Friendships, teamwork and hidden talents emerge in community art project

Friendships, teamwork and hidden talents emerge in community art project

By Jenni Frendo

Where, when were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Colac in 1957, the second daughter of three. Mum and Dad built their first house in Colac under difficult conditions. Supplies for tiles and other building materials were still in short supply after World War II – progress was slow, and the house was not finished when we moved to Wonthaggi when I was 18 months old. Dad’s new job was a step up the ladder for him. Living away from extended family support, we had older babysitters and carers, some of whom taught us knitting to keep us busy. My two sisters and I can knit, some better than others! 

Being away from family, Mum joined the local branch of the Country Women’s Association (CWA), for community involvement, and to make new friendships in a new town. Projects and concerts encouraged her to follow her mother’s footsteps in sewing, knitting, crocheting and creating – costumes for CWA concerts were her forte.

I think the desire to craft with needles, hooks and a sewing machine can be genetic, or nature and nurture combined. 

Describe how you became involved in the Gippsland Women’s Network project.

I don’t remember how I became involved in the mosaic project – probably through encouragement from Ingrid Thomas. I had never engaged in mosaic creation before, had no idea of the tools, the process, the differences between the various tiles – or tesserae – but it was another of Mum’s CWA crafts that I remember – a small mosaic topped table in our lounge room. 

Describe a person involved in the project who had a major influence on you.

Our supervisor, mosaicist Maery Gabriel, what a legend – her manner was straight down the line, no nonsense – then was soft and flexible in her teaching, encouraging, teasing the creativity out of us, not openly critical yet somehow effectively passed critique. I never felt I wasn’t good enough. Even though I was a beginner, we all felt we were an equal part of the project. What an enigma. I shall remember Maery’s manner, her teachings, her philosophy forever.

What aspect of the project presented the greatest challenge for you, and what brought you the greatest sense of accomplishment?

Learning how to use the nippers, cutters, and how crude my attempts were compared to others contributing to the circle. Oh my god those things can hurt your hand. There is a fair bit of strain involved but it’s totally worth it. Some girls had such details in their sections, such small perfectly cut, perfectly fitted pieces. The sense of accomplishment came from completion of the whole circle, and I was part of the whole.

What did you discover and learn about yourself through participating in the art project?

I have always enjoyed craft of many disciplines, and when the opportunity came to learn and participate in the mosaic circle, I was curious and interested. Patience was never my strong point, even now. But I learnt to take time and relax into the job, each piece, no short cuts. The group buoyed each other to complete the circle on time.

I have not continued with mosaics, I thought I would and, in anticipation, accumulated tesserae that I had to then move from house to house until I realised it was never going to happen. I sold it all.

What did you learn about others in the group, in your community?

The group was made up of a great variety of individuals, but they all possessed a strong sense of artistry, creativity, patience with new people, and were generous with encouragement. People voluntarily came out week after week into the cold evenings, as it was winter in West Gippsland – to a huge unheated shed. We gathered to do unpaid labour that we were all stoked to participate in. 

Reflecting on your involvement in the art project, what is your most cherished memory?

I remember the warmth of the others, the joking around and companionship and lack of judgement. It was solid teamwork, a feeling of letting others down if you chose to not go. I learned so much about teamwork.

Why do you live where you live today?

We moved to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne so that our daughter could attend the school she wanted to – it offered tennis as a subject. Happy child, keen to learn. One of the women involved in the yarn bombing activities in Gippsland alerted me to an active group of crafters who were yarn bombing in Melbourne and so my craft passion found new outlets.

What do you enjoy most about this current stage of your life?

I can choose to craft, to attempt different things, to join in group projects and even accept commissions for projects that I care about. I can make items to sell at markets or online. When I find something, I am passionate about, I run with it, for a while at least and then I change. 

What wisdom do you want to share?

Give it a go! Team projects can be joyous! New friendships are formed, new skills are acquired and hidden talents are discovered; you can meet new people, see their amazing work that really inspires you. Never too young to start, never too old either. 

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