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.

Manawatu Standard - - News Arts -

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.

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