Many of the readers of this newsletter will have seen Prue Barridge’s name in the report from the annual general meeting when she accepted the complex job of treasurer. However, few will know of Prue’s expertise as a textile artist in the world of fibre art.
Prue said, ‘My love affair with sewing and the sewing machine started when I was given my first sewing machine at 10. It was a battery operated Vulcan brand and I managed to dress all my dolls and even made clothes for myself. I progressed to my mother’s electric Singer from there to an Elna that I was given for my 21ST and now I own a longed for Bernina. I might add I still have the Vulcan, Singer and Elna plus one or two others and a small collection of toy sewing machines.’
What triggered Prue’s interest in visual art was a fibre exhibition she found absolutely inspiring. The exhibition was the work of students from the Design for Embroidery conducted through Deakin University but sponsored and developed in conjunction with the Embroiderers’ Guild of Victoria.
‘You had to be a member of the guild to do the course so I joined, but it wasn’t until 1999 that I was able to do the course. In the meantime I enjoyed being a member of the guild and joined in and learnt all I could. I was introduced to machine embroidery by Cheryl Bridgart in 1993 and have since done machine embroidery workshops with many wonderful TextileArtists. Each of these Textile Artists has increased my knowledge of machine embroidery passing on their skills allowing me to gather a pool of techniques to draw on.’
In 1999 Prue was able to begin the Design for Studio, Stitch and Textiles course that had evolved from a one-year course to a 3 year part time course. This is the only formal training she has had and it was a wonderful experience that helped her to find out just why she did what she did within her art. ‘It taught me to look at the world with eyes that really see, not just glance and it’s always amazed me just what I see now.’
Perhaps the completion of the course was what alerted Prue to the need to become part of a community because until she joined the Embroiderers’ Guild she didn’t have friends who shared her love of stitch. She believes that ‘sharing is so much a part of the learning process, sitting, chatting and stitching together is so good for us all and it’s great that that’s a big part of the Baw Baw Arts Alliance.’
Following completion of the design for embroidery course the tradition has developed that all course participants contribute to a final, graduation exhibition. Prue’s graduation exhibition was titled Carnival for which she created what has become a favourite piece of art, Row 20, Seat 40, Yellow Section. ‘It’s based on the colour wheel to represent a stadium and has hung on my studio wall ever since. It was a great experiment with colour combinations and I learnt so much about colour from making it.’
For many this is the first experience of exhibiting and this was the case for Prue. ‘My graduation exhibition at the end of my course in 2001 was the first time I really put my art out there for the public to see. I remember the thrill of hanging my graduation pieces on a ‘real’ gallery and then watching people really looking at my pieces and taking enjoyment from them. During this course a group of us became a close working group and have remained together. We named ourselves ‘inter-twined 9’ and held our first exhibition together at the Geelong forum in September/October 2002, we continued to meet and exhibit together for many years. As a group we entered a combined quilt into the Wool Quilt Expression Exhibition every 2 years and we made 7 quilts, 6 being accepted before we all ended up going in different directions. I have also exhibited my work in exhibitions run by various galleries throughout Australian and continue to enter any that are textile based in Australia and overseas.’
‘I continued to work with ripped fabric and many directions under the theme ‘Working Mothers’ and finally brought all pieces together for my first solo exhibition in 2013. To compliment my quilts I took a sideways step working on canvases, as I wanted to add text to my work. I call my new work ‘Memory Trees’, as to me, the tree is a symbol of past, present and the future. I still use the same quilting techniques for the foliage but use ripped and hand stitched words for the trunk and branches.’
Prue is careful to differentiate between ‘art’ as opposed to craft. ‘Art quilts have been my main form of art expression. These are made up of fabric ripped into strips and sewn back together with rough edges and joins showing. My quilts are made of many sections put together to create movement with the direction of the fabric piecing. I also enjoy using the unexpected together with fabric and stitch to create art works in the form of quilts and canvases. Fabric and thread are my chosen medium. I have been adding paper into my work of late and using more hand stitch as well.’
Like so many artists Prue appears to be casual about the process she uses to create a work of art but the finished results indicate anything but a casual approach. Prue works in her head first, recognizing and hopefully solving problems before they occur, deciding on materials to use then drawing the quilt to its intended size. The drawing is then hung ‘so it’s the first thing I see when I walk into my studio in the morning. I make many changes to this drawing before I am happy and I think you know that by when you walk in and think did I do that! Patterns are made of the quilt, colours and fabrics are chosen then I work surrounded by the ripped fabric and small iron and scissors and my sewing machine and off I go.’
Prue admits she has never been a good journal keeper but seems to have no trouble in finding inspiration that will spark a creative idea or articulating what inspires her. The elements of line and shape inspire her and this is reflected in her passion for the combination of line and shape in the Art Deco period. Challenges in her life are often a source of inspiration. Her Working Mothers’ series for example, came out of all the challenges a mother faces when she is working.
It is difficult to imagine how Prue has managed to cram so much into her life and still produce her creative and inspiring body of fibre art. She has taught…
‘I remember the first time I taught a class of children, their honesty in their choices of colour and materials, my amazement at the colours they choose to put together and at how much I learn from them. I made a promise to myself to try to inspire as many children as I can to want to learn how to sew with machine and hand and through inspiring them, so inspire their mums to want to learn too. We have generations of people who have never sewn and I want to make sure that sewing and embroidery are not forgotten.’
Prue has ventured into retail…
‘With Robyn Steel-Stickland I started a business called Opendrawer in Camberwell. It was, and still is, a place of celebration of ‘hand made’. It was exciting building a business from scratch and for the 4 years that I was there that was my creative outlet. Running a business is all consuming and in the end I felt consumed so I moved on and left ‘Opendrawer’ in Robyn’s hands.’
Just in case Prue became bored she joined The Bead Society and planned a few rather complex events
‘I’ve been a member of ‘The Bead Society’ of Victoria for 15 plus years and was their treasurer for far too many years. ‘The Bead Society’ run a ‘Bead Expo’ yearly and I helped to set it up from the beginning. Many of the skills I have and use today I learnt by being a committee member of ‘The Bead Society’ and anyone who has put in to a organization will find this is an unexpected benefit.
Beads are still part of my life as I run a bead business ‘Bead2Go’ with a friend and with whom I have run large bead shows until this year, called ‘The Bead Show’, in Melbourne and Sydney. The climate is not right for large shows so we have down sized and have joined 3 other businesses to run ‘Bead and Buy’ bead shows in Ringwood. Happy to say Kay Lancashire’s ‘Kay’s Artycles’ is one of the other businesses along with ‘Cranberry Beads’ and ‘The Whimsical Beads’.
For someone like Prue who is so actively engaged in her art there is always more on the horizon. Her work has changed over the years to become less complex by focussing on basic lines and colour; a simplicity that ‘can speak volumes’. For now her directions may be to use watercolours and find ways of incorporating text into her art.