I am a 4th generation Tasmanian woman; a 76 year old widow; a proud mother and grandmother. I live in a North Hobart townhouse and spend my summers in a caravan beside an East Coast beach. Apart from my family my great loves are performing on stage and film and creating art pieces from bull kelp.
I first appeared on stage as a 15 year old and have been performing ever since. My last appearance was recently at a festival on Norfolk Island. My first career was as a drama teacher, which was good grounding for subsequent careers in advertising, newspaper management and health promotion.
10 years ago my daughter Jane and I (both avid beach combers) decided to see if we could create beautiful objects from the abundant bull kelp stranded on the Douglas River beach. It took me 4 years of constant effort to understand this contrary medium enough to produce something that satisfied me.
Kelp must be collected as soon as it is washed up and then worked before it either dries out or begins to deteriorate. I then cut and stitch it into designs dictated by the kelp itself.
Kelp comes in a variety of colours and thickness with and without random holes. Its edges may be straight or covered with tendrils. It feels like soft leather and smells faintly of the sea. As I look at it on the sand I can visualise its final sculptured form.
I mould and shape the kelp then contain it until it dries out ( 5 - 15 days depending on the weather ). As it shrinks by about 30%, and can then reabsorb moisture, my made objects are quite organic. I have found that kelp can be encouraged but not controlled.
My studio is attached to my caravan so I work in close contact with the sea and the sand. It is an ideal environment to create art from a product produced by the sea and washed up on the sand.
I am inspired by the Aboriginal women who traditionally used kelp and driftwood to make containers for water and food. For me it is a fabric which my dress making skills turn into one-off art pieces. Very few people are working kelp in this way and I have developed my own method of cutting, stitching, knitting and crocheting the kelp through trial and error.
I love the fact that late in life I have found a most satisfying creative outlet using a natural medium which is difficult and challenging but produces unique and beautiful results.
Photography by Lara van Raay and Nikki Long.
This project was assisted by Bellendena Small Grants and Hobart City Council