“How blue is the sky?!” inspired this work. An amazingly bright blue sky highlighted the old “Cafaro’s Store” sign. The sign has been part of the fabric of our local community for probably sixty years. On the side wall of the building, it hints at the humble business long ago. Changed dramatically over the years, it is now a popular small bar.
There was a gorgeous modern mural on the wall, contrasting the old with the new. Sadly, as I worked on this piece the mural was destroyed by graffiti, eventually beyond repair, it was painted black.
The next time I drove past a new artwork was there…and they had painted over the sign. Part of our local history now gone forever.
Made from layers of silk, satin, organza, business ties and sari silks, the work has been machine stitched, cut away in sections and hand stitched with simple embroidery stitches.
Making a body of work is only one step to exhibiting your work. Midland Junction Arts Centre staff have been wonderful to work with. Ease and grace come to mind. Curator Greg Sikich and volunteer Assistant Curator Lisa made me truely admire the skills of a curator. Achieving the vision I had with some works and guiding me with suggestions and decisions when I was less certain…I learnt a lot in those two install days.
A huge thank you also to Margaret Ford for her speech to open my exhibition. She immediately understood my work and portrayed it beautifully to the audience.Of course this body of work would not exist without the support and trust of my mother as you will see in the catalogue essay below. She willingly told me her very personal stories and those of her mother, my Nanna, in the knowledge that I was going to, in some form, interpret this into contemporary textiles. My one hope is that she feels I have honoured them. The ever supporting family 🙂
Of Our Time – Ordinary Lives explores the lives of three generations of maternal women in my family.
Family stories, those incidental ones beyond the dates of significant events, are lost if not recorded. Historical events and dates of births, deaths and marriages are easy to research. However how these same events personally affected my family as they navigated changing and challenging times can only be found through inquiry.
My early experience learning about the women in my family was through the naive lens of a child. My childhood memories of my Nanna’s life paint her days as simple and leisurely. My Mother appeared to cram a much larger workload into a strict timetable between home duties, work and study. By comparison, my own feels mashed together with few clear boundaries and little structure, but for the constant putting out of spot fires. My daughter’s life I can only project.
As a mature adult I started asking the right questions and discovered that the stories of my Mother and Nanna were much more complicated than I had believed. I have been fortunate to have access to old family letters: some nearly eighty years old, to records, memorabilia and photos. I have also been fortunate to have access to my mother, between heartfelt conversations and a shared visit to the Midland area much in the style of Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery.
Often we can’t think of the right questions, or aren’t interested until it is too late, and as I observed this in my friends and family, I was determined not to let the intricacies of my own family history slip away.
My left-handed Nanna, who taught me how to crochet right-handed, was the eldest daughter in a large family, and long considered a confirmed spinster. As far as we know she never had paid employment outside of the home. In 1941, at 37 years of age she received a marriage proposal by letter and travelled from Melbourne, Victoria to the Midland Junction Train Station to meet her Husband to be: a man she had only met on a couple of occasions. With whom she would start a new life in Western Australia.
I was drawn to the precious items my mother has kept: Nan’s letters, including the proposal by my grandfather; her exquisite hand embroidered and crocheted doilies; telegrams, ration cards, and receipts for major purchases; the documents relating to my Grandfather’s early death; immunisation records; swimming certificates; five books in the Anne of Green Gables series. I began to get a sense of her experiences leaving a loving family in suburban Melbourne, a few tram stops from the city, to living through Perth summers near Midland, during WWll and the rationing of most living necessities. The only means of communication being via letters and the occasional telegram.
During my Nanna’s time, concepts of recycling and zero-waste were of necessity. This exhibition was created entirely from materials I already possessed: scraps from previous projects, recycled and gifted vintage fabrics, older Op Shop finds.
2000 Miles Away uses tie linings complete with stains from washing, marks from manufacture and the remains of unpicked stitches, sewn together with recycled envelopes and overhead projector sheets. On a recreation of my Nanna’s hexagonal tiled floor their conversations are blurred by distance and time.
In 1962 my nineteen-year-old mother married my father and had to resign from her clerical job at the Government Railways in Perth, Western Australia. The “Marriage Bar” was still four years from its eventual repeal, requiring married women to give up their jobs in the Australian Public Service.
She found employment in a private company until I was born two years later. As time went by she worked in many clerical roles and in her 40s followed her true passion, gaining a degree in Literature and History from UWA aged 50.
My mother’s life has been marked by massive shifts in the means of communication, along with the frequency and also the access across remote distances, thanks to developments in technology.
The typewriter in its many forms has been a pivotal part of her life. Starting with the “clunky old Remington with round black keys,” on which she learnt to type in High School, to a bright red Olivetti Valentine portable: I remember her squeals of delight in receiving it for her birthday from my father, and when she came home perplexed, having had to take a speed test on “one of these new Golf Ball Typewriters,” during a job interview. As technology has changed, her progression has continued with electric typewriters, computers, iPads and mobile phone texting.
The individual typewriter keys, unique and separate, when linked together have been the means to tell stories, write essays, apply for jobs, write letters to family and friends, and more recently, send emails and texts.
The title Remington Keys is taken from the typewriter brand she learnt to type on in high school. These keys show the structure of life, bound by society’s conventions, order, and acceptance of those rules imposed upon women. My mother worked within this framework in acceptance of these societal expectations and employed these skills to create the space to explore her dreams. The work employs vintage fabrics and op shop ties in the hues with which my mother would decorate her home across the decades and the fashions she followed.
