A personal mythology
Found tangle-ball, driftwood, shells, wire grid, bees wax and felted sheep wool encased within an old wooden drawer.
In 1983, a year that now feels distant and part of another world I graduated from Stourbridge College of Technology and Art with a BA in Fine Art. Then, having spent a short while teaching art as a volunteer at a day centre for disabled people and feeling somewhat adrift from the art world, I veered off into a career in social work. I qualified in 2001 and went on to gain a BSc in Health and Social Care and a teaching qualification which enabled me to supervise social work students during their practice placements at the University of Wolverhampton. Although very demanding, I loved this work and developed a successful career leading to my ‘dream job’ as Director of Care and Support at a Housing Association in Wolverhampton where I stayed for almost 20 years. In 2015, after a company take-over I was made redundant from this long-time job. This unexpected event proved to be a traumatic but significant turning point in my life.
In 1994 my son Kallum was born. He was diagnosed as having a learning disability and autism in 1997, one of those 'your future suddenly happens' moments. I re-entered the world of disability but this time from a personal perspective, as a family carer.
Following the redundancy, I started making art again wondering if this may now be the right time to revive my creative practice. In 2016 I took a leap of faith and began renting an art studio at The Ruskin Glass Centre a mile or so from my home with only a vague idea of what might be possible. I set off, rather hesitantly in a new direction thinking I might somehow combine my social work, caring experience and art practice in some way.
In 2017, as a means of following my interest in archaeology, reconnecting with art education and developing my practice I completed the Art and Contemporary Theory and Practice module of the MLitt Archaeological Studies course at the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI). This experience signalled another important turning point, introducing me to the extraordinary place that is Orkney and giving me the confidence to continue pursuing this new direction.
I really liked UHI’s approach to students and felt both supported and challenged by the tutors so I went on to undertake the MA in Art and Social Practice at UHI, Shetland between 2017 and 2020. I graduated in July 2020 with a distinction. It might sound rather melodramatic but this course changed my life! It provided exactly what I had been looking for, the knowledge and means to incorporate my professional and personal care giving experience with collaborative, interdisciplinary art making. As a result I now co-run Workshop 24, a community interest company with sound artist, Bill Laybourne in my hometown of Stourbridge.
The Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Orkney in particular, its landscape, history and people continued to inspire my practice. In February 2021 at the age of 59 I started the Masters of Research degree (MRes) in Creative Practice with UHI Shetland and UHI Orkney, picking up the thread of human-limpet inquiry that had emerged during the MA.
This varied and interconnected landscape of practice which evolved over almost forty years formed and continues to inform my lived experience, identity and standpoint as an older-woman-carer-artist. It is at the heart of my research process.
Over the past few years, as my art-based research has developed and become more public I seem to have acquired the name ‘limpet-woman’. This first became apparent at an exhibition where I overhead a conversation between two gallery-goers. “Is the limpet-women here?” one asked. “Yes, that’s her over there” replied the other, looking in my direction. For a while I secretly enjoyed being recognised in this way but I have now outwardly adopted the character. The title is growing into an identity or perhaps a kind of personal mythology, a position from which I, the older-woman-carer-artist can reflect, critically evaluate, represent my personal interest and experience and hopefully connect with others in the process.
Found tangle-balls, driftwood, shells, dried hold-fast, Catshark egg case, limpet-spoon and glass beads encased within an old millinery box.