Wednesday, 31 October 2018

New Work

Since I've been back from my wonderful research trip and arts residency in Ireland, I have been getting my thoughts together for an upcoming solo exhibition, to be held at Craft ACT in late January 2019. This exhibition will reflect the research I've been undertaking over the past two years on women botanical collectors, especially the collectors of seaweeds.

Looking at my seaweed collection for inspiration
I also made a significant purchase to help distill my thoughts...the gorgeous Minton tea cup and saucer in the photo above.  Believe me, the tea tastes so much nicer! Looking back through my Irish specimens I decided to have another look at the cyanotyping process that I did with my friend Aroona and her delightful daughter Ruby in Belfast. The blue photo above is one of the Irish Moss specimens (Chondrus crispus) that I made as a teaching example for them. This time, I decided to try it out on fabric to test out the limitations, colour and definition using the Canberra winter sun.

Testing out the cyanotyping with my seaweed in Canberra
The process is basically the same on textiles as it is for paper, however there are differences in the way that the various fabrics uptake the cyanotyping solution.  Drying was also longer than I expected, but I wasn't in a rush so just made a note of that for when I do the final pieces. I made three different types of tests using different fabric bases including some man made materials, just so I could compare the results.  I also guessed how long to expose them for and chose 6, 7 and 8 minutes to see what differences that would make.  After the fabrics had been exposed I rinsed them in cold water for several minutes and then hung out to dry.

Developing the print...WOW!
I was really happy with the results and eager to start making the final pieces for the exhibition once I collect all my fabrics and dried seaweeds together, and make the hard decisions on what to include and what will get left out.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Local Colour : Experiments in Nature

As soon as my plane touched the Canberra tarmac I was back into the whirlwind of getting work finished for the 'Local Colour: Experiments in Nature' exhibition at UNSW Galleries in Paddington, which was curated by Liz Williamson. My fractured wrist and time away was not conducive to lots of intense stitching, so it was head down and needle to the fore to get the final pieces in place before delivering to the gallery.

Liz Williamson opens Local Colour at UNSW Galleries
Photography: Silversalt Photography

'Local Colour' opened on 27th July and both Dr Julie Montgarret and I gave artist presentations to a large crowd beforehand.  I spoke about my arts practice and the interaction of nature with my work, and Julie Montgarret spoke about the work of Elsje van Keppel, which was also included in the exhibition. It was such an honour to be included in this curated show, to be with some amazing textile artists such as Elsje, Rowland Ricketts, Holly Story, Hildur Bjarnadottir, Dorothy Caldwell and India Flint to name a few.

My work ' Aranda to Frost Hollow' triptych, 240cm x 150cm
Photography: Silversalt Photography

My triptych, 'Aranda to Frost Hollow'  was a pieced work that utilised plant-dyed fabrics that had from the suburb of Aranda in Canberra.  My favourite bushwalk when I lived near the Aranda Bushland was to start at the very top of the ridge and walk all the way down through the Frost Hollow snow gums and back up the very steep hill past the powerlines.  For almost 17 years I did this walk about once a fortnight, noting the species of trees and shrubs, grasses, terrain and avoiding collisions with kangaroos! It was a walk I often took visitors on when they came to stay. After my cloths had been pieced, I then mordant-printed the map of the area where I walked on top.  The middle textile ('Frost Hollow')  is composed of hundreds of tiny naturally dyed scraps all hand-sewn to the base fabric to metaphorically continue the journey between the two hills.

My work, next to the work of Gabrielle Mordy (centre)
and Rebecca Mayo (far right)
Photography: Silversalt Photography

There were some gorgeous baskets produced by two groups of indigenous basket makers, curated by Dr Louise Hamby, and these black ones from Mullingimby were so unusual but so beautifully displayed hanging in space.

Photography: Silversalt Photography

The ethereal work of Rowland Ricketts showing his complete mastery
of indigo dyeing onto felt
Photography: Silversalt Photography

Work of Hildur Bjarnadottir (large wallhanging) and
the sculptural work by Lucy Simpson in the fore.
Photography: Silversalt Photography

The day after the opening saw many of the artists give floor talks about their work in the gallery and this was so well attended by the public.  It gave great insights into the works and why and how they had been created. One of my very favorite pieces is the work of Judith Kentish, which also happened to be hanging next to my work ! The simplicity and honesty that that emanated from these small weavings illustrated Judith's mindfulness and practise of being right in the state of making by weaving her plant dyed yarns from Cobb Creek on a card loom. Poetic.