Keyboards are now less a skill in and of themselves but a means so many of us use to communicate, shop, write our thoughts, and play. Textiles have changed in a similar way: they are no less present in our lives, but our relationship has changed. The traditional sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery skills passed down from my grandmother to my mother as important tools to make a home, have become a means of expression and exploration, when passed down to me.
Made from minute scraps leftover from my previous works, Days contains a timeline and travels of my own art practice. The approximately 20 000 squares, recreate the days of my life so far. As a group, they all blend together, similar though unique, frayed, complex, simple, broken, amazing and any other combination on any given day. Held on by a thread. A life and a day can go from happiness to sorrow and back.
These individual days are shown in their complexity, detail and contrasts when scaled-up in Days Like This. Minute details which are glossed over in the context of the whole, make up the subject matter of these individual works.
A little over a year ago I answered a call for proposals to Midland Junction Arts Centre for their 2018 exhibition program. Projects with a connection to the Midland region were encouraged.
My Nanna came from Melbourne to live in the Midland area in 1941 after a proposal by Grandfather. Below – Midland Junction Railway Station where my Grandfather was waiting to meet my Nanna arriving on the Transcontinental Railway, image courtesy of the Swan Local History Collection. My Mother and Father went to High School at what is now the Midland Junction Arts Centre. My Mother’s classroom is now the East Gallery where my exhibition will be held. My Mother, her Father, Grandfather, Uncles and Cousins all worked at the Government Railways in Midland…it felt like the right place to exhibit.
For a number of years, I have also been thinking about the contrasts between my life and those of my Mother and Nanna. Nan started her married life away from her family in an isolated city during WW2 with the hardships of rationing and very hot summers. My Mum had to resign from her job in order to marry my Father, because the “Marriage Bar” was still in place denying women to work in the Public Service after they were married. Below – My Mum, a young 19 year old on her last day at work just before she got married. This was on the cusp of the Women’s Lib movement and the introduction of the contraceptive pill (for married women only). My generation has had many more freedoms, but also the expectation to “do it all”.
It has been a delight to explore the family stories of the maternal women in my family through this project. You can discover a lot of information through historical records, significant dates such as births, deaths and marriages, but personal letters and documents, and multiple conversations with my Mother this year, have given me a much greater insight to the choices she has made, the challenges she and my Nanna have faced, and the lovely incidental stories. We spent a wonderful day exploring the Midland area she grew up in and more recently we visited the Midland Library to view old photographs held in the City of Swan Local History Collection where we discovered photos of old Midland landmarks. A wonderful surprise was finding this one below. My Grandfather as a child and his parents are among this group.
We did our own version of Home Delivery last week. Not the uber eats kind, the fascinating Julia Zemiro ABC series where she takes a person back to their childhood hometown kind.
My parents and I spent a lovely afternoon starting by checking out St Mary’s Church, Middle Swan where they were married, along with my Grandparents, my sister, myself and many other family members. My Great Grandparents are also buried here.
We drove past the site of my Great Grand parents house, also the locations of my Mum’s childhood home and those of several of her friends, houses no longer…carparks and shopping centres seem to have taken over.
My fathers childhood home is still there, and I drive past whenever I am nearby…it’s much, much smaller than I remember.
Mum pointed out lots of other places that were part of her childhood and teenage years; the local butcher, the dentist, the oval, all have stories, some good, some awful (especially the dentist).
Next we wandered around the Midland Railway workshops. Many family members worked here. Mum’s first job straight out of school was in the office.
Photo opportunities abound here if you have a love of doors, windows, peeling paint and old rusty things…
Then onto the Dome Cafe were we had coffee in a room that was Mum’s Year Two classroom when it was Midland Primary School.
The old school hall with Mum’s classroom in the distance.
Lastly, across the road to Midland High School, now Midland Junction Art Centre. Standing outside the building she said “That window on the left was my classroom”. “That’s now the East Gallery were my exhibition is to be held!” I said. Who’d have thought!
I’ve known parts of these stories for many years and it was lovely to make the visual connections and hear delightful anecdotal stories along the journey. I strongly recommend an afternoon adventure like this.
I recently signed a Letter of Agreement confirming a solo exhibtion for November 2018!
This is my first solo show in a very, very long time, so it’s very exciting and naturally a little daunting.
My proposal was for a completely new body of work with a change of focus, and I’ve really enjoyed spending lots of time researching and exploring (and going/googling slightly off track). My Nan’s Anne of Green Gables books are part of this research for ideas and images. This set was published in 1928 and have been loved by several generations of our family.A lot of my work over the past few years has been on the theme of Silver Linings and I am very ready to move onto this next body of work, one that I have been thinking about for a few years now.
I started working on one very large piece in mid December and I am delighted that it was completed over the weekend and is now wrapped ready to go! One tick!
In between this I have been sampling other ideas, various forms of printing and stitching samples and ideas still partially formed. Other works are mostly a mystery…every now and then I get a great idea in the shower, out walking or when driving somewhere, but more research and testing of these ideas will prove whether or not they will work.
When taking on a project this big, many other things need to be put aside. I am amazed at how many other really interesting exhibitions/projects/opportunities have landed in my inbox since I made a commitment to this exhibition. It’s taking a dedicated effort to say not now to many of them.