I’ve known Anne Williams for about 8 years. We met through WAFTA and got to know each other very well serving on the general committee together. Anne has always been a great resource for information, offering helpful ideas and advice when I have been stuck on a project. She is always busy making something. She often talks about the very steep driveway to her house in the Perth Hills, that no one is prepared to tackle. I was prepared for this and parked at the bottom of her driveway, I wasn’t however, prepared for the lovely tranquil setting and the stunning views back across Perth.
Anne is busily preparing work for her 1st solo exhibition at Mundaring Arts Centre, Artist in Focus – “Through the Singing of My Hands” 19th March – 17 April 2016
Anne’s studio is her kitchen / living area. So we sat there with a cuppa and a slice of delicious home made pear cake and started the interview.
Anne describes her house as her studio, mainly working in her kitchen/living area, although extending throughout her house are storage areas for books, resources and completed works. She describes the space as being comfortable and having good light. She spends most of her time doing hand work (hand stitch, knitting, spinning etc) sitting in a comfortable chair in the living area or standing at the end of her kitchen bench. She draws and writes at the dining table nearby. This whole area has large windows looking out to her garden and views beyond. She is surrounded by works in progress and beautiful collections of objects and works by other artists.
When her children were younger it was the perfect place to work whilst supervising piano practice! Although Anne has had a separate, purpose built architecturally designed studio since 1980s, where her husband “hoped she would keep all her stuff”, it gradually found its way back into her living area and she uses the studio as a store room! She has her sewing machine set up there although says it is not a good work space, it is really hot in summer, the light is not very good, especially at night and it just doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t have good Feng shui. Fortunately her husband was very patient with this!
Anne works every day. Her hands get itchy if she is not working. She often has many projects on the go, sometimes starting work in the morning and going till 10 o’clock at night. She has spent 6 – 8 – 10 hours standing at the kitchen bench working when that feels like the right place to work.
“There is extreme excitement of developing an idea, knowing it’s working”
“That is rare, sometimes you can work on a piece for three weeks and then go ‘That’s a dud!’”
Anne said she “draws a huge amount”, she has beautiful notebooks filled with “a drawing a day”, others with ideas sketched out, how she might do things. Her work books and coloured pencils are on the dining table at all times, she also carries a notebook in her hand bag, often writes her ideas on a used envelope and then transfers to a notebook.
Anne writes a lot, often inspired from quotes, Rudolf Steiner’s work, art history and her daily reading of Anthroposophical literature. She has journals full of detailed plant studies accompanying dyeing notes and samples. Anne has been working with Natural dyes since the mid 1970s, keeping meticulous records since 2006, including recording rigorous fade tests. She makes lots of samples, trials, experiments, sometimes drawing the ideas, sometimes written. She uses mostly recycled materials, simple low tech stuff. She doesn’t as a rule go and buy specialised tools and materials.
Anne came from an artistic family, her parents were both artists and skilled craft workers, her mother trained as a commercial artist and later became an art teacher, her father was self taught. Although the family was poor, she said there was always quality art materials, tools and books around which she was encouraged to use. She was taught to use them in the proper way and that it is important to respect tools, even simple tools. Through her parents interests she was exposed to weaving, painting, pottery, china painting, leather work, lino cutting as a young child. At Primary School she along with all girls of her generation was taught sewing. If work was not up to standard, it had to be pulled out and started again. Anne says at 11 years old her stitching was immaculate.
Anne went to Perth Modern School where there was no option to do art so she ended up in a science course which she felt unsuited to. At the school there was never an attitude that girls can’t do anything. Following this she received a bursary to attend teacher’s college gaining a BA Dip Ed majoring in English Literature. She got married at the beginning of the year she graduated (1966) and taught English and Social Studies for 5 months. She had her first child later that year, never returning to teaching in the state school system. For almost the next 20 years she was a mother at home with her children. Anne’s husband worked away from Easter to October every year as a field geologist. These were the days of communication by letter (sometimes taking three weeks to arrive), no skype, rarely a phone call, no mobiles nor emails. She said the few visits to see her husband in the bush have been the highlights of her life. They built and moved into their current house in 1969.
At home with her young family, Anne would visit the Kalamunda Library every week and take out all the craft books she could get her hands on, learning all she could. She craved to make things. She made all the family’s clothes, even made shirts for her husband, knitted their jumpers and socks, her husband loved her brightly coloured socks. Anne said all the “practical stuff” of sewing she learnt at primary school. In 1974 she began spinning, she was drawn to it, right at the beginning of the spinning movement. She still uses the same spinning wheel 40 + years later. At this time along with another parent she ran weaving and then embroidery classes at the primary school her children attended. As there was no budget for the classes Anne would buy fleece and started natural dyeing, purely experimenting at this point.
In the early 1980s Anne was asked to teach off-loom weaving, spinning and dyeing at Nedlands Teachers College, firstly for a semester then continuing for two years. When the colleges amalgamated and all part time jobs were lost, including Anne’s, she flipped her role and at 37 enrolled as a student in the art school, gaining a Diploma in Secondary Art Teaching.
Whilst studying part time with two teenagers at home and a husband away for most of the year, Anne attended a talk by a visiting German family about the Waldorf Steiner school system. This lead to Anne becoming an instrumental member in the foundation of the Perth Waldorf School. This was all voluntary work, from fundraising, writing constitutions to finding land for the school. She was fully involved on the school council for the next 21 years. Over this time Anne set up the craft curriculum for the school, kindy to class 12. She retired from teaching at the school in 1997 although even now teaches adult classes in spinning, knitting and drawing, and the occasional school class. Anne became involved in WAFTA and around this time started to develop her own work.
Anne describes herself as having two types of work: (i) Bread and butter work, such as sewing/mending/knitting/spinning/making socks and jumpers…saleable items; and, (ii) What is becoming increasingly more important to her is her own body of work as an artist. At the time of the interview she was working towards her first solo exhibition which consists mostly of hand stitched works on linens, denims, tea towels and mining sample bags. Anne uses lots of recycled fabrics. Many are heavily stitched works, lots of running stitch and chain stitch, layers of fabrics, often backed with woolen blankets.
Anne’s work is influenced by her study and readings of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner and art history. She hasn’t met any other artists trying to express Anthroposophical teachings in a textile form. Anne said her parents treating children with respect as artists, and a belief that their work has integrity “has gone throughout my childhood, my teaching and my own work.”
“I get inspired by people who have done terrific work in later life”.
‘Housewives’ (sewing kits) were standard army issue for the ‘Nashos’ of the 1950s. They have been carried into battle zones all around the world. This one was issued to Pte. Ian Williams in 1956/7.
The above work made for WAFTA’s Memory and Commemoration exhibition, will be on show in Lake Grace Regional Art Space in March and Art Geo, Busselton in April.
If you would like to contact Anne please do so via this page.