Cambridge fibre artist Ann Bell has won the supreme award at this year’s national Creative Fibre exhibition.
“The festival is held every two years and I don’t remember the last time a Cambridge person won it and I’ve been in the society over 20 years,” said Cambridge Creative Fibre member Anne Curtis, who also won three awards at the Palmerston North meet.
“It’s fairly prestigious in our world.”
Ann’s hand-woven wall hanging, Strata, is an artistic imagining of a slice through the earth’s geological layers.
“Everyone’s asking what does it mean and what’s it about?” said the 81-year-old, who has never had any formal art training.
“But stuff doesn’t have to mean anything; it’s in the eye of the beholder, art. I think all this great meaningful stuff is not my scene at all. I make it and if somebody likes it that’s great.”
Fusing metal, wire and cellulose with more traditional fibres, the copper-hued work swerves distinctly into the realm of the unconventional.
“It’s got sheet copper, copper ribbon and copper wire recycled from old TVs, a few strips of film negative, strips of silk that I dyed, fleece wool and yarn that I’ve spun with fine copper wire and Mulberry tree bark that I dyed and painted,” Ann said.
“I think it stood out as being different. It was certainly different to the normal prizes.”
It was so unconventional she wasn’t going to enter into the exhibition.
“But then I read that an embroidery tutor would be taking a class talking about metal and metal thread and Angelina fibre, and I thought oh, I’ll put my piece in because it’s got some of those things in it,” she said.
“I was never more surprised than to actually get it accepted and to win a prize was a big bonus as well.”
Ann began working on the wall-hanging about two months ago, after unearthing an old “box of stuff” left over from a 2009 exhibition.
“So, I found this box with all these bits of stuff – because if you’re like me you don’t throw it out, you might need it, and it’s not trash or rubbish, it’s stuff – and created that wall hanging utilising all the skills I’ve had over the years.”
Strataexposes a cross-section of Ann’s own rich artistic heritage, illuminating the delicious tones and textures of her creativity, exposing her love of experimentation and showcasing techniques consolidated over the eight decades of her life.
It’s all layered over the basic skills she learnt as a child growing up in Gisborne during the war years – knitting, embroidery, sewing her own clothes – as a matter of necessity.
“One of my earliest memories is learning to knit using meat skewers as knitting needles,” she said. “Everything was in pretty short supply so we made the most of what was available.”
She has always loved the feel of different fibres, playing, working with her hands.
“I just loved creating shapes and things,” she said. “I can remember making houses out of shoeboxes and matchboxes, so I was always creating.”
After leaving school Ann moved to Dunedin, qualified as a physiotherapist and met her future husband. The pair travelled overseas together and moved back to Hamilton in 1970 to start a family. When their first baby arrived, Ann began searching for a new hobby and discovered spinning.
“It wasn’t quite so easy to just go out and work like it is now,” she said. “And so I got my first spinning wheel…and from there I started creating knitting and doing stuff. Then I started to learn to weave and I loved doing wall hangings.”
In about 1998 she took a bookmaking class, loved it, and later moved into book art and sculptural work with paper, which she’s been doing and teaching ever since.
Ann’s not sure how she will spend her $2000 prize money, but she may splash out on a fancy frying pan.
Her next goal?
“Oh wake up tomorrow morning and see what I can do, yeah,” the octogenarian said.
“When you get to my age it’s always a bonus to wake up and to be able to go for a walk!”