Cleo C.

About me  

Born of an unmarried mother, I lived with grand parents for all of my Primary School years.  Home was simple with only just enough money for necessities. I wasable to see my mother only about once every other week but she did support us financially as best she could.  My great uncle was a tailor who was able, through his trade, to help to support the family.  It was through watching him work that I became interested in ‘creating’, making something completely new and beautiful.  My grandmother was also an expert at crochet and could make up and execute her own patterns.  We lived very simply on a large wild plot of land with many fruit trees, reared chickens, took walks and retired early as there was no electricity.  I learned much about the trees, flowers, birds and all natural phenomena.

I read a lot, excelled at school, and spent a lot of time alone on the land, developing, with the help of the old folks, my interest in nature. When he was not sewing my great uncle filled my head with stories of his youth, living and hunting in the deeply forested areas in the mountains.

All my education was in Catholic schools. I do remember the rules and dogma but I also remember that I never took them to heart or was taken in by what I thought were silly ideas.  But I did love the singing of hymns and reveled in being in the church choir.  Years later while at University, I finally admitted that the only reason I went to church was to sing and gave up the charade of church attendance.

Continuing to do well at school I gained entrance to what was considered to be the most prestigious Secondary school in the capital.  This was such a pleasure for my grand parents and mother, and although I was very pleased to have achieved this without much effort it marked a major change in my life.  By this time my mother had married and I went to live with her exchanging my idyllic country life, devoid of modern conveniences, where I felt sheltered and carefree, for the hustle and bustle oftown life, and the need to fit into a much different family situation.

I spent six years in Secondary school, years when I experienced both sympathetic and spiteful teachers, and the sting of distasteful remarks from the well heeled city girls, directed to the handful of us country girls who had somehow managed to invade their domain.  But all was not bleak.  I continued to do well in all academic subjects but struggled in ‘Art’, which seemed to consist only of drawing and painting with watercolours.  My impecunious young life had not included the purchase of simple materials for childhood artistic pursuits so I was always lost and discouraged in those classes where it was taken for granted that everyone would, should, know how to compose a nice water colour of ‘A day at the market’ or know how to do effective pencil shading etc.  However, needlework and embroidery, was like magic to me and I found myself in absolute heaven sitting with my cloth, needle and all those sumptuously coloured threads, creating flowers and scenes from nature.   The needlework periods were always way too short. Those gentle French nuns, expert needlewomen, remain in the same hallowed corner of my memory as my great uncle, the tailor, and granny the crochet expert.

Persistent advocacy by my mother secured me a four year scholarship to a Catholic Women’s College in California. My education in the US was academic, social, political, cultural and so much more.  It was the era of anti-war marches, flower power, LSD, Women’s Lib etc. At times it was very confusing and I seemed to be such a different person from the one that started life in a small country town thousands of miles away, living in circumstances that few of my present colleagues could imagine.

Interestingly, the need to earn money to supplement my scholarship and the funds my family could provide, brought me back to activities that reminded me of my true self.

I began to make garments, embroider and crochetarticles for friends and with the help of easily available books and magazines taught myself to do macramé and simple jewellery, all things that were quite in demand in the ‘back to basics’ movement in vogue at the time.

 I earned my degrees in Biological Science and teaching credentials and at the end of my six years in California I married my husband and returned home to the Caribbean where I had to fulfil my promise to do at least 3 years of teaching.   I enjoyed my teaching in Trinidad, the island of my birth, for twelve years, and later moved here to Antigua with my husband and two daughters and continued my teaching career.

Once more creativity and ‘making’ came back into my life, all be it a bit late.  I felt that I had neglected an important part of my life and needed to get back to making things.  I wanted to try something new and fell in love with the beautiful quilts that I saw in magazines.  It reminded me of the patchwork bed covers that granny had made and which I had forgotten about, perhaps because they had been such a natural part of the landscape of my childhood.  I was hooked and began making baby quilts.  They were ideal for starting out being small and had a definite time frame for completion.

Making these small quilts added a joyful dimension to my life through the happiness they gave to the recipients and the satisfaction I got from re introducing creativity to my life.

After retirement I joined a group of artists to help set up a small gallery which lasted for four years.  After that I joined with two other artists to open a gift shop/ gallery. Though that did not last long, it gave me the satisfaction of seeing my quilts, wall hangings and other small fabric articles on show and on sale, as well as the opportunity and impetus to explore and learn new ways with working with textiles.  Unfortunately there are now very few places to display and sell art on the island.

Nevertheless I am still trying to improve my skills.   I resolve to continue to develop my personal style, though I feel a bit dispirited at times at how late in life I am at what really should be an early stage of creative development.  Still, I am always yearning to create with fabric and work with needle and thread.  I am not really thinking of stopping any time soon.

Likes

I like to do cyanotype and have been incorporating it in hangings as well as using it on its own. There is always plentiful sunshine for the process and I try to keep a supply of treated cloth.    I am trying to move away from traditional piecing for quilts and hangings and move to forging pieces which express my thoughts, feelings and ideas.  I express my love and interest in nature in my use of objects and inspiration from nature, landscapes, leaves, twigs, bark etc in my work.  I also have an interest in using recycled and repurposed objects.

 Passions

I like to encourage appreciation of our beautiful natural environment, and highlight its importance, by featuring many aspects of it in what I do.

Having worked with young people all my life I want to spark a renewed interest in the aspects of textile and needle crafts, that I feel competent to teach.  To this end, I plan to have a free class this summer for youngsters, male or female, in my community.  

I would like to feature women’s issues as well but so far I haven’t got any good ideas on how I might handle this effectively.