Lockdown week 1

I’m hoping that this will turn out to be a short series of posts, but I fear this may be overly optimistic. The world as we know it has been turned upside down in just a couple of weeks, and who knows how long it will last?

I work alone from home most of the time so have not been affected by restrictions on travelling to work. However, ESP is now also working from home, which encroaches on my space somewhat! And City Lit has cancelled all face-to-face teaching at least until the end of this term, so I’m missing my weekly basketry class. 😦

Still, these are small inconveniences compared with what others are going through – we are still healthy, we have enough food (and toilet roll!), and spring is happening in the garden regardless of events.

Lemon on a tree given to me by my good friend Magdalen

In search of impossibilities

In the last few weeks I’ve been working frantically on a piece for the upcoming Prism exhibition in May. That has been postponed, of course, though there are plans to do an online version in the meantime. So I shall tell you about it anyway.

The title of the exhibition is “In Search of (Im)possibilities”.

My first idea was to turn a sow’s ear into a (silk) purse. This involved slicing pigs’ ears to remove the layer of cartilage, scraping off the remaining membrane and fat and then attempting to make them into leather by tanning them with tree bark. (There is a tanning process that involves animal brains, but that was a step too far even for me.)

After two attempts I abandoned this idea. The first lot of ears went horribly slimy and smelly after we went on holiday for a couple of weeks (the tanning solution needs to be changed regularly). The second lot were better but I just got bored. So although it may be possible to make a purse from a sow’s ear, I am not going to be the one to prove it.

My second idea focused on the human obsession with gold. Alchemists try to create gold from base metal; in the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold; folklore talks about finding pots of gold at the end of a rainbow. So I thought I would make a series of straw vessels to represent these endeavours.

The first problem was finding straw – the stuff they sell in pet shops is all chopped up and too short. So I ended up ringing suppliers of thatching straw and driving for 1.5 hours to pick up a couple of sheaves. I didn’t want it to get damp so kept it in the house at first – but then the mice discovered it, so it had to go out on the porch. Do any other artists have their work eaten by mice?!

Anyway, here are a couple of the vessels I’ve made so far.

These are made by coiling, using a metallic thread. It’s a bit fiddly, because the straw has to be damp and the thread is mostly viscose, which is weak when it’s wet so it breaks if you pull too hard.

The straw also has nodes along its length, which are quite tough and difficult to bend. I originally wanted rounded vessels, but ended up with more angular forms because materials have a way of making their presence felt!

I’ll post more in later weeks.

Another cane platter

I’ve also had time to make another cane platter. This is larger than my first one, which allowed me to create more branches. The shape is also slightly more irregular, which I think suits the organic feel.

Kimono pic of the week

Museums and galleries are now closed, but a few weeks ago I visited Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I never got round to writing it up, but I thought I’d post an image from the exhibition each week to keep our spirits up.

outer kimono for a bride

This is an outer kimono (uchikake) of brocade silk, now worn only by brides. The cranes represent longevity. Brides often change outfits several times, with red being worn after the ceremony. Late 20th century, probably Kyoto.

Stay well!

 

Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles

This exhibition, in the sumptuous surroundings of Two Temple Place, features highlights from the eclectic collections of seven female textile collectors from the 19th century to the present day. It’s a splendid mix of beautiful embroidery and costume, elegant homeware, and art textiles.

Edith Durham (1863-1944)

Edith Durham was an artist who travelled extensively throughout the Balkans, especially Albania, in the period before the First World War. Journeying on horseback with a local guide, she collected many examples of traditional dress, textiles, and jewellery, making detailed notes and sketches on their cultural significance and local customs. After she died her collections were donated to the Bankfield Museum in Halifax.

Serbian glove
Man’s glove from Montenegro
Albanian waistcoat
Albanian waistcoat (jelek) with elaborate braiding

Louisa Pesel (1870-1947)

If you’ve read A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, you’ll instantly recognise the name. Louisa Pesel was a distinguished embroidery artist and historian, teacher and writer. After studying at the Royal College of Art she went on to become director of the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Lace in Athens. When she moved back to Britain, firstly to Bradford and then to Hampshire, she started teaching people to stitch, whether for employment, therapy or pleasure. Her students included shell-shocked soldiers, refugees, and volunteers at Winchester Cathedral – the subject of Chevalier’s novel.

