The latest exhibition to cover the bright, white walls of Stroud’s Pink Cabbage Gallery celebrates the results of a creative collaboration between SIT and Somerset Art Works (SAW). The project, titled Z-Twist, placed three contemporary designer-makers – Lucy Lean, Debbie Smyth and Penny Wheeler – in traditional textile and education settings for a period of three months to enable them to develop new bodies of work, supported by textile manufacturers, local heritage collections, Somerset College equipment and SIT. The exhibition, which opens on Friday 30th May, reveals the fascinating, varied and beautifully wrought results.
I caught up with two of the artists and asked them to explain what they have made and why.
‘The concern which underpins my practice has to do with the human, spiritual and environmental relationship with nature which I explore through mixed media, stitch and textiles. My approach to Z Twist has been influenced by, and reflects my interest in, this relationship and the work that I have intuitively created is characteristically organic.
My residency and industry partner WSP was based in Stroud so, influenced by Stroud’s rich woollen heritage and visits to WSP, I decided to explore felt making and began by experimenting with locally sourced fleece. I have created an experimental group of objects, which I would describe as ‘soft sculptures’, related to a theme based around the idea of cogs, wheels, war and industry.
Two other pieces of work are clay pieces on stretched woollen cloth related to the idea of cloth stretched on tenter hooks.
The materials used for the work derive mostly from my industry partner but also include natural handmade felt and Fullers Earth sourced from a Gloucestershire quarry.’
‘For the residency I have been exploring the concept ‘warmth of belonging’. The warmth we get from textiles, in particular woven blankets, linked to the emotional warmth of belonging to a place, or community, in Somerset. My industrial partner was Fox Brother’s & Co. Ltd, who have been weaving very fine woollen and worsted cloth for gentleman’s suiting and coating in Wellington, Somerset since 1772, so I was travelling frequently from Bath to Taunton by train. On these journeys the dominant feature was the flooding of the Somerset Levels, the awful inevitability of the rising waters, and the misery caused. It was a shocking contrast to the lush, vibrant landscape in spring and summer.
My response to this has been to hand-weave a blanket that reflects on the flooded Levels. The monochrome landscape contrasting with the vibrant yellow lichen on the pollarded trees; the cutting off, isolation, and the disconnection.
Wool as a medium is a departure for me – I like to use more structural yarns like paper – but using Somerset willow, also for the first time, has kept a 3-dimensional aspect to my work.
Z-Twist runs at the Pink Cabbage Gallery, 1 Middle Street, Stroud, GL5 1DZ from Friday 30th May – Friday 13th June. Opening times Wednesday – Saturday.
The three artists will be at the gallery on Saturday 31st May from 11am-2pm, so do take the opportunity to come along and meet them.