Occasionally I wish I lived in the UK. Not simply to access the wealth of materials grown specifically for weaving but also to glean from the long history of basketmaking wisdom.
I recently made an online friendship with UK-based artist, basketmaker and photographer, Tim Johnson. I had been admiring his website for a while and then I had a lovely surprise when some months back, he messaged me to say hello. I knew we must share some kind of kindred passion when Tim mentioned he has so many bundles of sticks in his house he could hardly move. Totally normal from where I’m sitting.
If I lived closer to the UK, I would book in to travel with Tim and his partner Monica Guilera to Spain to Weaving by the Sea. Or maybe a fibre workshop on the Isle of Wight. I’m sure any of his workshops would make me very happy.
The spare and beautiful images from his website confirm for me what I love about basketry. Raw rhythm, texture, shape, density, transparency, pattern, contrast, bundles; sticks, grasses, rushes all making a greater whole. I am particularly drawn to his quite tribal exploration of costume and disguise using basketmaking techniques.
Lovely stuff. Thank you Tim. You’re inspiring.
P.S. As I live just outside the village which is home to the ‘Big Potato’ (oh yes it is as attractive as it sounds), what I do have access to are LOTS of spuds…. hmmm…
All images Copyright © Tim Johnson.
I’m embarking on a busy few months and won’t have much time to dawdle (what a much maligned thing is a dawdle!). To remind myself to slow down and breathe deeply, I wanted to (quickly!) post some images from the wonderful STILL by Mary Jo Hoffman. She’s shot an image each day since 1st January 2012 of things she has seen or collected on walks with her dog.
The images are sometimes of a single find, sometimes a collection and often arranged as Andy Goldsworthy-like ephemeral art .
Such a simple concept, requiring great discipline but delivering manifold rewards for her (and the dog) I imagine.
She describes it as ‘Still blog— a place to stop. A place to look at one thing at a time. A place to be still.’
Years ago, years before I was weaving, I tore from a magazine an article on an Australian woman sculptor and pasted it into a book of things I found inspiring (so many of those torn pages paint a picture of now). It wasn’t only this woman’s work I loved, but the idea of making art from found objects and reassembling nature. I subsequently occasionally googled her and, although I had never been to see one of her shows, I went so far as to ring her gallery in Melbourne to ask the price of one of her framed pieces, just dreaming. I wrote a blog post about her here in August 2011 and listed her as an influence whenever I was asked. I didn’t imagine I would know her.
Skip forward to 2012 and I had the good fortune to be invited to teach a winter weaving workshop in an incredible house called ‘Fishcakes’ built by art gallery owners, which is perched over the beach at Seal Rocks, on the NSW mid-North coast. The second booking I got for the workshop was from someone called Shona Wilson. I was in excited jitters. Could it really be this artist I admired? I didn’t know it then, but Shona lives not far from Seal Rocks and after spending the weaving day together, she invited me to visit her home studio the next day and I must say it felt like strange forces were at play, giving me the chance to spend time with a creative hero.
The pictures in this post are from her latest show Plasticenic – Future Remains at King Street Gallery (now on William Street) in Darlinghurst, Sydney. After hearing that scientists had discovered microscopic plastic in the cell structure of some ocean plants, Shona decided to create 3D plant forms from a future era in which plastic particles have ‘infiltrated single cell organisms’ and grown to become melded flora. All these extraordinarily intricate sculptures use plastics found on coastal walks. The show has now closed but some works are still for sale through the gallery.
What’s more, I have a pretty informed hunch that beautiful Shona Wilson will be offering some land art & assemblage workshops herself in the near future. God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I will be the first to book in.
The future remains a mystery but perhaps we can manifest our dreams. So tear, paste, pin, google and write about your heroes… perhaps you’ll befriend them one day.
