More on Sturt weaving: The end of an era

I have had many responses to my blog posting of a week ago. The news has touched many.  I have asked permission of Margaret who contacted me privately if I could share her letter. It provides such a snapshot of weaving at Sturt in the late 1980’s- early 1990’s under the guidance of Elizabeth Nagel. Thank you Margaret for agreeing to share your experiences.

Dear Kay,

My name is Margaret Stone and I am an ‘old ‘ Sturt weaver. I just read your blog post about the changes for 2015 and like you and the regular weavers I am shocked and saddened to see such a special place undervalued and supposedly in need of updating.

In 1988 I called the Sturt weaving studio and asked Elizabeth if she would teach my children to weave. She said if they could count to 50 they could come.

For the next 10 years we made our way to the weaving workshop starting with Annie and Christopher (aged 8 and 6) with the 2 youngest tagging along to play in the garden and with Lucy, the youngest, calling Elizabeth ‘grandma’ as the only people she knew with white hair were Grandmas!

Annie and Chris continued to weave for most of the next 10 years, Rob did some weaving but it was not his thing (he much preferred playing to the glorious gardens with his friends), Lucy started when she could count to 50 and continued to weave throughout those years as well.

We brought our home schooling friends along and for several years about 4 sometimes 5 families learned to weave under Elizabeth’s measured, patient approach. The most trouble she had was with the Mum’s who were often banished to the garden as we talked too much while knitting or quilting or helping our children warp looms!

It was not just the weaving our children learnt but the history of a person who grew up in Germany throughout the 2nd WW and had so many stories to tell, the extra skills like braiding, knitting, gardening and much more.

Chris was the last to weave a piece at Sturt. When he arrived at age 6 he walked in to the back room and saw the enormous floor loom and his goal then was to weave on it. At age 16 or 17 he was big enough to finally use it and wove a huge fleece floor rug. Elizabeth tells the story of another much younger school boy who had come to classes at that time and who was being teased at school as weaving was considered ‘sissy’. Elizabeth took him into the back room where Chris was banging away on the huge loom making an impressive racket and the little boy was awestruck.

Each of my children value their time spent with Elizabeth and have taken into their adult lives the ability to appreciate handmade items, to continue to see the value the discipline and hard work of making from scratch and 10 years on from their time at Sturt remember it and Elizabeth with much affection. I continued to attend classes at Sturt off and on over the past 10 years and continue to spin and knit and (weave a little) at home.

Sturt, as Winifred West intended it to be, was a place of respite from the world where we could lose ourselves in creative tasks each week and go back out into the world refreshed and satisfied that our creative urges had been met and encouraged. The simplicity of the building, the beautiful gardens and the generosity of the people we shared the space with over the years has made our live richer and more meaningful.

I am so glad I found your blog post before it was too late,

Sincerely,

Margaret Stone

 

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One Response to More on Sturt weaving: The end of an era

  1. Kaz Madigan says:

    Thank you for this wonderful story of connections that weaving and textiles always produce.
    I still feel increasingly saddened by this decision.
    I think the weave school needed development rather than cessation. Your vision for bringing the looms into this century and developing strong design in addition to strong practical handweaving skills is still vital to Australia. At this point we may not have the industry to support this training but we have strong craft and design needs which are increasing with the makers movement. Sturt is utterly unique in the way the different craft workshops can interlink and develop new work. I also strongly associate Sturt with fine quality and high skills in textiles.
    The idea of a new flexible workspace, perhaps for collaboration, also sounds interesting but will looms for textile design development and tapestry art be part of it? Is investment in tooling for this space an intention. For example, will weavers be able to work directly with ceramicists and use 3D printers to create new ideas for sculpture and texture? Or will weaving and textile design be suspended completely at Sturt?
    I see that money and the ability to make some profit is important for a business to keep going. Maybe this is the bottom line. But I sometimes think that because weaving in Australia is viewed as a ‘soft’ craft it is easier to not invest in its real potential. Woven cloth disintegrates over time like us all, but stone sculptures and pieces of pottery as ‘hard’ crafts, endure in the soil creating an eternal physical memory of cultures gone.
    In my own small studio space I regularly and repeatedly see the enormous value of handweaving for people. I teach entry level improvisational weaving on floor looms. Some are people who devour the craft as a meaningful practice in their lives and others search for more and develop skills for creating unique works for sale. Some want an income producing skill and others want skills for living and enjoying life. This mix of people will be present in all arts and crafts and I think they are equally important in making the crafts valuable. Truly talented craftspeople will sell more as their time and skills will be valued by more. It’s about more people understanding and enjoying the processes of the hand and the human spirit behind the making.
    Sturt is indeed a very special business. One that offers some meaning to why we are here and what the human hands and brain are capable of when searching for beauty or challenging us with forms.
    I sincerely hope that we will continue to see and hear the throw of the shuttle at Sturt in the future.

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