Sample of Ruth's residency reflection, read the full article on her website here.
Last month I had the very fortunate experience of being one of the artists selected for the Mawddach Artist Residency, in north Wales. I shared the experience with Ellie Osborne, a fine art ceramicist. We’d not met before the residency, but I couldn’t have selected a better person to share the experience with; we are both quite quiet and found we were happy to work equally in comfortable, companionable silence or with easy, good-humoured conversation.
Scarlett and Jake, our hosts and artists in their own rights, have created something really special in the top floor portion of a grand old terraced ‘town’ house: A space for residents to live and work for 2 weeks, to create and indulge in new ideas whilst surrounded by the most stunning of environments. The constantly changing view from the studio window of the tidal river estuary was at times distracting in the most blissful way. I could honestly have sat in the window seat and taken in this view and done nothing else and have felt satisfied that I’d used my time wisely!
But, this isn’t actually what I did…
Before arriving on the residency, I had been making hand-stitched coats that incorporate stories and secrets in their linings. And I knew I wanted to pursue this somehow. I was interested in looking at seasons of change and cycles of nature & ageing; contemplating the layers of clothing that we put/pass on as we grow, and wrappings that get unravelled and rewoven to hold the subtly transformed bodies that we live in throughout our lives. Like snakes shedding skin or Russian dolls; bodies nesting inside other bodies; or moths regenerating inside cocoons.
As a general rule, when I’ve taken residencies before I have tended to pick things up as I go, and tell stories as I find them. I like to arrive with loose plans and lots of resources; opening myself up to the ways that solitude, silence and an inspiring environment guides my work and feeds my practice when I return home. I really feel like this - allowing and trusting that wandering off the path and being prepared to get lost and open myself up to something unknown - has worked for me again, something I find hard to achieve as much as I’d like in my day-to-day studio practice.
My aim this time was to make coats to represent skins, and contemplate the different phases of our lives, how we sometimes shed these versions of ourselves like silver birch bark or layer-up the coats [like our experiences and wisdom] to toughen up our skins like warriors putting on armour. Prior to coming away I happened to select myself the most perfect listening companion to my residency in the form of an audio telling of Holly Ringland’s book, The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding. There were so many echoes of the ideas in my work with her words; Folk tales of Selkies and Swan maidens; relationships between mothers, daughters and sisters; Mental health, tattoos and skin spells… so I leaned into this narrative. Seven is often a number used in folk tales to represent magical things or the arch of a journey or a trial (it also happens to be the date I was born and the house number I live at) and so I decided to set myself the task of making seven simple coats as my own ‘seven skins’. I’d intended to sew these by machine, but a missing part meant that in the end I stitched these by hand. I liked how this felt like the characters in fairy tales who have to toil over challenges to pass a gatekeeper! So, for the first 7 days, as well as going out and exploring my surroundings, I stitched 7 coats from plain muslin fabric, to act as blank canvases for the work to come. I had no expectation that this collection of coats would be completed, and full of the stories I wanted them to tell, in these 2 weeks away, but be just the beginning of a new series…
Continue reading about each of Ruth's skins on her website.