I consider myself a modern maker and I am inspired by seeing people bringing old crafts back. I think there’s an energy embued by the maker in something that has been created painstakingly by hand. Usually it’s not perfect, it might even have some character (the horror!). You can feel that energy when you look at a beautiful timber table compared with a mass produced flat-pack or factory line item. My last post featured someone who works with fibre and today I want to write about someone who works with wood (before I head into the woods for two weeks – yessss!) and who seems surrounded by beauty – at least every one of her pictures make my eyes very happy. If you haven’t heard of her, definitely take the time to check out her site.
Woodworker: Ariele Alasko, Brooklyn To West
Ariele Alasko has been on my radar for a while now and if you read any of the popular design blogs, you will have heard of her too. Apart from being uber photogenic, she is fairly adept with tools and that’s a sure-fire recipe for international girl crush status! She studied sculpture in art school but after working with reclaimed timber on a restaurant refurb, she made a conscious decision to be a craftperson and furniture maker.
Ariele has receieved lots of attention lately for her intricate geometric wooden inlay on tables, bedheads and wall pieces and the general beauty of her studio. She seems to revel in the cross-country trips she has made to salvage timber and although she worked for a long time in a cramped apartment, she has recently moved into a warehouse-style studio in Brooklyn and is turning her modern craft into a humming business.
Although I can’t be buying me any Brooklyn inlay tables, I am definitely a rock solid fan.
I make my living in the same way as Ariele, making pieces to commission and I think she possibly experiences a similar cycle in the studio. Excitement when you accept a commission followed by inspiration then concentrated mindful making. When then piece is finished and is being delivered, I clean up the workshop for the next chapter. I have a nervous period of waiting to get the feedback from the client which is a really vulnerable feeling. (I am thinking about this because after fretting for a few days about something I made, I just got an excited call from the new owner today to say she loves her light so much she drove 20 minutes to the next town and dragged her interior designer out of Woolworths to show it to her in the carpark.) So far, so good. The final stage in the cycle has been relief and happiness.
Happy holidays and I hope 2013 is a year of great joy and peaceful cycles for you. xxx
P.S. Before you ask, yes those are a whole amazing wall of dried Eucalyptus leaves (she made the an enormous piece for a sculpture show at Uni I think) and they are lining a wall in her apartment. So lovely.
All images: Ariele Alasko – Brooklyn To West
Someone recently asked me about our ‘alternative lifestyle’. I responded (hopefully sweetly) that perhaps living in today’s urban environment is historically biologically alternative. Are we so suburban that living on a small farm and growing food is ‘alternative’?? My instincts lead me ever more away from city life. I like to visit occasionally and get a culture hit but I wouldn’t swap our folky farming life for traffic and concrete. I want to shop less, eat better and have dirty hands on a regular basis.
Some of the most inspiring people to me are craftspeople who are breaking the mold in their processes and leading a modern revival of folk arts. These people might be defined by one beautiful product or craft but they succeed because they are also able to be a business owner, collector, curator, designer, teacher, writer, photographer and publicist; thanks to the internet, you can go it alone away from the crowds but you have to be ready for the whole shebang. So for the next few posts I want to feature people who are forging a living dragging a traditional skill into this era and making it relevant.
The Quilter: Maura Ambrose, Folk Fibers
I just love the process employed by Maura Grace Ambrose in her Texas-based business Folk Fibers. Since March this year, this all-round amazing soul has been employing local sewers in their homes (read her moving bog post about them here) to create huge quilts from materials she has hand-dyed using plants she has grown, foraged or collected herself. What’s not to love about that?!
She has planted her own dye plant garden and her latest blog post was about these beautiful fungi she collected and used in the solar-dying method.
Aren’t they lovely? Maura lists Australian India Flint‘s book Eco Colour as one of her main source books. It’s the one I used when I eco-printed my wedding dress this year. I am super inspired by the way Maura has managed to combine her passion for farming and textiles into a unique business that satisfies both those urges and produces long-lasting positivity.
