Basketmaker Sarah Paramor and weaver Jennifer Green transformed a collaborative residency that began in Halifax, Nova Scotia, last year into an inspiring and productive remote residency and encourage like-minded makers to try one.
This blog is part of a series by the Scottish makers participating in a programme of residencies with makers in Mexico, Thailand and Canada as part of the AAS international exchange project to create new work on the themes of identity and sustainability for an exhibition, Meet Make Collaborate.
In May I should have been on a residency in Thurso. Instead, I have been enjoying a creative WhatsApp exchange while in lockdown at home…
In October 2019, in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia, Applied Arts Scotland paired me with super-talented woven textile artist Jennifer Green. That week, we met whenever we could, fitting round Jennifer’s teaching schedule (she is Assistant Professor of Textiles at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design), and my regular dates with Lobster Rolls… I was allocated the most amazing studio – a workspace in the woodshop, overlooking the ocean (except when a pesky cruise ship blocked the view); there we talked footwear, exchanged reading matter (I was introduced to Wild Dress by Kate Fletcher), images and ideas, and then we sat on the floor and just began to make…
I use traditional basketry skills and unusual materials (from corsetry boning to tape measures, moss to maps) to create contemporary basketry pieces for exhibition and the catwalk.
I often follow a narrative thread, and initial research led me to Mary Campbell who, having survived the perilous journey from Applecross on the west coast of Scotland (where I live) to Nova Scotia on a warship in 1803, “took charge of the cows and with a sickle she reaped enough food for the three cows for the winter”. Later, she “drowned in Farrnet Bay. She was crossing in a boat alone, taking a tub of butter to a shoemaker in payment for his work”. Mary intrigued me: her use of Highland skills to forge a fresh identity; the exchange of butter for the handiwork of the shoemaker; crossing the sea, yet eventually being claimed by it…
Jennifer specialises in woven textile design, has designed for mills in Britain and Japan and collaborated on projects relating to fashion, vehicle design, footwear and accessories. Jennifer is keen to investigate our connection to the natural world through textiles, how the land can be a unifying force for making, and how fashion can deepen our connection with nature. We have a lot in common, have both lived in London, and discovered our “one degree of separation”: Kirsty McDougall, head of Weave at the Royal College of Art and founder of Dashing Tweeds.
Our early explorations came together in a series of footwear images and ideas for our final piece.
We then communicated regularly, building on the solid foundations we had made in Canada in the fall. We considered CNC machining, laser cutting, felting, matting, braiding, weaving, coiling, and heat setting to transform various materials and develop encasings for the foot. We were due to meet again in Scotland in May 2020 in preparation for the “Meet, Make, Collaborate” exhibition. Of course, COVID-19 scuppered that… so we created the next best thing: a remote residency! This has seen us in daily WhatsApp contact, meeting at lunchtime for me (breakfast time for Jennifer), watched over by Boston terrier Compost.
Thoughts of identity, place and sustainability have necessarily been focused by the current pandemic. We have talked, watched a film (The Grand Bizarre by Jodie Mack), folded paper, ribbon and photos, plaited and spun moss, carved beeswax with an antler, studied images of shoes in the V&A, exchanged photographs and videos, discussed types of walking, Gaelic and looms, shared making tips and excerpts from books… Collaboration at its absolute best, from the comfort of home (though one day I “took” Jennifer to see the sea, and views out to the Isle of Skye, and was treated to a walk along a disused railway line in Halifax!)
All in all an inspiring, creative and productive time, and one in the eye to Coronavirus!
Work on our collaborative piece (provisionally titled “Where We Tread”) continues; we have the luxury of a little more time until the “Old Stories: New Narratives” symposium and “Meet, Make, Collaborate” exhibition, coming soon(ish) to Inverness and later to Halifax. The Shift Canada element comprises work by ten makers (five in Canada, five in Scotland) – jewellers, ceramicists, textile artists…
If you have an online connection and can find a like-minded maker, I highly recommend a remote residency!
Image: Material development in Halifax Photo: Jennifer Green
The Meet Make Collaborate exhibition is part of an international project by Applied Arts Scotland SCIO in partnership with the British Council Crafting Futures programme including the British Council Mexico and British Council Thailand, the British Council Scotland, High Life Highland, Museums Galleries Scotland and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and funded by Creative Scotland, Edinburgh College of Art and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.