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A doll is born …

June 23, 2021

While decluttering my wardrobe I gathered some rather bedraggled and distorted wire coat hangers; the type one gets from the dry cleaners and fit for nothing after one use.  One was decidedly human and with a little more twisting a person appeared.  Looking rather malnourished and in need of flesh or in my case some felt.  Also, somewhat like my paper dolls not yet aesthetically pleasing and not going win any beauty contest.  Let alone convince my tutor that they will make it as work of art. 

So, while I continued to develop my coat hanger people, I had to begin some decisive research.  As a rare book cataloguer and printmaker, I used books as a primary and secondary resources using keywords in the data bases and card catalogues. contents and indexes when browsing the shelves.  For contemporary or the latest information Journals was often the better option.  However, I am in lockdown the University Library is closed; the online resources are available; unfortunately, I have a motley crew of coat hanger people with not a keyword among them. 

Early in my research my coat hanger people were little more than paper dolls; while they were 3-dimensional they could barely stand; so, I needed to find a way to give purposeful balance to my wobbly ones.  With these thoughts came words like ‘sculpture’ and ‘construction’ and later was gifted a book about wire sculpture by Gerald F. Brommer; I understand he is a watercolourist but more important for me an art teacher.  It is a presentation of photographs and ideas, and a listing of working methods used by his students and other artists while making wire sculpture and other 3-dimensional construction.  He talks about the need for making 3-dimensional work; how it ‘adds another form of communication to the working art vocabulary of the student’ and goes on to say, ‘it is possible that he can portray the delicate and unbalanced qualities of a young colt better in wire than in oils.’ Later, he goes on to discuss assemblages and found items; a daring suggestion in 1960s to say that ‘found items can be an exciting experience … and become fascinating assemblages’ and not only in the domain of Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder (Brommer, G.F. 1968) 

Encouraged by these thoughts I remember; I am a child of the ‘found’. My father a shipwright, built our houseboat home, sailing yacht and various other crafts from the spoils of salvage.  He bought and sold scrap to finance his going concerns.  Timber was found washed ashore at the water’s edge or reclaimed from other waste; nothing was overlooked as unworthy until it was.  However, it was not seen as art but as a shipwright my dad saw the beauty in the balance, elegance in the craft as much as he saw its value sailing across the Solent or weathering a stormy sea.   My mother made do and mended during the war and until she died. She took great delight in unravelling a cardigan past repair and reknitting some socks, finding the right thread or remnant from her ragbag to patch a torn frock, her darning was beyond compare, all tenderly crafted but artistically disregarded. 

trust my intention …

June 21, 2021

Early in the 1950s, at a time when resources were limited, food and clothes had been rationed, make do and mend was still mandatory and before recycling was a buzz word; there was always something to be made. This would go on to be a hobby and ultimately absorbing. One such pastime that I enjoyed was making paper and card dolls to dress.  Using a glossy magazine or a mail order catalogue I would cut out suitable models wearing a bra and a girdle, find some legs, a head and stick them on a card. With a complete mish mash of limbs, the poor girls were never going to be super models. Then I would cut out other garments or design my own with little tags to fixed them on to my paper doll. They became my friends, with names and stories. I kept them in a biscuit tin where my mum would put snippets and off cuts for me to work with as my work became more sophisticated and almost theatrical. 

On the outset this was a playful pastime but in time became a project and a way for me to find comfort in an imagined world away from the harsh reality where my mother was increasingly dependent on my help.

In isolation, 60 years later in March 2020 as spring was approaching and looking towards the rest of my study. In a comfortable home and garden and without my daily commute to college, I still had strong feelings of ‘without’ and bereft. I found myself grieving and motherless.  My parents were unmarried, outsiders and clumsy with love yet encouraged me to find my own path, never let the ‘withoutness’ hinder my journey.   To trust my intention, find materials and tools and maintain a strong sense of autonomy.  