So that’s the first of what I hope will be many posts about modern craft revivalists. Please feel free to alert me if you know of any artisans breaking new ground in their field.
P.S. Just on those thoughts from the start… I went to a beautiful wedding by the beach this last weekend. I saw a lot of people who I hadn’t seen since school or uni days. I found myself hesitating when some people asked what I’m doing now. Of course “we have two kids” is self-explanatory but telling people “I am a basketmaker” is not. In a quiet moment, my husband told me “Be proud.” I think it’s not pride that causes my usual big intake of breath before I answer. In some way, I think I presume people are going to be confused by their own notions of what ‘basketweaving’ is and how I fit. I wonder if Maura feels that when she tells people she’s a quilter? I also don’t know if that really defines the many different things that I do every day in this work. I love every aspect of my craft work but it’s easy to spend a lot of time here on the internet and collecting materials, sorting my studio and teaching workshops. I think one of my goals for next year is advice gleaned from Maura Ambrose, to make the work the first and most important thing and it will speak for itself.
All beautiful images courtesy of Maura Ambrose.
Guile, 2011 Photo: Tessa Angus
Crave, 2011 Photo: Kate MccGwire
Seer, 2011 Photo: Tessa Angus
Rile, 2009 Photo: Francis Ware
Gag, 2009 Photo: JP Bland
Corvid, 2011 Photo: Tessa Angus
Sluice, 2009 Photo: Francis Ware
Evacuate, 2010 Photo: Jonty Wilde
I have had many a fellow feather-hoarder come to weave with me, I married a fowl man and have boxes of plumes awaiting new life so I am really excited to share this breathtaking work by British artist Kate MccGwire. I find her sculptures beautiful and unnerving in equal measure. It seems if we come close they will shiver with breath, making the viewer want to gently touch the plumes to feel the warmth that must lie beneath and unfurl the buried heads but rationally we know they are cold and ending in nothing. The cabinets and domes continue the allusion of these as natural specimens trapped in time.
MccGwire began by collecting the dropped moulting pigeon feathers on the way to her studio (on a barge in Hampton) and now receives parcels from poultry and bird breeders all over the UK. She is currently working on her upcoming solo show “Lure” which opens in North London later in the month (see beautiful poster below). Kate says she’s going to send me pictures of some basket forms she made during her degree. Apparently she loved them but they looked a little too like a certain part of the male anatomy. Whatever path she needed to take to make these curving avian creations, I’m sure you’ll agree she’s on the right one now.
I had such trouble deciding which pics to choose from her website – there are so many that made me gasp. Have a gander. (Sorry, I’m all feather-brained – trust me, a LOT of poultry puns were discarded in the writing of this post!)
Lorraine Connelly-Northey, born in 1962 was raised in Swan Hill in Victoria and comes from a strong tradition of weaving. She was influenced by an amalgam of her father’s Irish ancestry and mother’s Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) heritage. Since 2002 she has been re-imaging rusted farm cast-offs like wire, corrugated iron, roofing materials and mesh, shaping, bending and twisting them into symbolic interpretations of traditional containers and vessels such as Narbongs (string bags) and Koolimans (bush bowls).
The simplicity of the shape and the time-worn rough edges of the metals used speak of the essential changes in the land; from a country where string bags and baskets made of grasses and vines were used for carrying and washing gathered food to a place where the machinery of mass-agriculture has taken over food production. The artefacts of todays inhabitants are found in the rubbish tips.
Her sculptures, including amazing larger pieces like ‘Three Rivers Country’ below have been collected by the National Gallery, MCA, GOMA, AGNSW among other public galleries. I’m sure deserves the acclaim. As another farmer’s daughter, a weaver and someone who loves to play with the rusty colours and patterns of iron and the bends and kinks in old wire I feel an affinity with Connelly-Northey’s sculptures. They take me straight to the land.
Images copyright of the artist.