The Threads of Our Lives: What Shaped Us.
What an exciting project this was!
I was asked by Wolverhampton Art Gallery if I’d like to be the artist working on one of their outreach projects. Like many art galleries Wolverhampton Art Gallery is keen to be involved with groups in the community.
St Chad’s Art and Craft Group were the perfect group for this project.
These ladies (about 18 members at present) have been meeting once a week for 8 years. They work on projects together, share ideas and encourage each other. Most of the members are retired and most of them had working careers where their artistic ambitions had to take second place; they had jobs and families to look after.
One of the things that is so interesting about the members of this group is their commitment and professionalism. Although they have lots of fun, these ladies are keen to learn and progress their skills so they have worked out ways of raising money to pay for room hire and tuition from Wolverhampton Adult Education Service.
One successful way that they have found to raise money is by designing and printing their own calendar..... featuring their own art of course!
This entrepreneurial sprit wasn’t the only thing that I fell in love with about these ladies. I especially loved their warmth, friendship and enthusiasm. Working with St Chad’s Arts and Crafts Group was one of my best experiences of 2010.
As a starting point for What Shaped Us the group visited the Jann Haworth retrospective exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Using a group photo that was taken in the gallery and inspired by Jann Haworth’s soft sculpture they started to work with their tutor Bev Dedicoat. Here are a couple of their stitched portraits.
Iris's soft stitched portrait reminds me of Beryl Cook illustrations.
One of Molly's stitched pictures.
My brief was to introduce the ladies to some art techniques other than the more usual painting and drawing ones.
I was also able to have a session where I took in some of my own art and spoke about my own inspirations and how I have drawn on these. This was really helpful for me too as I took in some older work (going back 13 years) as well as more recent Frillip Moolog sculptures. It reminded me how far my own practice has come.
We got familiar with working with wool fibres by making some felted flowers.
Which I wasn’t at all surprised to see several of them wearing when they arrived at the next session!
There is a lot of talent in this group so from felted flowers we leapt straight into felted portraits!
Jean's interest in pop art showed in her approach to the felted portrait.
Even though we took two sessions to build up the portraits the pace was fast!
While I was demonstrating on my own portrait I could feel the adrenalin rushing round my body. There’s nothing like having to work in the spotlight to focus you.
Muriel's love of texture shows in her portrait.
It was lovely to show how we can paint with fibres, yarns and scraps of lace. There was so much energy in the room. It really was exciting!
A hive of industry!
In the last two weeks of the project we took inspiration from Flore Gardner. I was very grateful to Rosie James who e mailed me the details of Flore’s exhibition at Derby Art Gallery and also thanks to Derby Art Gallery for putting together such a good resource pack.
I also showed the group Mauizio Anzeri’s stitched photograph work which was featured in the May/June 2010 Crafts Magazine. It was good to contrast these two artists’ different approaches to stitching into photographs.
Iris has very strong memories of her lovely long hair being cut off by her Nan.
Avril's very happy memories of this day show through.
The ladies personalities started to come out in the stitching. It wasn’t about tracing outlines with coloured threads. Rather, it was about choosing the picture, their memories associated with the picture and what story they wanted to tell.
Jan was smiling so much of the time that it is no surprise that the photo that she chose to stitch majored on a big grin and rosy cheeks.
It was a different way of working, less spontaneous than mixing wool fibres to make a portrait but this exercise really got them thinking about what they wanted to say.
Bev was delighted not only because it it was obviously going to have an impact in their approach to sketchbooks in the future but also because of her love of text in images too.
Gillian combined a school photo of herself with a photo of her as a mother taking her own son to school. She made her stitched image tell stories on several levels. Literally drawing together threads of memories from different times in her life.
I was just so delighted that the ladies had been so ‘up for it’. They were happy to have an adventure with me.
The absolute icing on the cake was when Wolverhampton Art Gallery exhibited the work that the group made during the Threads of our Lives; what shaped us project in the Art Gallery itself.
They have every right to be proud
The show has now moved to its second venue:
Wolverhampton Adult Education Service
City Learning Quarter
Old Hall Street
Tel: 01902 558164
The exhibition is open to the public and continues here until 2nd Jan 2011.
To contact the group and to buy a calendar (only £5.99 each) e mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Take inspiration from these talented ladies . Try a new medium today.... Felting is always a good place to start.