So, while the distorted and muddled feelings began to lessen, I sought a way to use my bag loads of dyed fabric and threads and consider further ways to felt.  Thus far without the girl’s playful air it was clumsy and frustrating.  Furthermore, the artists that had inspired me in the beginning of the course were no longer relevant or helpful. I tried to imagine how the girl might have continued and muster motivation and find away from the quagmire.  Afterall, she was a girl of the river while she could not always navigate her parent’s expectations, she was able find her way along the riverbank and creeks without falling foul of the tide, in time for tea and that is no mean feat.

As child my inspiration came from my mail order catalogues, my weekly comics, glossy magazines and a library of fairy tales and adventure stories then that was fine … now this is slim pickings I needed more. 

with mother and father’s help …

June 15, 2021

While I have been in lockdown, I find myself transported back to the houseboat isolation. Now, no longer in squalid conditions and the war now a faded memory; but, in a situation when feelings are inclined to be polarised and exaggerated and some talk of mental and physical illness. I have rediscovered my well-founded ability to create is a valuable tool or even a weapon to take me from enclosed or unpleasant space. For all my parent’s misgivings I ached to please them so while I responded favourably to their relentless demands, I was encouraged to be creative. With my dad in his workshop, I spent many hours while he sharpened his chisels and saws, cleaned his paint brushes, or put the finishing touches to some task in hand, in silence. I would sort through the screws in the tobacco tins and generally fidget. Until he smoothed out a sheet of paper; taken from a supply of used envelopes, brown paper bags or scrap paper and sharpen a pencil; that was always a delight since he had a deep aversion to new-fangled pencil sharpeners.  Then he would position a cup or a jam jar on shelf and I would draw it again and again, without a word he would take the pencil and a rubber tweak the images until it was finished. This is how I work to this day a pencil, paper and something is drawn to death until I can do it when my eyes are shut. Then, with my mother beside the fire and with one ear on the radio I learned to knit and sew.  My mother not so silent, perhaps not so gentle was a hard task master.  My endeavours to sew fine seam or knit a complex pattern or embroider a dainty cloth were often thwarted with regular unpicking, unravelling and beginning again.  Again these; lessons have allowed me to find a place in the creative world where I need not strive for perfection from the practice come a natural ability. 

Influencial story tellers in textile …

May 19, 2021

In this particular story my only influences in the world of stories woven in or stitched on fabric, thus far were John Craske, Hannah Ryggen and Arthur Bispo do Rosario and while their work was valid and inspirational, they are extant and their stories not relevant to mine. Craske was a sick man and confined to bed much of the time embroidered stories of the sea and famously of the Dunkirk evacuation 1940, Ryggen wove tapestries in her home in Norway of harrowing stories while occupied by the Germans during WW2 and Bispo, a Brazilian artist suffering for schizophrenia created work using found objects in praise of god.  My mission was not quite clear, nonetheless, I mustered hope that going to the river, immersing myself in the environment exploring natural dyeing and printing materials my own story and style will evolve. 

Sadly, before that could take place Corona Virus happened and as nation the United Kingdom went into lockdown; any thoughts of going anywhere beyond my front door were thwarted forthwith. With a daily exercise allowance, I was able to venture to the Thames nearby and hopeful she might prove to be a fruitful alternative. The Thames as it flows past Reading has a rather pleasing countrified air until one notices the glistening office blocks at a polite distance; emblems of the silicon valley for which Reading is famed. That and the Reading Pop Festival and closer look reveals the carefully coiffured hedgerows, and pollard trees and realise it is all a bucolic dream, It bears no resemblance to the river of my memory; urban, polluted, and mysterious, therefore cannot play a part in my story. So my journey continues …

