Artist on File: Barbara Weeks
This month Belinda Naylor-Stables reviews the inspiration and work of HVA member Barbara Weeks – Designer-Maker.
Barbara is a woman of certain years, a slim summer blonde exuding an outward bound glow and energetic charisma. ‘I’m a member of the London Mountaineering Club!’ She laughs as though she doesn’t believe it herself. ‘I’m not so active right now but twenty something years ago we had brilliant family holidays with fellow members in mountain areas all over Europe.’ It was on one of these expeditions that Barbara, already trained to teach ‘Dress and Embroidery’ met Jenny Gilliland, a past President of the Quilters Guild. On joining the Guild Barbara discovered a whole new focus for stitched textiles.
In her brochure Barbara sums up her work: ‘I use layered and stitched textiles to evoke memories of time and place and to record my travels as well as everyday observations closer to home.’ Yet talking to Barbara about her work and lifestyle I get the impression that it is her interaction with nature that both energises and inspires her. She told me, ‘I can take a break from work and enjoy a brisk woodland walk, kicking leaves in Autumn, breathing in the intoxicating scent of bluebells in Spring…’ Past themes have included woodland, coastline, as well as what Barbara calls ‘knockout architecture’.
‘I love Foster’s Buildings and Gaudi’s mosaic style. A few years ago I was blown away by Gaudi’s Barcelona. My quilt design started out as an exploration in stripped patchwork – but I found the technique too limiting and developed a mosaic style instead.’
Ever the explorer, as a traveller but also as an attitude towards her media, what followed were a number of visits to EasyJet locations each resulting in a range of brilliantly coloured mosaic quilts. ‘This became quite obsessive,’ she says.
The ‘Coastlines’ series began with an eco-friendly walking holiday on the Northumberland Coast. Here I’m interested in the juxtaposition of black and white prints with linen and silk fabrics, dyed only with tea bags or black dyes… The restricted palette allows me to concentrate on the qualities in the cloth and effects of the stitched mark.’
So if nature, light and architecture provide the inspiration - what happens next? ‘Creating colour on cloth is always the starting point.’ Barbara explains. ‘I might spend a week immersed in this, start the project and then realise I need more colours! I have gradually moved from working with procion on cotton to exploring mixed textures of silks using steam-fixed dyes for silk. I’m more attracted to simple techniques that can be achieved without a wealth of technology.’
This intermingling of subject with strong, vibrant colour is evident in Barbara’s latest series ‘Trapping Colour, Catching Light’. Her daughter Rebecca is a marine biologist based near the Great Barrier Reef from 2006-10 and more recently in Fiji in 2011 and Barbara, of course, has taken the opportunity to visit. She is encapsulating the experience through a Journal Quilt Project which is now in its fifth year! It involves producing a quilt a month on this theme. Barbara said ‘These small pieces give me the opportunity to experiment and provide the starting point for larger quilts.’
Barbara has a long list of exhibitions and articles to her name and people are clearly inspired by her work in a myriad of different ways. Some of these latest works have been exhibited throughout the UK with the Contemporary Quilt group of the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles. ‘I also had the opportunity to show all the work to date, along with Rebecca’s inspirational photos in a gallery space at the NEC Festival of Quilts in August 2011.’
Although modest about her commissions I have the feeling that through her travels, teachings and exhibitions Barbara picks up a strong following often resulting in requests for special pieces. ‘I was especially pleased about a series of three for Hammersmith Hospital Trust. This actually came about by a new arts officer clearing out her desk and finding one of my cards.’ Another commission involved a textile project in a local junior school funded by NADFAS. Wetherspoons also commissioned two pieces for the Waterend Barns in St Albans, which Barbara believes came about through exhibiting in Open Studios.
Many members will recognise Barbara from her local role in the HVA Textile Group and reporting to the HVA Organising Group on its successes. Though recently Barbara has been further afield teaching in France, Athens and New Zealand – and plans a trip to Dubai in early 2012. The latter two visits include International Quilt Shows.
Talking about ‘playing’ with cloth and ‘rediscovering essential pleasures of patchwork’ Barbara clearly loves this artistry and spreading the sheer joy of it to others. She currently tutors City and Guilds ‘Design and Craft’ courses in Stitched Textiles/Patchwork and Quilting at Missenden Abbey, Buckinghamshire and Studio 39 in Baldock, Hertfordshire. You can find more examples of Barbara’s work and details about her lectures and workshops at: www.barbaraweeks.com.
by BELINDA NAYLOR-STABLES