Sturt: the end of an era

October 8, 2014

P1050146 (600 x 450)

The building housing Sturt weaving and café.

Here is some background first.

Sturt was established in 1941 in Mittagong, NSW by Winifred West. It is a centre of excellence for contemporary crafts and is privately owned by Winifred West Schools. It has 4 studios, weaving being the oldest. The others are wood, ceramics and jewellery. All studios run term classes and short courses. The wood school has a year- long accredited certificate course. Sturt also hosts winter and summer schools. There is also a gallery, cafe, all set in historic gardens. For those who have followed my blog, you will have often seen snapshots of the garden. Sturt is regarded as one of the major attractions of the Southern Highlands and has won several tourism awards. For more details go to the web site: http://www.sturt.nsw.edu.au

Today Julie Gillick, Head of Frensham and the Winifred West Schools announced the following:

Re: Sturt 2015 and beyond

Following an exhaustive review lasting over 18 months, Sturt is poised to embark upon some exciting new directions for the future. Building on what we do really well and recognizing that some things needs to change: we will close the Café at the end of the current term and will be suspending the operations of the weaving studio for 2015 in order to create new flexible workshop spaces and to embrace new technology opportunities to provide enhanced design and fabrication opportunities for all. Sturt Summer and Winter School, short courses, and the shop and gallery will continue as normal with an added coffee component that we hope to be able to announce details about very soon.

I have been here at Sturt for nearly 2 years as artist in residence in charge of the studio. Before that I have had two 3 month residencies in 2009 and 2012. I appreciate the creative spirit of Sturt, the interaction between studios, other craftspeople, artists in residence and staff. I have enjoyed their company, the energy, the working towards a common goal, that of creative endeavour. I have enjoyed my time working in the studio, researching, developing concepts and ideas, refining technique, producing. I have also enjoyed teaching students who have also become friends. From a professional point of view, watching, guiding and encouraging the learning of skill and technical knowledge is a wonderful experience. I have had many students pass through the studio maybe for just one term, some for several or in many cases they have been on this journey with me since 2009. They have appeared in my blog. You may also have watched their progress. I am proud to have been a part of their life at Sturt. While I have not been involved in the teaching of the weekly tapestry class, I have also enjoyed their company and watched their progress. I am also proud of the improvements I have had in the organisation and running of the studio. There are new looms which have enabled greater productivity and flexibility and diversity in learning outcomes. Many of you will have been reading of my journey here. It has been amazing, stimulating and very satisfying.

It was with deep regret that I was informed of this impending decision. There are so few places where weaving can be learnt in a fully practical experience. Sturt has had a long and proud history of delivering quality weaving classes. My students are devastated on several fronts. Firstly there is the knowledge that weaving as they know it will soon be coming to an end. There will be no more weekly classes. There will be no more sharing of their achievements in producing an end product, the stimulation of discussion, the groans of something done not quite right, the laughter of shared experiences under the current format. There is also the impact of the loss of meeting place. This is where they have met each week, sharing their highs and lows of life in general. No matter what their backgrounds, all have met and enjoyed each other’s company. This is a special place. They also recognise their place in the greater community.

It is recognised that the looms will be mothballed for a year while the decision is made as to the future direction of Sturt. At least the door to the future has not totally been shut.

It is exciting that Sturt potentially will be taking on “new age technologies”, disappointing though it is at the hopefully temporary loss of weaving. Maybe in a year’s time, a way will become clear to have it re-instated in some format. It is my earnest desire that this be so. Hopefully weaving will also still remain a part of the winter and summer schools.

I certainly wish Sturt well for its future. This is a remarkable place. It has touched both mine and many others lives.

In the meantime, I have one term left here- just 9 weeks. I wonder what they will bring. There is nothing surer that we will have fun exploring technique, weaving, producing and achieving. We will definitely be enjoying each other’s company. I have some plans for group challenges and activities as well as students working on individual projects. Watch this space and see what we do. We are going to make the most of it.