My story so far…..
This week’s exercise has been a fascinating experience, delving into the past and recording memories, but 5 densely written pages in I’m still at junior school! I dont want to stop as it has unearthed some interesting connections that I hadnt thought about before, but for the sake of progressing through week 8 I’ve decided to summarise my biography. It’s been so interesting reading everyone’s so far, not sure mine can live up.
I was born in 1955 to a recently married young couple, in Peterborough, then a small market town. I was born in a very grand building, Thorpe Hall, then the gables but now a hospice. Two weeks later my parents moved into a newly built bungalow in Francis Gardens on the edge of town - my Mum is still there 60 years later, my Dad died just before the millenium. A few years after we moved in and my brother was born, my Gran and Grandad Charles (step grandad) moved in next door but one, on the green. They passed on many years ago but Kevin now lives next door to my Mum and I live just around the corner, with my partner, in a house that was finished the month I was born. Sounds rather like us Bruces have lived our lives within a hundred yards of one another, but I actually moved away for about 10 years and came back. What’s the saying about apples not falling far from the tree?
When I was growing up, Francis Gardens was on the edge of the countryside. Grandad Charles, a real Fen boy, took me walking along the hedgerows and corn fields, teaching me the names of all the creatures and plants. (Peterborough is on the edge of the Fens, a very flat agricultural landscape drained from marshes with vast horizons - Fen men were eel and duck trappers, known locally as ‘fen boys’). I was a reasonably academic child, did well at school, passed my 11 plus and went to the girls grammar school in town (the ‘County School’). Natural History was always my subject and I went off to Manchester University to study Zoology and loved every minute of it. I also loved Manchester and the friendliness of northerners, so stayed there after graduating and went into a career in IT. Much as I would have loved to be a career zoologist, I was a generalist and wanted to be the next David Attenborough (job still taken thankfully) rather than researching in minute detail something obscure. In hindsight, it would probably have suited me very well, but there was very little funding for research in the late 70s and I had a much more academic astrophysicist boyfriend to support. In fact, I did very well in IT, took to programming very quickly and then straight into systems analysis. Unfortunately, living in the commercial world didnt mix so well with the academic partner and we grew apart. It’s a rather unusual pleasure to be woken up by him on the radio every now and then as a BBC Science correspondent! Fortunately, the next man on the horizon was altogether more suitable and a keeper. We are still together, unmarried and happily childless 35 years later, with just the responsibility of looking after 4 cats (the current count).
In search of better jobs, we came back East and eventually moved back into Francis Gardens. In the period I had been away, Peterborough had become a development city and had changed radically. The fields that I used to walk in have all gone, other than a short strip alongside a major road, although it only takes me 15 minutes to drive out to lovely countryside (to the west its not so flat!). I carried on working in IT, commuting down to London for a short period until that burned me out. Throughout this time I had been knitting and stitching, following the family tradition - using patterns but always changing them to suit. By chance a girl I had been at school with came to work in my office - she had actually been a close friend of a girl I grew up with, but I hadnt know her well. Thrown together in an office that was largely male, we discovered a shared interest in knitting and needlework, and our friendship blossomed. We went on trips to museums and textile shows and eventually she persuaded me to join her in an evening class (City and Guilds Textiles). To cut a long story short, the class didnt run so we joined the Embroidery class, but Elaine ducked out of it after a few months! I persevered and it was like a whole new world to me, as if my eyes had been opened. I passed Part 1 with a distinction after 2 years, but there wasnt enough interest in Part 2 at that time and I had to go the distance learning route, 6 weekends a year in Wiltshire (quite a distance away). Never regretted it though! Incidentally, my Mum (a good artist and needlewoman) started the course a few years after me and Elaine took it up again and they both finished the course together.
The next step was to enrol on a distance learning part-time stitched textiles degree course (Opus) - a big step as I had to go part time at my IT job to fit the work in. Have to say it was the right decision and the course was so fulfilling. It took 6 years to graduate (with a first class degree), but I feel that I came out of it as a textile artist. Opus had their own exhibiting group, Prism, that put on high profile annual shows (its still going and independently run, in fact I have curated recent shows and am now co Chair). Another coincidence led me to exhibiting with the ‘Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef’ as a core reef contributor (the only one whose work is not crocheted or coral!) first at the Hayward Gallery and then all over the world, including the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (you can imagine how exciting that was!). With great timing, shortly after I graduated in 2008 I was made redundant from my job - so am now a full time textile artist.
As well as exhibiting, I’ve undertaken a number of residencies in heritage sites and museums in the last few years. These involve a lot of research and often site specific installations and are wonderful opportunities. I’ve just finished a textile residency with the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth, which is housed in an old herring smoking warehouse, from the days when fishermen and herring girls migrated along the North Sea Coast following the ‘silver darlings’. I’m working on a shoal of knitted herring that will have gansey stitched patterns based on the museums collections, that will be exhibited in the museum next year. Balancing work for these residencies, which can take 6-9 months, with developing my own more personal work for exhibition can be a challenge, but there’s obviously a cross fertilisation of ideas and processes between the two so I see this as a bonus.
In a nutshell then, I started of a scientist, had a career in technology and am now working as an artist - and really feel I’m in the right place now.