Looking Back

I recently prepared a Lightning Talk for the virtual SAQA Annual Conference which begins in a week’s time – there’s still time to register. My talk, A Journey Through Landscape, involved a lot of critical and some nostalgic review of works I wanted to show in the short time allowed for the 20-slide presentation. My talk’s theme is around the role, the influence Landscape has always had on my textile art through shapes, lines, colours and textures. Yet I do nothing pictorial, it’s all abstract. Anyway,preparing the talk took me into some memory nooks and crannies, and I found a draft of something I was preparing to post several years back but evidently didn’t, so it being relevant to the ‘Looking Back’ thing, I tidied it up and here it is.

Because of Mike’s work as an exploration geologist, we twice had the fortune to live in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, heart of the gold mining industry in that state. In the late 60s the Nickel Boom, we were among the thousands of people who flocked there from around the world.As all booms do, it faded, and we followed opportunity north in 1975 for a few years, but returned to Kal in 1981 as a gold boom was on, and left in 1987 to go off to the USA. We loved both our times there.

In 1985, perhaps, Australians began hearing a lot of talk about events being planned at national, regional and local levels to help the nation celebrate the Bicentenary of European settlement during 1988, the Bicentenary year. One major year-long event was a travelling expo of “Australia”, organised to visit all parts of the country during the year. The organisers planned display of double sided banners to be mounted above the entry to the expo.

These double sided banners had a large single letter on one side, and a design on the other reflecting something about the region where it was made. To be made to specific dimensions, the design had to be submitted and approved, after which it became a community project in local hands with a group leader who liaised with the Canberra people.

The Goldfingers Embroiderers and the Patchwork Pollies formed a group to carry out the big project, led by quilter Margery Goodall. The The City of Kalgoorlie Boulder is the main centre of the huge gold mining industry in Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields.  Even after 128+ years’ continuous gold mining, large quantities are still produced in the city and surrounding region, and new resources are still being found. For the pictorial side the obvious choice was something to do with gold and its history there. We settled on a traditional medallion-style design featuring a soft sculpture of the Golden Eagle Nugget the largest found in Western Australia, at Larkinville, 97 km south of Kalgoorlie Boulder. My version is shown here with yours truly standing in front of that side of the banner on the day of the official handover. 

October 1987. Margery Goodall and Alison Schwabe in front of sides of the quilted banner.

Located near the edge of the Great Central Desert, a desert landscape colour scheme throughout was determined. Our assigned letter was H, which we decided to work in traditional crazy patchwork, as it would lend itself to lots of community participation, an important one of the project’s goals.

I offered to free machine embroider buildings and headframes typical of historic Kalgoorlie in the medallion, as I had plenty of experience with FME. Someone suggested perhaps I could make a gold nugget for the center of it, and I blithely agreed with that great idea, having no real idea how I’d do it but aware I’d have to make my own pattern and works out how to make one… I’m an experienced procrastinator with a finely tuned sense of just when I need to cut that out and get on with it 🙂  So, after weeks of procrastinating and agonising over the folly of offering to make such a thing, and faced with a fast approaching deadline, I finally got down to experimenting with samples, naturally.  It was probably turning over in the back of my mind for weeks, but once I focused under pressure, the Golden Eagle Nugget took me about a day to figure out and make.  I found a picture of that famous nugget, drew a rough shape and used that to cut out the gold lame, the brassiness of which I toned down in places with brown paint, layered that with batting and free machine quilting to give the ‘lumpy’ surface texture. I then sewed around the edge and stuffed it a little before sewing it shut – like a little pillow. I ran some little stay stitches around the edge and did a few circular gathers on the underside to help it ‘sit’ properly on the surface.  Phew! I was hugely relieved and still just a bit proud of the result of one of my most inspired projects, ever.  Below the eagle is a little fme pic of the main street water fountain statue of the prospector Paddy Hannan whose discovery of gold nearby led to one of the most fabulous gold rushes the world has ever seen.  What a joy to wander back in time through these photos, enjoying the memories and demo of the proven value of making samples whenever entering uncharted territory! 

People were impressed with the expo, but being in the USA that whole year, we just had to take their word for it! i sometimes wonder how all those banners fared in their year of touring. though from the top photo they seem to have been sheltered from rain, no doubt they had lots of sun shining on them over the year – I think they probably faded quite a bit. I don’t know where they’re stored, either, though I imagine possibly the National Library. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been cut down into blankets for a cats home or something …

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