The Northland Age
Embroidery work meant to challenge
An art exhibition with a difference is taking place at the Honey House — the Kerikeri Mission Station cafe — until Christmas. Station manager Liz Bigwood will share a range of her recent fabric, collage and embroidery in a display that will challenge many people’s ideas about each of these art forms.
“I like to play with embroidery and get away from flowers,” she said.
“I use French knots and other embroidery stitches while also incorporating domestic heritage elements like old tray cloths and pieces of tatting for example. These elements already have ‘embodied energy’ in that they were created by somebody else many years ago. I’ve repurposed and reused them.”
The result is the Four Seasons — a set of abstract fabric works that illustrate spring, summer, winter and autumn, capturing the mood and feel of each season in four unique art works.
Bigwood has long been interested in working with fibres. As a young woman she found herself inexplicably drawn to spinning and weaving — and working with linen in particular.
“I became fascinated with spinning linen, which involved working with European flax, which is smaller than our harakeke,” she said.
“The technique involves winding the long fibres — known as tow — onto a Distaff from which the tow is then pulled while at the same time dipping your fingers into water and spun, using a spinning wheel, into linen thread. It’s a little more complicated than spinning wool,” she said.
“It was only in later years I discovered my Scottish forbears were not only Paisley weavers near Glasgow, but also linen spinners and weavers from Stonehaven, south of Aberdeen. As a result of this experience I came to appreciate that whole idea of cellular or genetic memory, and how understanding is passed down almost intuitively through generations.”
Speaking of how knowledge is transmitted, Bigwood talked about her experience learning traditional Māori weaving techniques.
“I had the extraordinary privilege of being taught by renowned kaiwhatu (weaver) Digger Te Kanawa — spending two very full weeks living at her home in Piopio and learning how to weave a korowai from
scratch. Digger began with the harvesting of the harakeke, then how to extract the muka (fibres); the soaking and pounding process to soften it, then how to spin the muka on our legs the traditional way. Learning the weaving techniques came after that,” Bigwood said.
“Digger believed every New Zealander should be able to weave a korowai, which is a style of cloak developed by Māori after the arrival of Europeans. Later I used the weaving technique Digger taught me to make a large installation (1.5m high x 8m long) that hung in the Tourism Board for a number of years.”
Around this time, Bigwood was asked by prominent New Zealand artist Malcolm Harrison to weave a piece for his major installation in the Atrium of Parliament during the refurbishment of the building in the 1990s — this installation is still on display there. Bigwood was also a loom weaver and had work commissioned for institutions and people both internationally and around New Zealand.
Departing from the world of wrangling fibre and abstract embroidery, Bigwood will also be exhibiting other examples of her creative endeavours, perhaps best described as ‘out there’ collage.
“I enjoy working with paper in the form of collage — just for fun.”
She takes pen and ink illustrations from the Victorian-era Chatterbox book — and then applies her own inimitable take on these, framing the original images with contemporary illustrations and creating new artworks which are at once hilarious, and at times slightly unnerving.
“These will also be on show as part of the Honey House Exhibition for people to enjoy,” she said.
Bigwood’s Honey House Exhibition was launched on Friday last week.