I explore the personal landscape of emotion and memory. Often, this culminates in recording world events for posterity. Displacement, separation, climate change, and global warming are constant themes in my most recent body of work. The latest large-scale tapestry titled, Torn apart was created in 2019 for the third Interconnections exhibition, which I curated in 2016, 2018, and 2020. It explores the human experience of intersectionality, inequality, and social injustice, through family separation. During the first Covid pandemic lockdown I created a series of works documenting the current and ongoing phases of recovery and reopening of the economy. This theme will continue as the narrative evolves.
Unfortunately, I knew nothing at all about tapestry until the late ’70s, when I stumbled across the weaving department in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin where I was studying Fine Art Painting. I became mesmerized by the work of Theresa Mc Kenna, who had gone to the Edinburgh College of art to study for her Master’s. I was lucky enough to learn the basics of woven tapestry from a wonderful teacher in the weaving department, Evelyn Lindsey, who as it happens had also studied in ECA.
My confidence has grown in my ability to make and exhibit. I now design and make much larger pieces. I love how we meet and share friendships, skills, and knowledge. It’s good to discover that there is a big, wide world of tapestry weavers out there and everyone is in the same boat as regards needing to communicate and exhibit together.
I knew that Evelyn, Theresa, and Mary Cuthbert had all been to Edinburgh, so I did some research and soon learned about Archie Brennan. I made a scaffold upright loom based on his design. I had heard about Maureen Hodge and some other weavers working in the early ’80s. I then worked in isolation from 1980 when I moved to the country, where I took up a full-time teaching post in the local community school as head art teacher and raised a family while continuing to practice and exhibit my work. Alongside this, I managed to complete several large-scale commissions during the ’90s. I joined a group of tapestry weavers who called themselves, Contemporary tapestry artists. Ireland CTA members included Terry Dunne, Mary Cuthbert, Angela Forte, Muriel Beckett, and myself among others. We exhibited together over many years, our aim then and now is to bring tapestry to a wider audience. Then in 2012, I was contacted by Terry Dunne who told me about a workshop run by Pascale De Coninck in Cork facilitated by Joan Baxter which we both attended, and from this meeting, a collaboration grew resulting in both Timelines and Interconnections.
For me, tapestry weaving is about the narrative making a political statement. The emotional connection with the work is more important than having every pass over and under exact. I think I have developed my own way of working that suits me. The basics are the same, but some of the styles are different. I am not obsessed with straight edges or flat surfaces.
I am often outraged by something I see on the news or read in the print media. Usually, it upsets me. It may be about children being separated from their families, or people displaced due to war, climate refugees, or the economy. These images and thoughts swirl about in my mind for days or weeks until I need to get something down on paper and then I begin by drawing. After that, I then might do some rough color studies. I am impatient and want to get started, so I often put on a warp without sampling, or even figuring out my color palette. It just seems to come to me as I progress. My latest body of work created during the first lockdown in March 2020 was a response to the global pandemic. I tried to tell a story of what was happening around me in Ireland and throughout the world, based on the Navajo ideas and symbols of good health, safe travel, and long life.