as I began …

May 4, 2021

When I began my MA in textiles months before we could have imagined Covid19, the pandemic and lock downs; I had more than the required ‘good ideas’.  Those that encompassed my current activities as a newly retired rare books cataloguer, such as my garden, music, and my yearly trip to Rio de Janeiro.  I am also a printmaker and merely enjoyed a little needle work and was hoping to make a colourful and rich wall hanging.   For first few weeks, I threw my net wide bewildered by the opportunities the art college offered.  I experimented with various dyeing techniques using foraged ingredients with various fabrics and threads.  I explored the use of alternative printing inks and acids all with new and exciting results; taking full advantage of the technical staff, tutors, studio space, and the facilities it offered. As a result, I had large array of 2-dimensional work; beautiful but still related to nothing in particular.  During this time, I began looking at the use of earth pigments and study them fully; working closely with a supplier I built up data base and skill set to carry on dyeing and printing fabric with native dyes and local pigments with this and studio space at the University I began to take a few steps forward.  Meanwhile, I was also reflecting back to river where I was born, the Hamble near Southampton. On the river and its banks since the Iron Age and for centuries to this day is a vast shipbuilding and dock industry grew.  In a small, isolated community that serviced one such boat yard, away from the school and other local amenities I lived with my parents until I was 12 years old.  I have bittersweet memories of that wild and free existence and wanted to stake a claim to the rich history that is fast becoming more remote as private modernity lays a formidable fist on public rights. I saw an opportunity to capture this in MA practice; so, I made plans to return to Hampshire and gather dyeing materials, images and stories and create a tapestry …

Inspiration …

April 23, 2021

My early personal story from 1950-1960 and my MA journey are closely interwoven.  This may not have been apparent had the pandemic not happened.  I was born into a small community by a river on a houseboat, miles from local amenities, school friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. For this essay I will reflect on these years and remind myself of the way in which I entertained myself and those who and what inspired me to create and make sense of the indignity, fear, and discomfort of isolation.  Then consider the last year and how I continued to be creative and those who influenced me with my new explorations.

My parents and my surroundings were my inspiration; immediately after WW2 they were able build a relatively comfortable home for a growing family with salvaged and reclaimed materials with dignity and pride. I was encouraged to find resources and make the most of somewhat uncomfortable situation.  Along with emotional support and personal care, play was often neglected.  Nonetheless, with music from the Light Programme on the radio, comics, and mail order catalogues everything was new, and exploration was the key. 

During the pandemic on the other hand, I had plenty of resources, social media, and all home comforts and in the short-term lack of visits to art galleries, theatre, and other social events was not a serious issue.  However, as time went on family visits were curtailed and shutdowns went on, I became fearful and feel abandoned. I was transported to the time on the river during rare moments of comfort with my dad or mum in a place of silent communication. Now, with more worldly experience and chosen to continue my doll making, started 65 years ago where there remains much that is unexplored. Surprisingly, the artists who have inspired me in those weeks were far from new; Gerald F. Bremmer is a wire sculptor of the 1960s, Paul Klee is an artist and puppet maker of the 1900s, Michel Nedjar, an artist of the French Art Brut movement with a fascination in dolls and Alexander Shiryaev a dancer, choreographer, and animator also of the 1900s.  …. See how this unfolds soon. 

my journey

April 13, 2021

‘Accepting the absurdity of everything around us is one step, a necessary experience: it should not become a dead end. It arouses a revolt that can become fruitful’ Albert Camus

While making a chronical of my MA experience during isolation and travel restriction I have to observe the difficulties that incurred along with the achievements.  All my research has been limited to online resources and books I have in my bookcase.  So, my journey has not involved travelling; I feel like Xavier de Maistre who journeyed round his room in 1784 while under house arrest for having participated in a duel.  It is a parody and humorously demonstrates that one can explore without having to leave one’s home.  Like my story it is a ‘shaggy dog’s tale’ (Maistre de, X. 2013) My journey and mindset as it began, was as Alain de Botton pointed out of Maistre or any traveller, that of receptivity, with no rigid ideas of what might interest me. I took delight in and was intrigued by everything. I left no stone unturned; made notes, sketched, and took photographs, frame by frame.  However, as time went on, I met a stumbling block, that of lack of digital knowledge and expensive technical tools.  It was like an unruly monster that appeared at every corner.  Meanwhile. my journey becomes more like Homer’s Odyssey, as Odysseus travels back to his wife Penelope from the Trojan war to Ithaca he met with monsters, plague and retribution which delayed his journey for many years. While his wife slavishly wove cloth by day and unravelled it by night to ward of her many unwelcome suiters.  While Homer dramatised the events for poetic effect, I can relate my journey to that notwithstanding the pandemic.  My adventure was often unsettling and not always exciting. 

