The art of wasting nothing
A little nut tree paddock in Kimbolton is producing the perfect medium for Maggie Duff’s art. Carly Thomas has a look.
When Maggie Duff puts her gumboots on and heads out to the paddock her mood lifts. She checks the sky, considers the clouds and grabs a coat.
Duff may not have grown up in the country but she is certainly happiest outdoors. She grabs a bucket of feed, which knocks companionably against her leg as she crosses the paddock where her little mob of cattle graze.
It’s in the next paddock, the one filled with mature walnut and hazelnut trees, that she starts calling ‘‘her girls’’.
Heads instantly shoot up from their bent and grazing stance and ‘‘the girls’’ come sauntering over. Duff is soon circled by her flock of sheep as she addresses the ewes by name and points out what lamb belongs to which mum.
These sheep are her muchloved friends but they also provide her with an interesting choice of artistic medium; their wool is what makes its way into her art and she says in every work, there is a little of their particular characters.
Elsie was her first sheep and remains her friendliest. She was a gift and with a lamb in tow she was the beginning of a little flock. Duff had never had sheep before, she moved to Kimbolton from England in search of a different way of life and says it has been a steep learning curve.
‘‘Luckily, I now have good friends who shear them for me and I have good neighbours who help us out. I still don’t know all there is to know but I do know that I love them, they are such characters.’’
Duff is interested in permaculture and sustainability, and she considers the wool a waste product which needs to find a use for on their little lifestyle block.
‘‘I thought, well, why not try washing it and carding it for myself and using it in my art.’’
Duff has always been creative and has turned her hand to many artistic endeavours since she was a child, so she wasn’t scared of just giving it a go.
‘‘I did lots and lots of reading and research, there was a lot of trial and error and some strange smells in the house as I learnt to wash it properly.’’
She uses the wool to create seascapes and landscapes. There is Elsie’s wool in a wind-blown tree and a bit in there as well from the neighbour’s ram, which paid a visit to her girls this year.
In another work, white wool from another neighbour’s sheep creates billowing clouds that drift above an old shed which can be seen for real on the way to Feilding.
Her works make people take a step forward in surprise. ‘‘Is that really wool?’’ they ask Duff. And she will nod, telling them the story of where it came from and even what grass the sheep ate.
Duff loves that the sheep she gazes at from her deck eat the grass she grows and then produce the wool she eventually transforms in art.
Duff is experimenting with making that circle a little bigger by trialling different dying agents from her garden.
‘‘This is dyed with spinach,’’ she says triumphantly, holding up a piece of mossy-coloured wool. ‘‘My ultimate plan is to dye the wool with the plants where the sheep graze and then get a frame made with the wood from the nut trees in the orchard.’’
Duff has even done a group portrait of her beloved sheep using their individual wool. It was a real challenge, she says.
‘‘It took me forever to do. It is more three-dimensional, I have learnt that you can almost shape the wool, it is just so tactile. I am starting to think that I am a bit of a frustrated sculptor.’’
It’s a life centred around what is right outside her door. One where gumboots, her garden and ‘‘her girls’’ make her happy. Duff’s property is circled by mature trees, creating a little oasis where she is quite clearly content.
Duff’s work can be seen in Feilding at Joe Mcmenamin’s Studio and Gallery.
She will also be a featured artist at next year’s Kimbolton Sculpture Festival.
Maggie Duff’s art is made from wool that she leaves in its natural colours or she sometimes uses dyed wool.
Maggie’s Duff’s process is one that she has taught herself from books, the internet and a large amount of trial and error.
Maggie Duff’s sheep come running when they are called and the bucket of sheep nuts are rattled.