating the outstanding craftsmanship of Fine Cell Work's stitchers.

On the finished tapestries, Daisy says:

"It was a spell-binding experience to see my embroidered ‘portraits in poetry’ project brought together for the first time at Instinct. I’m touched by the emotion they provoked. I hope the spirit of the poems and art we have collectively shown there will set the tone for a bright future!"

Portraits In Poetry x Fine Cell Work

Daisy's one-off works of art are available to purchase, with 25% of the proceeds of each sale being generously donated back to Fine Cell Work to support our work with prisoners and prison leavers. 

For full details and pricing, visit @poetrybehindbars on Instagram.


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