Artist on File: Janie Graham

Janie Graham

This month Clare Kendal Bate visited HVA Member Janie Graham - ceramic and applied artist

Janie grew up in Edinburgh, studying for a BA in Business at the Heriot-Watt University.  She met her future husband there and in 1979, immediately after giving birth to her first child, he was offered a job in London, so they all headed south.  For several years after arriving Janie worked as a Private Secretary to the Chief Accountant in a large banking organisation in the city until she had her second child.

Bringing up children and being the carer to her sick Mother took up the next few years of her life. When her Mother had to go into full time care, Janie decided, with the encouragement of her husband, to fulfil a lifelong dream of returning to University to take an art degree.

In 1997, Janie had been visiting Hatfield House and seen a stand there advertising places on an Access course for degrees in art. ‘I had always wanted to study art at University, but as was common in those days, was told to be practical and learn secretarial work’. Janie studied on a part-time basis, specialising later in 3D Ceramics, mould making and plaster. She graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts, 1st Class Honours degree in Applied and Media Arts at the University of Hertfordshire.

Degree work
Sewing was an inherited talent from her tailoress Grandmother and Janie became extremely proficient. ‘I made textile quilts for the children throughout their childhood and when they left University, which inspired me to create a ceramic version.’


Close-up of Quilt

‘My degree piece was a ceramic memory quilt based on personal memories around my Mother. I found that creating this piece had a hugely beneficial effect on me, helping me work through all the issues that arise with the death of a parent. My tutor, Antje Ilner, who is also a jeweller and a tutor at the Royal College of Arts in London, was incredibly encouraging and supportive throughout the process’.

The title of the quilt is ‘Material Memories’ and it was exhibited in the graduate gallery of the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in 2004.

The quilt comprises of 357 slip-cast porcelain ‘patches’ which were moulded, cast in porcelain, fired, then glazed with decal prints and fired again. The faceted boxes are linked by crimps and special tension wire bought from a medical supplier.  A very inventive touch has been added in the form of two ceramic labels, echoing tags found on textiles, ‘washing instructions’ and ‘made by’.  The impressive piece that measures 1.19 x 1.47 metres took around 5 months to develop and construct.



The design incorporates patterns that remind Janie of her childhood, such as her mum’s cardigan, the pattern on their sofa, some blue and white china and a Victorian wall-hung tapestry bag.  The sepia colour reflects the tones of an old photograph.  Printed on all of the patches is a very beautiful quote by Jamaica Kincaid, the Caribbean novelist, called ‘Generations of Women’: “I have a mother and I know her now and she had a mother and she used to know her mother, her mother is now dead and so is my mother. I have a daughter and she has a mother, and I am that, her mother.”

Janie showed me two books she had created to accompany this artwork entitled ‘Remembering’ and ‘Mending’. They are beautifully and elegantly presented and give an insight in to what informs her work. They invoke all the memories of childhood, with many fascinating photographs and documents.  Several images are of Janie’s Mother when a young girl, she was an acrobatic dancer known as Aimee, The Versatile Juvenile. 

Professional work and exhibitions

'Deer in box', by Janie Graham

'Deer in box' by Janie Graham

After Janie graduated she created several delicate dioramas of scenes of wildlife. ‘The emphasis of this work is on the silhouette and the complex surface qualities I achieve through a variety of techniques. It invites the play of light: creating shadow and mystery. I work mostly in earthenware, including slip and paper clay.’  Janie also made some smooth, sleek bowls and vessels all tying in with the containment of memories theme.

Janie has exhibited at the Parndon Mill gallery in Harlow and twice showed her work at the New Maynard Gallery in WGC and the SDC galleries in London, which provides a showcase for fine, hand crafted goods made by members of the Society of Designer Craftsmen (SDC).  She has twice been invited to exhibit her work in the Mall Galleries, Pall Mall, London, by SDC.  The Hub in Lincolnshire saw her creations and subsequently invited her to display her work there in 2010. 

Janie has also taken part in our Open Studios many times, sharing her gallery space with the ceramic artist Charlotte Munck.

Different directions

For your eyes only

'For your eyes only' by Janie Graham

Janie is currently taking her work in a different direction, moving on from ceramics to what she calls ‘recycling books’. ‘I love old books and wanted to revitalise and restore them in some way’. Using the book title and subject matter as inspiration she creates clever references in her art, such as an old hardback copy of Ian Fleming’s novel, ‘For Your Eyes Only’.   The pages have been cut away in the shape of spectacles, and a beautiful antique pair of pince-nez nestles inside.  

When her children left home Janie was feeling ‘empty nest syndrome’ and that was the inspiration behind her using an old book on Birds Eggs. It is cut with the shapes of branches and leafs protruding, with a birds nest in the middle with the word ‘empty’ inside.

‘There are two things I look for in a book - a great cover which would become a part of the artwork, - or a title which sparks off an idea.  My first altered book had a lovely cover so I left it alone and simply folded the pages to achieve a crisp, interesting form’.  The 'test tube' work, started life as a book on medicine and Janie cut the text into strips and re-presented it in a group of test tubes.  "You might call it an experiment. I think a book can still be a book even when completely deconstructed; it may just be presented in an altered or unusual format."

'Test Tubes & Science Book' by Janie Graham

Janie’s most recent work was in the ‘Summer Exhibition’ at Molewood Arts in Hertford and she will be exhibiting in ‘Bring on the Heat’ at Harding House Gallery, Lincoln in July/August. (
Janie Graham e-mail:
Telephone: 01727 859463