As some of you will know, the last few weeks have been busy as plans came to fruition and SEW: Together – the Legacy of Marion Stewart, the exhibition celebrating our lecturer in embroidery at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, opened to the public on 11th May. This exhibition runs until 20th July in the Lamb Gallery, Dundee University and it celebrates our friend, as well as lecturer, who through her skill and expert knowledge inspired many of her students to teach those skills and continue the tradition of art textiles she learned at Glasgow School of Art. It seemed a good idea therefore to interview an old friend, Pauline Hann, who was also taught by Marion and who started the exhibiting group Embryo, Dundee Textile Artists. After a Post Grad year at art college, Pauline became a teacher and spent many years teaching in DoJCAD. When she left, she worked for some years at Glenalmond School in Perthshire, but she comes from an artistic and creative family with a portrait painter, aerial photographer flying bi-planes, a milliner, dressmaker and graphic designer in her family history so it is perhaps unsurprising that she became an artist who stitches. Pauline and I were at college at the same time but I started our Conversation by asking how she reflected on her time at DoJCAD. Pauline, do you feel that the education we received has continued to inform your work?
- I started Art College in 1967 and on reflection, I realise how privileged we were, as we were relatively small numbers with great tutors. I think we benefited greatly from having studied a broad spectrum of subjects within a 2 year general course. In particular, I think this gave us a really strong foundation which helped those of us who went into education.
Like me you studied printed textiles and embroidery, and we are just about to open an exhibition celebrating our tutor Marion Stewart. How do you look back on Marion’s enthusiastic support of her students?
- Marion was a very inspiring and supportive tutor. She had the knack of coming into the embroidery studio and saying the most pertinent thing to help move your work forward. She could be strict and certainly gave us a strong work ethic. I remember she once said to me “Pauline, that is excellent, but you need to work twice as quickly!” She nurtured a very creative atmosphere within the studio, whilst also giving us a very strong technical grounding. Her support for me was even more important in my career as she was instrumental in recruiting me to teach at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design immediately after my graduation in 1973, a decision I have been eternally grateful for. I went on to have a 30 year career there.
“Marion’s influence came to the fore [in this pulpit fall], as I incorporated gold and silver work into the fall, a skill which she had introduced me to at College. It is richly embroidered on Thai silk and uses a range of coloured whites and creams.”
Pauline, you were one of the prime movers to start Embryo, Dundee Textile Artists. How much do you think membership of a group, working and exhibiting with like-minded people, contributes to your creative practice?
- I was the founder Chairwoman of Embryo in 1978. As Embroidery was not then a main study in Dundee as in Glasgow, Marion in her usual forthright manner said to me “You will be compared to the Glasgow School of Art group, so the Dundee group must be good.” Thankfully, it was. We started with relatively small numbers, but over the years we grew, attracting members who had not only studied Textiles and Embroidery, but Drawing and Painting, Illustration etc. For me, working and exhibiting alongside other practitioners was crucial to my development at that time. In my capacity as an Art College lecturer, I also organised workshops and lectures which helped many of our members develop and focus their ideas. In the early days, I recruited Sally Payne to teach some workshops in the Art College and she continues this contribution to Edge to this day.
What are your favourite processes and techniques?
- My practice is very much materials lead. As a student I worked for couture dressmakers and was lucky to be given a wide range of fantastic fabric offcuts and 50 years later, I am still using these. Depending on my subject matter, I work in a wide variety of mixed media including block and screen print, applique, machine and hand embroidery and digital manipulation These techniques feature in ‘Impressions of India’, a piece based on a trip to India. I also enjoy working in 3D as can be seen in ‘Long Tally Silly’. Many of the fabric manipulation and handling techniques learned from my period with the couturiers are featured in this piece. This work also reflects my interest in the memories that fabrics can evoke, as it contains textiles that I printed at College over 48 years ago.
I always ask artists about their working spaces. Can you describe your studio and do you like working in silence or listening to music, audiobooks or the radio?
- Having recently moved house I now have a small, but very useful studio space. Storage is a bit of an issue, so I am in the process of buying an outhouse for extra space, I have also just tiled our sun lounge, to allow for wet work such as felt-making. I always have the radio on, usually Classic FM.
You have exhibited widely with Embryo and, since its inception, edge – textile artists scotland. Is exhibiting, having a project, an important element in your practice?
- Exhibiting with a group is very important to me. Having an exhibition deadline to meet provides a certain discipline. Textile work aside, the groups Embryo and Edge have also helped to forge great friendships which have endured over many years. Many Embryo members have known each other for over 50 years and embroidery and textiles have been instrumental in keeping these friendships alive. Edge exhibitions in recent years have often been to a theme and these provide a range of new and exciting challenges. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Stitch in Rhyme’ theme which was based on Scottish poetry.
Do you have a regular drawing habit or how do you keep the visual notes that inform your work?
- I use photography a great deal and back in the studio I work from these images through drawing and digital manipulation. This approach is particularly evident in my work entitled A Tentsmuir Flora’ a poem by Anna Crowe. I took a lot of photographs in Tentsmuir Forest on the banks of the River Tay, then digitally manipulated them on my laptop and printed them onto silk. For the same work, I carried out a series of detailed pencil studies which I also printed onto silk. For this project I had a substantial digital sketchbook which was sadly stolen when our house was broken into and my laptop stolen. I had it all backed up on a hard drive, but it was stolen too. The message here is put everything in the cloud!
Over the last few years, edge – textile artists scotland has had several very successful exhibitions, with another later this year at Discovery Point, Dundee. Apart from producing work for that, what other plans do you have for the coming months?
- I am still settling in to my new studio and am looking forward to our next exhibition at Discovery Point based on Dundee’s Whaling Industry. Today I got in the mail my copy of ‘Quines’ by Gerda Stevenson, a book of poems about north east Scotland women and lassies. I am looking forward to researching this theme for our 2020 exhibition at the National Library of Scotland. These exhibitions aside, I would like to do some more felt-making and take more of my imagery and digitally manipulate it to print onto fabric. I have only just replaced my old stolen laptop with a state of the art one which has a pen which can draw on the screen, so I will be fascinated to experiment with that. I married for the first time 3 years ago and have moved house twice as well as getting my cataracts lasered, so there have been some inevitable interruptions to my artistic practice. I cannot wait to get down to exciting new projects. Watch this space!
Thank you very much Pauline – it’s lovely to hear about your work and see these super photographs. I’m sure like me you were delighted by the number of people who came along on Friday evening at the opening of the exhibition and it was clear that Marion Stewart was a huge and lasting influence on those of us lucky enough to have been her students. Click on the images to see them at a bigger scale but if you would like to hear more about Pauline’s work plus more information about the work on show in the SEW: Together exhibition you can join Pauline in a Gallery talk later this month. All information about the events organised to accompany the exhibition can be found at the Lamb Gallery link here and you can follow Pauline’s progress with her new work in her new studio at the edge- textile artists scotland website