Judith Kentish's weavings reflecting the Cobb Creek environment.
Unfortunately, there is no catalogue (yet) but if we keep nagging perhaps one will become available! If you can't get to the exhibition then the catalogue is a fantastic way to see the very best in contemporary plant-dyed textiles.

'Local Colour' is being exhibited until 15 September, 2019.
  • Hours

Friday, 20 July 2018

Following Charles Morrison

Time in Belfast was spent at the Ulster Museum repository looking at 19th century seaweed albums, including those connected to Charles Morrison (see previous posts!) Although I was staying one minute's walk away from the Museum, all their albums are housed in a secure facility many miles away. Luckily I had a lovely curator to look after me who drove me there each day and facilitated my access.

My working table within the UM repository.
 This is the album I came to see at the Ulster Museum, so it was an emotional moment for me, having discovered a lot through reading about it only through published papers.

After my research at the Ulster Museum, I left Belfast and drove north to each and every known site that Charles Morrison had collected the seaweeds he put in his many albums.....the Giant's Causeway, Portrush, Moville, Greencastle to name a few. 
The spectacular Giant's Causeway

Northern Ireland Coastline


Rockpools at the Giant's Causeway
 Not only did I follow in Charles' footsteps along the wide beaches, rocky shorelines and isolated promontories, I also collected seaweed samples myself from each place so that I could have my own contemporary collection that mirrored his. Except not as prolific...!

Some of my Northern Irish seaweeds

Charles Morrison also collected along several sites along Lough Foyle, so I spent a few days at Derry-Londonderry (the 'PC' version of radio announcer also coined the popular term "Slash City"). I was delighted to walk along one of the streets which incorporated this street art of  lovely marine pavers. One side of Lough Foyle is in County Derry, the other is in County Donegal. 

Marine inspired street art on a pavement in Derry-Londonderry
 He also collected at Lough Swilly, also in Co. Donegal. One of the most spectacular beaches I have seen on my travels was near Portsalon, on the far north coast of Lough Swilly. It was a really rough and winding road to drive down, and up, as the roads were so narrow.  Added to this was the temperature - over 30 degrees, something Irish roads are not used to.  The very bitumen was melting as we drove along, sticking to our tyres and also our shoes! But it was worth it in the end to walk on this beautiful and relatively deserted beach near Ballymastocker Bay.
Beautiful Ballymastocker Bay, Co. Galway
Back home now but still processing photos and seaweed for further posts....and getting data together for my research.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Belfast Linen

I was  having an Instagram conversation about the scarcity of linen to be found in Ireland and that same day I went to the Titanic Experience  in Belfast. Little did I know the two events would be linked, and supported by another walk through the Ulster Museum....
Titanic Belfast Experience
In 1711 a Linen Board was established in Ulster to direct the development of the linen industry and new methods and better seeds were imported by the French Huguenots who settled in the north of Ireland at the end of the 17th century. Flax was grown in the countryside alongside food crops.

Flax seeds through to brown and bleached linen
Flax seeds were sown in spring and harvested around 100 days later. The mature flax was pulled from the ground rather than cut, so the extra length could be obtained. It then underwent a retting process which used moisture and bacteria to eat away the hard woody stem so that the inside fibres could be removed easily. Scutching then removed the outer skin of the flax, leaving only the silky inner fibres. These were combed over pins, known as roughing, and then hackling gave the flax a more thorough combing to remove superfluous organic matter.

Growing flax and turning into linen cloth was a long and laborious process with many stages. Traditionally women and children prepared the flax and spun the fibres into thread at home on spinning wheels whilst men then wove the thread into linen cloth on hand looms.

Working from home
Image from Titanic Belfast
The brown linen was taken to markets to be sold for bleaching and finishing then usually exported, mainly to England where it was prized for its fine quality.

Flax Mill c.1840
Image: Titanic Belfast

In the early 1840's linen cloth production moved from a home-based occupation in the country to a large scale factory-based one in the city. The different processes linen had to undergo before being made into cloth meant there were a series of hierarchical jobs within the mills accompanied by differing standards of working conditions and pay.

