An inspirational talk – Julia O’Connell

This last week I went to our monthly Guild meeting.  The Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers meet at Stratford College, usually on the third Friday of the month.  This month we had a visiting speaker, Julia O’Connell, to talk about the “Godiva Awakes” project that was part of the culteral olympiad, where 12 regions of the country create an object of art to represent their region.  Godiva Awakes represented the West Midlands.

Julia, is a textile artist, and is drawn to incorporating peoples stories into her work.  I was particularly struck by the very emotive straight jacket she had produced based on a man’s experience of 1960′s childrens homes.  The straight jacket had his description of his experience screen printed onto it.

Julia was approached to create a coat that would draw together peoples stories from over all over the West Midlands.  However, this was no ordinary coat, this was to clothe a 5 metre high animatronic puppet that was going to walk or ride from Coventry to Westminster.

(picture from Coventry Observer)

Julia had various artists go to different areas to collate stories of peoples experiences in industry, they then brought back their stories to act as the inspiration for the designs on the coat.  The frill around the neck of the coat, is based on a glove forms from Worcester.  Each one cut out from lightweight material so that it had movement as Godiva walked.  There were many embroidered patterns too throughout the coat of glove forms, and buttons made from leather.

Smethwich provided the inspiration for the glass cufflinks. The Potteries gave rise to some stunning applique work based on the topside view of teapots, along with the various colours of glazes that have been used over the years for another part of the coat.  Beautiful embroidered beetles were found in various places on the coat, which came from the story from the Black Country, where children used to collect beetles to play with and race.  A more modern industry was also represented, based on the Oliver Twins from Leamington Spa, who are part of the gaming industry, so pacman was there, along with technical circuit board like maps.

There is an element to the coat of the story continuing to unfold.  Rather than protecting the coat from the elements (of which there were many last summer) they added to the story of the coat, so the rain made the collar curl, and the colour of the coat changed as it got soaked by the rain.

The lining of the coat had various screen printings of Godiva on, along with 7,000 tailors tacks, which I thought was an inspired idea.  To go along with the stories intertwined within the coat, there was a tailors tack for each person who had contributed to the project, from engineers creating the puppet, to investors, from artists, to the people who told their stories. Then as Godiva made her way to London, some of these tacks would fall out, leaving a trace, a legacy of her being there.  This project took 3 years to be realised, I can imagine the legacy that it made on those involved has been immense, but it too leaves an impression, and acts as an inspiration to all those who have seen it.  My words cannot do it justice, but needless to say, I have  collected some of those tailors tacks that had fallen out at the talk to add to my sketchbook.


The next generation

Today was a busy day.  I spent it in the company of around 90 year 3 children at my son’s school. They are doing a topic of farming, and I had offered to go in and show them the journey that wool takes from the sheep to yarn and beyond.  Of course I couldn’t take photos whilst there, and I was far too busy anyway!  But here is my own next generation doing a spot of carding earlier in the year.

At school we looked at what fibres could be spun, including silk, cotton, flax, angorra, and alpaca and of course wool.  I had some sample of some of these and passed them around.

We looked at raw fleece, felt the lanolin in it, and the children insisted on smelling it too!  We thought about the process the fleece goes through, from washing, carding and spinning, to dyeing and being made into a product of some kind.

To get them thinking about what spinning does, they first had some newspaper cut up into similar lengths to a lock of fleece.  How could they string these together only using their hands and the paper.  All of the groups asked if they could lick it!  Only a couple of children out of the 90 figured out the twisting of it (and one of those was my own son, who kind of knew anyway!)

There was just enough time for some of the children to have a go at carding and spinning, and they kept their spun wool as a memento of the day.

There were some interesting questions, and some interesting ideas.  It was absolutely exhausting, but the response from the children was fantastic.  I just wish I had enough time for them all to have a go.