Textiles, treasures, pots and pleasures
"Cassandra Sabo is an award-winning textile designer specialising in hand-woven fibre optic textile art and lamps who takes inspiration from the natural world too"
Stephanie Monteath, a first-timer at this year’s Artweeks festival with an honours degree in Fashion under her belt, describes how she has long been inspired by Oxford and the Cotswolds, taking the natural history and the architecture, an eclectic mix of neoclassical and medieval, as stimuli for her textile designs. ‘A tile here, a window there - even the way that plants rest against the Headington stone in the Botanical Garden of Oxford University, for example - they are all part of a natural harmony that I manipulate with fabric.’ In the Ashmolean Museum, Stephanie absorbs the flavours of archival textiles from the Mediterranean world and the Middle Ages, silk velvets, botanical designs and the heady ecclesiastical embroideries of liturgical vestments, which she then translates onto fine fabrics using digital design software and traditional screen-printing, adding dots of handpainted foil reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts and delicate curvilinear shapes, to give her work a contemporary nature without losing sight of the traditional craft values of some of Oxford’s most influential alumni, John Ruskin and William Morris (Cumnor, 14th-22nd May; venue 265).
Samantha Wadham also refers to William Morris as she describes the woven inspiration behind her striking sculptural lighting. Design can be beautiful for beauty’s sake but it can also tell a story and this up-and-coming artist gives a contemporary twist to floral imagery and the humble wallpaper pattern as she creates art for the home using in the metaphors and meanings of flowers interpreting William Morris’ textiles, amongst other things, through different materials and media, including paper, painting, film and, with striking effect, 3D metalwork. Her floral depictions explore not just blossoming beauties but also disregarded weeds seeing in this a reflection of society today and telling the story of her own social commentary: from a young age her observations of friends and family with their life stories unfolded like flowers: secrets, trust and relationships. ‘I wanted to portray what I saw and heard into plant silhouette imagery’ she explains, ‘so started with observational drawing transferred onto card and then curved them to create a 3D design, rising from the paper to create the feeling of growth.’ The designs are then cut from metal and styled with a plasma cutter, filed and spray-painted before being curved into large 3D wall-coverings and other pieces. (Stanford-in-the-Vale, 14th-22nd May, venue 285).
Cassandra Sabo is an award-winning textile designer specialising in hand-woven fibre optic textile art and lamps who takes inspiration from the natural world too, uses traditional basket-weaving techniques to manipulate textiles into shapes and forms. During Artweeks she will be demonstrating this award-winning fusion of the old and new, as she interlaces fibre optic strands by hand with other fibres on her dobby loom (a type of floor loom), her process is traditional, yet creates unique and innovative treasures for the home. (Oxford, 7th-15th May, venue 34).
Treasures in the form of hand-crafted jewellery can be found across the county during Artweeks, and new to the festival for 2016 is King Sutton’s Lucy Sylvester. Also inspired by the British countryside she works with silver, gold and platinum in her North Oxfordshire studio, introducing colour through chemical treatment of the metal to enhance fine details and textures, and also through faceted or uncut stones. She describes how each new season or place she visits brings fresh inspiration and items to work with. ‘I walk in the countryside to collect delicate seedheads and insects,’ she explains ‘and I'm interested in finding things that would decay into the ground, turning them into precious wearable objects. With climate change affecting our wildlife, my work may become a record for the future of the insect and plant life we treasure today.’ (King’s Sutton, 21st-30th May, venue 384).
Over in Ewelme, a village famous for its watercress beds and where water running from the common, its name Saxon for source of the water, potter Harriet Coleridge transforms clay into treasures for the table and garden.
With the William Morris ethic, that things to be used should still be beautiful, she always made pots and platters. However more recently she has begun to craft more reflective pieces with a Japanese aesthetic, perhaps reflecting a love of yoga. ‘Throwing pots is very physical, she laughs, so yoga’s a good counterpoint.’
Harriet explains how pottery is all about working with the natural world as it is a combination of the firing process chosen and the constituent minerals within the clay itself that determines the finished look. And the changes from the appearance of the pot before it goes into the kiln and the way it comes out can be dramatic. ‘You can get extraordinary effects, she explains, when you starve a kiln of oxygen, and then raise or lower the temperature at different speeds. As a general rule, the longer you fire the more exciting the results. Experience teaches you what effects you might get but they come out differently, with different lustres from the various chemicals inside. In an Anagama process, for example she continues, where pots are fired very slowly for a long time, pure white Limoges porcelain with no glaze will emerge in pinks and golds, for example.
Harriet’s tactile pebbles look like the stones of a magical universe – they’re hollow and they ‘ring’. There’s an irony in making new imitative pebbles, when real pebbles are age-old shaped by wind and water over time, and yet these are created from the earth so the materials in them are equally age-old, and they’re undeniably beautiful with a natural variegated glaze that shines and catches the light like a jewel from the earth: it’s no wonder people use them for meditation. (Ewelme, 14th-22nd May, venue 221).
To find out more about these artists and the many others opening their studios and hosting exhibitions during the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival which runs from 7th-30th May, visit www.artweeks.org.
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