Alongside the fear of the virus, travel restrictions and lack of resources was my desire to maintain my self-taught work ethic and to become recognised as an outsider artist.  While I wish to make a valid contribution to my community with my art by sharing, teaching and entertaining and this with minimal or no further education and costly overheads is possible.  However, if I wish to reach a bigger audience and achieve a modicum of notoriety, I will need to make further investment and possible extended education and therefore losing my autonomy and claim to outsiderness.  So the journey continues …

A promise …

January 30, 2021

After a concerted effort over the last 10 days decluttering and culling my many bookcases I have made myself a promise. Since beginning my BA with the Open University in the 1990s; with which to study Classical History in particular and many to do with the two Enlightenments.  Then while learning to read Classical Greek and Latin I accumulated dictionaries, grammar books and readers.  After graduating and with a love of dead languages I went to study Sanskrit at SOAS in London and Classical Tibet with ITAS and gathered more books about the beginnings of language, the culture of India, and Tibet and Buddhism with a view that one day I might translate some very early works and teachings. This didn’t happen due to events beyond my control and with some regret the books became redundant.  

Meanwhile, my bookshelves continued to fill with novels, poetry, books about art, gardening, food, nature, travel, and an extensive record collection; now beyond the gunnels, my life and home was sinking. The time had come to recognise that some books no longer have relevance in my life and if I wish to work and read for the next 30 years, I must address the issue now.

However, while I was ready to begin the task, it was not without physical and mental challenges. The books were many and some large I had no space for sorting or storing until they were sold or taken to a charity shop, logistically it was problematic. Then there was the psychological impact, the books bought at significant cost, some barely read, others beyond comprehension; all representing the pain of study. The guilt, shame, regret and surprising attachment and utter contempt was as powerful as any shackles and sword as I sorted the books one by one.  I was mentally torn and exposed as any criminal or worse an addict. 

While, I was able to sell some of the books the return will not meet my costs or indeed sooth the wounds.  Alongside this I have boxes of books ready to go to the charity shop, when they open after the pandemic.  The books remain a constant reminder that no matter what the blurb says they are merely a tool they are not the outcome and only go some way to make or improve me. They had become a ugly crutch.

I will continue to collect books.  While I was studying the Enlightenments, it seems that it was men who did the lighting up, the women remained in the dark in more ways than one. However, to address this is a tiny way I am going to continue to read and collect books and listen and collect music by women who have made a mark on me and the world at large, without shame or regret.  I may have to put a budget in place but pleasingly literature is much more accessible now and there are ways to ‘discover’ knowledge without filling up shelves. 

So this what I will start with this …

unable to hug a tree at present …

January 12, 2021

So I embroider some; somewhat crumpled and far from finished; was begun in response to images regularly posted on social media by a friend.  Each day during the pandemic she videoed the trees in her back garden to the sounds of an ice-cream van as it touted for business at 11 o’clock each morning.  Little loops of comfort as we all are prompted to look out in our gardens for hope.

Gingerbread houses …

January 11, 2021

My work seems to reflect my mood during the pandemic and in particular lockdown (s).  This piece began as an illustration of a gingerbread house as seen in the story Hansel and Gretel; who had been abandoned by their parents. In the story, one of many collated by the Brothers Grimm.  The children had become a burden to their heartless parents who instructed a hunter to leave them deep in the woods.  Alone and far from home they came across a gingerbread house, where a wicked and renown witch lived and was inclined to eat children.  Hansel was very cautious and wanted to hurry away; Gretel was hungry and was tempted by the cake and sweets. They were captured and caged by the witch  and the story goes on to tell of their escape.

Meanwhile my embroidery has a story of its own and becomes gingerbread houses; and representing the houses on a nearby housing estate.  They are, I am sure built to utmost standards, with the finest design features, style and worth millions of pounds; yet so bleak and lonely.

With my needle and thread, I have tried to see and embroider some joy…