Mill production
Image: Titanic Belfast
Mill Production
Image: Titanic Belfast
During the 19th century people flocked to Belfast to work in the new linen mills and by 1900 Belfast was producing and exporting more linen than anywhere else in the world. There were over 65,000 mill workers at the turn of the century, many employed in Belfast, and around 900,000 flax spinning spindles in Belfast alone in 1900. Mill workers worked 6 days a week from 6.30am to 6pm for very low wages, many of whom were women and children who were often known as "half-timers" because they attended school as well. Dust inhaled when preparing the flax could trigger disease, and the hot humid conditions necessary for the spinning and weaving of linen caused chest infections. Working barefoot in water in the spinning rooms often led to painful foot conditions.

Mill Production
Image: Titanic Belfast
Embroiderers were often lowly paid but their working conditions were healthier, and they were considered socially superior.

Examples of fine linen embroidery at the Ulster Museum
The Titanic needed huge quantities of linen for her maiden voyage and these were all made in Belfast. The First Class passengers had damask linen tablecloths and napkins, patterned with the White Star emblem. Linens were also used for all the bedding as well as in the kitchens and dining room.  The Titanic carried thousands of aprons and tablecloths and over 10,000 kitchen cloths, as well as 18,000 bed sheets and 45,000 table napkins! There were no facilities on board to wash anything, so there were separate stores for clean and dirty linens, and a drying room for wet linen so they did not become mouldy on the voyage.

The information above came from the Titanic Belfast Experience Museum. More information about the history of Irish linen can be found here

Walking around the Ulster Museum I came across an enormous hand-woven contemporary Irish linen artwork - The Game of Thrones Tapestry that opened at the museum in July 2017. 

Game of Thrones Tapestry, Ulster Museum
Now, I have not seen Game of Thrones, but I thoroughly enjoyed walking around this incredible tapestry which snaked back and forth across walls within the exhibition space. It is now 66 metres long, and consists of six 11m panels, one for each of the six series currently produced. By the time it is finished it will be longer than its inspiration, the Bayeux Tapestry which measures 77m. Here are some images of some of the series - are you a fan and can you recognise any of the scenes??

The Night is Dark and full of terrors....
Have you been paying attention...?
Exquisite weaving and embroidery
The End....for now......
Read more about this amazing tapestry and how it has reignited the awareness of Irish Linen and promoted Irish tourism here

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Wild Atlantic Way

It was so hard to tear myself away from Cill Rialaig, but right at the nth hour I had a message on Instagram that one of the people I have been following, Susan (@todayinireland) was in Ballinskelligs and could we catch up for a coffee? I have been following Susan because she really gets about this part of the world, and to be honest, I thought I would bump into her on the beach one day or walking around in Waterville, but of course, it was literally just as I was leaving town. It is so lovely to meet people face to face that you have connected with on IG!

A coffee catch up at Barbara's on the beach, Ballinskelligs
Back into the car for 45 minutes and it was time for another goodbye at Caherdaniel from John and Kerryann (@atlanticirishseaweed). I love these two people who are so passionate about seaweed and making a living from educating others about the benefits of eating and bathing in it!
The Blind Piper, Caherdaniel
We met downstairs at The Blind Piper, a true Irish pub - a bit early for a pint for me but not for some I could mention! Kerryann gave me a bag of seaweed to eat and a couple of seaweed bath bags to try out so luckily most of the places we have stayed have baths.

Sneem for lunch at the Bakery
Back in the car we passed through Sneem and stopped for a quick lunch before heading to Kenmare, where I was keen to see the Kenmare Lace and Design Museum

In the 1800's sisters of the Poor Clare convent in Kenmare introduced needlepoint lace to the women and the girls of the locality as a response to the poverty that followed the Great Famine. This was an incredible initiative of the nuns who also arranged for tuition from tutors from the Kensington School of Design in London and the Crawford School of Art in Cork, leading to the establishment of a school of design in Kenmare.

Gouache painted designs by the nuns of the Poor Clare Convent, Kenmare
From this school came designs that won acclaim in exhibitions around the world. Kenmare lace graced royal functions and liturgical occasions, however eventually economic factors brought about its decline and apparent demise. These designs have been revived and local lacemaking continues today.