Winchester Cathedral design sample
Winchester Cathedral design sample by Louisa Pesel

Cover by Louisa Pesel

Olive Matthews (1887-1979)

London resident Olive Matthews started collecting as a child, saving her pocket money to buy costumes from Caledonian Road market. Such items were not regarded as particularly collectable at the time, so she prided herself on getting a bargain, not paying more than £5 for anything. At the beginning of the Second World War she moved with her family to Virginia Water in Surrey, and her collection formed a key part of the Chertsey Museum when it was set up in 1965.

Spencer
Silk spencer (1817-1819) from Olive Matthews collection
Blackwork cap
Linen cap with blackwork embroidery (1700-1720)

Enid Marx (1902-1998)

Enid Marx was a leading designer probably best known for her industrial textile designs, such as the seat fabric for London Transport. Before that, she was an apprentice with block printers Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, which led her to explore the process of printing fabric with wood blocks and natural dyes. She was also a great collector, along with historian Margaret Lambert, of folk art and popular ephemera, some of which are included in the exhibition. The Marx-Lambert collection is now at Compton Verney.

Enid Marx designsenid marx folk art collection

Muriel Rose (1897-1986)

Muriel Rose was a leading advocate for 20th-century British craft, determined to put craft on the same footing as painting and sculpture. She set up the Little Gallery near Sloane Square in London in 1928, where she exhibited the work of textile artists such as Enid Marx, Barron and Larcher, and weaver Ethel Mairet, as well as potters such as Bernard Leach. She travelled and collected extensively, both abroad and closer to home – for example, she sold high-quality handmade quilts by Durham miners’ wives alongside work from Japan and Mexico. She went on to become Director of Craft and Industrial Design at the British Council and a founder trustee of the Crafts Study Centre (now in Farnham).

muriel rose quilted tea cosies

Dr Jennifer Harris

Jennifer Harris was responsible for building up Britain’s foremost collection of contemporary textile art at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. From 1982 to 2016 she was the deputy director and curator of textiles, collecting “statement acquisitions” and more speculative pieces made with traditional craft techniques but more conceptual and sculptural in form. Examples of pieces she collected included some stunning indigo work from an exhibition she curated in 2007 and large-scale machine-embroidered “drawings” by Alice Kettle.

Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Guardian by Eduardo Portillo and Maria Eugenia Davila
Guardian by Eduardo Portillo and Maria Eugenia Davila
Three Caryatids by Alice Kettle
Three Caryatids by Alice Kettle

Nima Poovaya-Smith

As senior keeper of the International Collections at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford from 1985 to 1998, Nima Poovaya-Smith made the collections more representative of Bradford’s diversity. Reflecting the big Pakistani community, the exhibition includes a lovely stitched kantha piece as well as phulkari embroidery.

Kantha from West Bengal
Kantha from West Bengal (detail)
Phulkari from Punjab
Phulkari from Punjab

Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles runs at Two Temple Place until 19 April 2020.

Equinox exhibition

After the intense physicality of the willow basketry module at City Lit just before Christmas, it was a relief to have a break and think about something else.

The submission deadline for the next South London Women Artists exhibition was 6 January, so this provided the perfect opportunity. The theme for the exhibition is “Equinox”, and my original idea was to make some random weave eggs containing felt “yolks”, representing spring. However, an email then arrived saying that all works had to be 2D. So it was back to the drawing board.

An equinox occurs twice a year, around 21 March and 21 September. The March equinox is generally regarded as the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, while the September one is the beginning of autumn. It is so named because the length of the day and night are approximately equal on those dates.

I started thinking about the lengthening days and the warmth of the sun’s rays returning after the dark winter, and had the idea of making a stitched piece representing this. I found a piece of indigo shibori cotton that was roughly half dark, half light, to resemble the Earth, and pinned it to a piece of cream linen.

