The collaborative project Woolly Thinking was a great opportunity for all the resident artists at Oxheys to get involved in one project.
Each artist has their own set of interests and skills to bring to a project like this so it was the perfect opportunity for everyone to muck in, do what they wanted to do and contribute in their own way. The sum of the whole was the greater because of that collaboration. The concept came about during an informal conversation among residents – we wanted to do something that would involve us all whilst also reflecting on the past history of our old mill as well as the historical, agricultural and spiritual connections in Preston and the surrounding area.
After much discussion and a couple of meetings to throw around ideas and inspiration, we agreed on the concept and everyone started adding their own ideas to the mix.
Our first port of call was Laund’s Farm outside Chipping, a sheep farm that produces delicious cheese and milk from their flock. We got a call to say they were shearing back in June, so a few of us travelled up to the farm to observe the shearing, on a gloriously sunny day. As we watched the guys shearing hundreds of sheep in a relatively short period of time, we were amazed at the speed at which they work and Denise photographed the process, which was to form one of the exhibits. We also took the opportunity to buy and sample some of the delicious cheeses and decided to include a selection in the private view along with some rather nice wine.
From there the project unfolded as everyone became interested in their own aspect and we planned the activities to form part of the Lancashire Encounter festival for 2016. Over a few meetings, we explained to Preston City Council and the Harris Museum what we were planning and they seemed to like the idea, so gradually it started to take shape.
Gordon works in ink, drawing meticulous, mysterious imagined maps so we asked him to draw the Woolly Thinking Map – this would illustrate the relationships between the various places in and around Preston with links to the wool trade and show the relevance to Oxheys and all the mills around Preston.His research unearthed some fascinating facts and information about the relationship between sheep and Preston, as shown in his map which is available to buy as a print.
Caroline works in textiles and does weaving, knitting, crochet, embroidery and makes things. When she acquired an old vintage spinning wheel and was so excited about it, it became clear that she could weave the wool as a live performance and share that enthusiasm with visitors, which she most certainly did, much to the amusement of many children who watched with interest.
Caroline performed at Oxheys during the run of the show and also during one of the days we were in residence at the Harris in their Maker Space.
Evelyn, who also works in textiles, had experience of preparing fleeces so she supervised the washing of the fleece that we brought back from Laund’s farm so that it could be used on the loom and be spun. She also took part in the dying process and made the bus stop to be used for the mini bus service.
She also ran a felt-making workshop and made some small craft objects with the fleece.
Mary is an accomplished painter in oils with an interest in the spiritual connections between wool and the city of Preston so she wanted to look into the relevance of the lamb in the coat of arms and with the historical connections with St Walburge’s church and the Town Hall.
Her research also uncovered some interesting facts which were depicted in a large painting which was featured in the exhibition at Oxheys during the project.
Rachel and Jill, our two newest residents, collaborated on a couple of installations that formed part of the exhibition. These provided another fascinating and thought provoking aspect.
Visitors enjoyed rummaging through the Eweology drawers and writing about their favourite clothes or textiles in the book in Home Corner.
The Cloakroom was a conversation point as visitors tried to work out the dialogues taking place between the various hats and coast hanging there.
Rachel also set up a vintage loom and used it to weave threads, performing live presentation workshops over the Encounter weekend.
Caroline and Denise made a blend of wool from the fleece resulting in the dark Oxheys’ blue, which had also been the blue used the original ARM factory logo, from which Caroline made a unique woollen hat to send out to our lovely landlord, former councillor and Preston mayor Albert Richardson for his 82nd birthday. Albert ran the ARM factory for over 40 years and is much loved by many in Preston as well as us.
Robin, our resident life model and yoga instructor, is also an accomplished baker so it was him we asked to bake our special Five Year Cake – this was to celebrate Oxheys’ 5th birthday and a small piece was offered to every visitor over the Lancashire Encounter weekend.
Robin also created the showreel, using many of the photographs taken by Denise of the sheep being sheared, projected on to the wall at Oxheys and giving visitors a real insight into the process of shearing as well as providing a fine backdrop for the exhibition.
Over the Encounter weekend, we ran open studios and some drop-in taster sessions – Robin offered yoga while past resident Tom offered music tuition. Oxheys’ friend Craig performed live music during the private view and also at the Harris during their Encounter weekend, with free mini-cab service providing transport between the Harris and Oxheys on the Saturday afternoon.
All the residents enjoyed participating in this project and all agreed it is something we want to do again. Not only did everyone learn new skills but also gained insights into the ways other artists practice and how each can form a part of a larger whole.
Most importantly, it was great fun.
We thank the Harris Museum for allowing us to take up residency over the Lancashire Encounter weekend in their new Maker Space.
We also thank Preston City Council for their support and for helping us to realise this ambitious project and a big thank you to our friend and supporter Lubaina Himid for sponsoring the mini cab service, which really helped make a difference.
Thanks also to everyone who came to experience the exhibition, took the studio tour, joined in a drop-in session, bought an artist-made item or just came along to hang out with us and enjoy our cake. We really appreciate all the support.
We can promise it won’t be the last project!