Lace design and lace on display in the local church.
Next it was off to Bantry to have a look around Bantry House, the private estate still owned by the descendants of the Earl of Bantry.

The view of pantry House from the rear Garden.
Home to the White family since 1739  this house has a garden with seven terraces, overlooking Bantry Bay, with many works of art both inside and outside the house. After many years of neglect the garden terraces were overhauled in 2016 and work continues on the garden restoration today.  The inside of the houses was magnificent, but photos were not allowed.

Onwards to our destination, Kinsale, where we spent two nights. Kinsale is a gorgeous seaside town, known for its colourful buildings and fine dining. 

Kinsale Harbour

One of the many pubs in Kinsale

Cute cottages

Colourful buildings
Our next journey is to Kilkenny, to see the famous Kilkenny Craft and Design Centre, kiss the Blarney Stone and then head towards Belfast for my research at the Ulster Museum herbarium.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Slán Cill Rialaig

5am view from Cill Rialaig
When I first arrived at Cill Rialaig to start my two week residency, the islands and neighbouring headlands were mostly covered in mist, conjuring up the mythology of Hy-Brasil.  For the past week though, the view to the islands have all been exceptionally clear as we have had hot and mostly sunny days.  I have spent some time this week on Ballinskelligs beach, fossicking for seaweeds, sea glass and other flotsam and jetsam to put on the studio windowsill.
Ballinskelligs Beach

Egg cases from the Nursehound catshark
One of the interesting finds has been some egg cases from the Nursehound catshark.  Also known a 'mermaids purses' shark egg casings come in all shapes and sizes.  Most Australians will know the Port Jackson shark egg cases as being architecturally spiralled, like a giant ceiling or wall plug, but dark brown. These egg cases are beautifully adorned with long curly tendrils from each of the four corners. The Nursehound Catshark (Scyliorhinus stellaris) is near threatened in Ireland and the north-east Atlantic. Their eggs are laid amongst the seaweeds just under the low tide mark and take 9 months to hatch. Pity I can't bring these home with me....

Other finds have been a diverse array of seaweeds, including Himathalia elongate, often known as Sea Spaghetti or Thong Weed. It is delicious the way Kerryann from Atlantic Irish Seaweed prepares it with sesame oil and soy, but I was just eating it straight from the sea as well - it has a delightful crunchy nutty texture.
Himanthalia elongata
And of course, you can't come to Ireland without finding Irish moss, or Chondrus crispus, the source of carrageenan used extensively in the food, cosmetics and textile industry.

Chondrus crispus

During my time at Cill Rialaig I have also connected with Alexis and Stephen from Fermoyle Pottery and Garden, just a few minutes out of Dun Geagan. They invited me to come to their studio to decorate a few ceramic platters and it was a great opportunity to try my surface design skills onto a new substrate. It also gave us time to play around with the seaweed I had collected and to experiment with some ideas that might go into production for them.

Painting one of the platters at Fermoyle Pottery
Alexis and Steve have a lovely house and extensive garden complete with a huge poly tunnel which enables them to grow vegetables all year round and try out plants that would not survive the harsh winters. The whole family hangs out there in the long summer nights and it also doubles up as a unique area for drying clothes when the weather is wet (which it hasn't been!). They keep chooks and guinea fowls and grow vegetables, fruits and herbs in an effort to be self-sustainable and to provide their kids with a knowledge of where their food comes from. The poly tunnel is the kids favourite place to hang out because that's where the strawberries and new peas are growing right now!

Playing around with seaweed inspired ceramics

Stephen perfecting the edges of my platter (yes he has shorts on!)

One of the seaweed bowls we are working on.
Stephen and Alexis are very encouraging and they are in the process of setting up a lovely Airbnb above their studio - perfect for a potter (hint hint) and are looking to collaborate with artists on a series of platters for a unique Artist range. They keep talking about what we will do the 'next time I come to Ballinskelligs'😊 and to be perfectly honest I can almost see that happening.....
For the time being it is a day to be finishing off work, as it is wild and windy, overcast and looking like rain outside.  I have to start packing and tomorrow I head off to Kinsale, Cork and Kilkenny.  Then next week I will be in Belfast at the Ulster Museum Herbarium ...stay tuned!