Then I started stitching.

equinox wip

I decided to use simple kantha (running stitch) to represent the sun’s rays, in differing shades ranging from cream to dark orange.

equinox wip

Kantha stitch also produces a slightly rippled effect, which evokes the oceans.

Kim Winter - And the World Turns detail 1

I left the edges raw, expecting (hoping) they would fray slightly, but in fact they frayed very little.

It was very restful, after wrestling with willow rods, to be able to sit and stitch quietly, even if it took rather a long time! 🙂

Once it was finished, I had the tricky job of mounting it. I didn’t really want to put it behind glass, as I think it deadens it and I didn’t want to lose the texture. So I stitched it to a heavier piece of cotton before stretching it over some stretcher bars and adding backing. This successfully removed the wrinkles without flattening the ripples too much.

And the World Turns by Kim Winter
And the World Turns by Kim Winter

Equinox runs from 3 to 22 March at St Marylebone Parish Church, 17 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LT. The private view is on 4 March, 6-8pm – everyone welcome.

 

Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner

Ruth asawa sculpture

“An artist is not special. An artist is an ordinary person who can take ordinary things and make them special.”

Ruth Asawa is best known for her hanging wire sculptures, a technique she learnt on a trip to Mexico in 1947. Her elevation of this method of making functional baskets into creating elemental transparent forms enclosing other forms makes me think of Haeckel drawings brought to life.

She did not have an easy beginning. As a Japanese American, at the age of 16 she was interned by the US government along with the rest of her family after the outbreak of the Second World War. Luckily, after 18 months, a Quaker scholarship allowed her to study to be an art teacher in Milaukee.

ruth asawa sculpture

However, unable to teach due to continued hostility to the Japanese, Asawa travelled to Black Mountain College in North Carolina to study art. Here, among luminaries including Josef and Anni Albers and Buckminster Fuller, she gained the courage to become an artist and to do what she wanted to do. She also met her future husband, architectural student Albert Lanier, with whom she had six children.

Living with Lanier in San Francisco, Asawa managed to carry on working around family life, often at night or in the early morning. It paid off, as she began to get recognition for her sculptures, and was asked to explain them.

“My curiosity was aroused by the idea of giving structural form to the images in my drawings. These forms come from observing plants, the spiral shell of a snail, seeing light through insect wings, watching spiders repair their webs in the early morning, and seeing the sun through the droplets of water suspended from the tips of pine needles while watering my garden.”

ruth asawa sculpture

As well as looping, she also experimented with tied wire to create branching forms.

ruth asawa tied sculptureruth asawa tied sculpture

In the late 1960s, Asawa moved into arts activism, cofounding the Alvarado School Arts Workshop to give schoolchildren the chance to work directly with professional artists. She was later instrumental in building a public high school for the arts in San Francisco in 1982.

“A child can learn something about colour, about design, and about observing objects in nature. If you do that, you grow into a greater awareness of things around you. Art will make people better, more highly skilled in thinking and improving whatever business one goes into, or whatever occupation. It makes a person broader.”

Ruth Asawa died in 2013, five years after her husband.

The exhibition at David Zwirner in London, A Line Can Go Anywhere, includes work spanning more than five decades of Asawa’s career, including drawings as well as sculpture. The exhibition runs until 22 February 2020.

If you miss it, there is another Ruth Asawa exhibition coming up at Modern Art Oxford, from 30 May to 6 September 2020.

Crop at Sarah Myerscough Gallery

Happy new year! My first exhibition visit this year was CROP at the Sarah Myerscough Gallery in south London – a great start.

The exhibition focuses on artists who work with natural materials and traditional craft skills, combined with concern for the environment.

I was initially attracted by the inclusion of work by Tim Johnson, whose exhibition Lines and Fragments I have previously reviewed. More of his fabulous Keeping Time vessels were on show here.

keeping time by tim johnson keeping time by tim johnson

There were other familiar names too. Laura Ellen Bacon’s buff willow bench took pride of place in the window.

muscle memory by laura ellen bacon

Diana Scherer grows textiles from plant roots – her work was featured in the V&A’s Fashioned from Nature exhibition a couple of years ago.

interwoven no 4 by diana scherer

Of the artists that were new to me,  Naoko Serino stood out for her ethereal felted jute sculptures.

rooted by naoko sorinodetail of rooted by naoko sorinoomoi by naoko sorino detail of omoi by naoko sorino

Soojin Kang uses jute too, along with silk and linen, in her wrapped, bound and knotted work.

