To say a needle and thread could create a 3-D image decades before 3D existed is an understatement, to say a needle and thread could create life on a cloth, stories painted with cotton and thread, hundreds or thousands of pieces donated to charities by a person severely disabled with cerebral palsy, is one part of the lesson which is Lizzie Mason.
I knew Lizzie Mason through her work. To say a needle and thread could create a 3-D image decades before 3D existed is an understatement, to say a needle and thread could create life on a cloth, stories painted with cotton and thread, hundreds or thousands of pieces donated to charities by a person severely disabled with cerebral palsy... is just one part of the lesson which is Lizzie Mason.
I am not going to reveal personal details of the life of Lizzie Mason, firstly because she passed away recently before I could interview her and secondly because they have nothing to do with the brighter and wider story, which is her life and contribution to the communities which she blessed with her bubbly and effervescent presence and with her tremendous contribution to culture.
Born with cerebral palsy some eighty years ago, at a time when such babies were thrown into care homes and labeled "spastics", Elizabeth (Lizzie) Mason's entire life was spent in Institutions of one form or another. As a child, she was lucky enough to have excellent coaching by seamstresses and throughout her life she used and developed these skills to produce some works for which the English language has yet to develop adjectives of excellence. Read on.
The first time I saw Lizzie Mason was in one of her works, in thread on cloth, a leopard stalking prey. Produced some decades ago, and offered for free to a friend, this piece has all the hallmarks of what can only be called brilliance - the leopard moves, the air of suspense is there, the leopard thinks, you can sense the scent of the prey, you can hear the silence and the intensity of the moment, you feel the pent-up power, the explosion waiting to happen, you sense the earth, you feel the droplets of the morning dew, the thud of the paws in the mud, the pounding hearts of stalker and prey... yet the leopard is sweet and you get the impression it will let its prey go, lick it and curl up beside it. This is Lizzie Mason.
This is just one of hundreds or thousands of works of the most diverse and varied types of needlework and handicraft produced by Lizzie Mason, despite her severe disabilities, throughout her life - works of such a high standard that they were shown to, and allegedly bought by, the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, mother of Queen Elizabeth II of England.
While most of us take our freedoms and skills for granted, Lizzie Mason's childhood was confined to homes for disabled, or "handicapped" children, however her holidays in Summer were spent with her mother, who worked as a servant for the Guinness family, a family Lizzie spoke very highly of, for they made sure that during the holidays she was included in all the activities of the family's children, and these children always made her feel very welcome. There were happy windows in a shadowed childhood.
This was no doubt due to the human qualities of the Guinness family, also to the infections benevolence and bonhomie of Lizzie herself, who soon became the centre of attention in any social gathering where she was, making fun of herself and her condition and making sure everyone in the group ended up laughing. Always.
If she referred to anyone, it was always to say good, although her life must have had some very dark moments, we imagine. I say "imagine" because her good nature only focused on positive episodes and her plans for her next work, which was always of a brilliance by far surpassing the last, despite the fact that each and every movement was a challenge.
She spent her entire life producing excellence, in one of the most spectacular contributions to culture the world has seen. Being who she was, she was not interested in protagonism and due to her physical condition, she was never in much of a position to be able to market herself. Her humility probably wouldn't have allowed her to do so anyway. That is why I am not speaking of any personal details in this piece.
These words will be her epitaph, written because I feel that her passing cannot and must not go unnoticed and because her tremendous contribution to needlework, to the many social groups and clubs she graced with her presence for many decades, should be a lesson for all of us.
Lizzie Mason's story provides a lesson and a moral, this being that whatever the limitations and challenges may be, if you apply yourself, focus and concentrate on what you want to do, you can do it and make your mark. Despite all her physical challenges, Lizzie Mason achieved far more in her life than people like myself, with all my mental and physical capacities intact and with far more opportunities than she had, will even dream of achieving.
She passed away in her sleep, peacefully, surrounded by her works, spending her last years in a nursing home in a rural area of England, which was connected to a farm and where she had access to pet the animals she loved on a daily basis.
I do not need to say where she is now.
Photo: From Wikipedia. This is not the leopard in the piece mentioned above.