Pod by soojin kanguntitled by soojin kang

I also loved Caroline Sharp’s delicate pods  made from willow and birch retaining the catkins.

seed capsule by caroline sharp

Not technically part of the exhibition but certainly worth a look are a couple of ceramic vessels by Luke Fuller, who makes layered moulds which burn away during firing, leaving textured pieces reminiscent of rock fractures and geological faults.

luke fuller

CROP runs at the Sarah Myerscough Gallery, The Old Boathouse, 1 White Hart Lane, London SW13 0PX until 31 January 2020.

Wandsworth Artists’ Open House 2019

I’m delighted to be taking part in Wandsworth Artists’ Open House for the first time this year with my friend Emma Gibson. The event runs over the first two weekends in October.

Emma makes beautiful handmade contemporary jewellery.

She works mainly in silver, combining traditional and experimental techniques to produce bold pieces, which often retain the texture of the hammers used to forge them.

Emma allows for an element of chance in her work so that even if a design is repeated each piece remains individual.

I will be showing and selling some of my basketry work – another first for me!

I will also have my latest batch of upcycled indigo and ecoprinted accessories and clothing.

When: 5-6 October and 12-13 October, 11am-6pm
Where: 46 Drakefield Road, London SW17 8RP

Hope to see you there!

Basketry – function and ornament at Ruthin Craft Centre

Practically everyone who is anyone in the world of British basketry is featured in “Basketry – function and ornament” at Ruthin Craft Centre in north Wales, so it’s well worth making the effort to visit this wonderful, inspiring exhibition, curated by Gregory Parsons.

As the title implies, the show includes everything from beautifully made functional baskets to pieces whose impact relies more on form than function. I must admit that I tend to be drawn towards the latter in the selection below.

Alison Dickens
Anna King
Anne Marie O’Sullivan
Clare Revera
Dail Behennah
Jane Crisp
Joe Hogan
Laura Ellen Bacon
Lise Bech
Lizzie Farey
Lois Walpole
Maggie Smith
Mandy Coates
Mary Butcher
Mary Crabb
Polly Pollock
Rachel Max
Sarah Paramor
Stella Harding
Tim Johnson

“Basketry – function and ornament” runs at the Ruthin Craft Centre until 13 October 2019.

As you  may have gathered from all these recent posts on basketry, it’s an area in which I have developed quite an interest. So much so that I have signed up for the two-year City Lit basketry course. This is quite a commitment, but I’m really looking forward to starting on 19 September.

Look out for a few more basketry posts in future! 😉

Lines and Fragments by Tim Johnson

tim johnson little bags

“Understanding particular properties of particular plants during identification, harvest, processing, selection and finally making not only equips ourselves for making tasks in hand but also gives us a deeper connection to place and its complexity.”

The artist and basketmaker Tim Johnson has spent the past 25 years exploring the relationship between place and material, as this exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham makes clear.

Take the series of 42 little bags simply hung in three rows on the wall (and I would happily take them, every single one). It’s a fascinating display of sampling – the same technique with different materials, or the same materials with different techniques. Each one is absorbing in its details and range of possibilities.

His 2D Lines and Fragments series also incorporates found objects as well as earth pigments, dried herbs and fruit.

tim johnson lines and fragments

And his Curve series moves on with willow and earth pigments to develop the 3D form.

The Cortina works play with light and shadow – I particularly like the use of dried bean pods here.

Another one used yellow plastic coated wire.

My favourite pieces were  the Keeping Time baskets.

I particularly loved the cross sections of the bulrushes when close up.

Tim lives just outside Barcelona with another basketmaker, Monica Guilera, and there were some collaborative pieces on show.

It was also interesting to see some of the sources of his inspiration, including a squashed lampshade found in the road. 🙂

Lines and Fragments runs at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham until 31 August 2019.