Wild Yarn with Margaret Summerton

Margaret Summerton started her art practice as an oil painter, predominately painting portraits, so just how has she ended up working on the street as a yarn bomber?

Margaret does a lot of collaborative work with her friend and fellow artist Robina Summers. Both Margaret and Robina have recently worked together on the City of Greater Dandenong’s Poppies for Peace Project.

Your first collaborative project, First Train to Allwood, now has 63 volunteer knitters and crocheters and is an ongoing project.  You must get a lot of satisfaction from community projects that have such longevity. Can you tell us about how this project evolved? 

Hurstbridge is where I live; it is a beautiful little village in the middle of the bush.  Most of the buildings are still original so it has serious charm.  Right in the middle of town a crane company had its depot.  It was a seriously industrial, and an ugly sight right in the middle of our village. It was also surrounded by a chain link fence which was also very unsightly.

This project began from my sense of aesthetics being insulted.  I decided that we needed to cover the fence in some way to hide the cranes, trucks and shipping containers.  I thought that a cool solution would be to knit them in.  The only problem was that I didn’t know how to.  I asked my friend Robina Summers about it, as she was a textile artist (I am an oil painter).

Robina thought I was nuts but was amused.  We started brain storming on what the knitting would look like, how would we attach it, what kind of yarn would we need, would anyone want to help? Would anyone want to fund it?

The Hurstbridge Wattle Festival was less than a year away and was celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the first train that came to town.  Robina is a serious train buff and she convinced me that if we knitted an image of that train for the festival we would certainly get funding and help.  She was right.  We got both, and a lot of it!  The Nillumbik Tourist Association funded the materials (nylon sailing cord) and we created flyers to drum up volunteers. Robina found photos of the train and created patterns that broke the design down into small pieces that our helpers could knit, crochet or macramé in any style they wanted as long as it fit inside the pattern edges.  It was a giant jigsaw puzzle made out of 38 kilometres of sailing cord…..it is still there to enjoy and we are still working on it…it was a fantastic project that really drew our bush fire effected  community together.

Working collaboratively must be rewarding, how has your collaboration enhanced your individual art practice? 

Working with Robina is fantastic. We approach things differently and we have totally different strengths and weaknesses. We play off each other very well.  She makes me more playful and daring, and I think I make her simplify things.  My practice has totally changed.  I haven’t painted in a very long time; instead I look at animating spaces and surprising people with the unexpected artwork in odd places.  I very much enjoy making people smile and seeing the world as a bit more friendly.

Most recently you designed and, together with the community, created large scale poppies for the City of Greater Dandenong’s Poppies for Peace Project. Can you tell us about how you arrived at the final design, working through the constraints of functionality and accessibility?

This is the second project that Robina and I have worked on for the Greater City of Dandenong.  Our first project was part of the Cultural Threads event where we worked with community groups to create large pillar wraps for the city square.  We were invited back after that very successful project because we demonstrated that we understood the rather grand scale of the city square itself.

We were asked to develop a poppy project to commemorate Anzac Day.  There were many projects already on the go across the country, and the world, that were absolutely stunning.  It was going to be difficult to create a totally different concept based on the exact same thing.  The answer was to match the scale of the square and create huge macro-poppies to hold their own against the size of the surrounds.  All of the projects happening were based on tiny, 1:1 scale poppies…..ours needed to be huge to create the statement that was needed.  The constraints are always around making the elements of the design simple enough for the community to be able to help.  We like to have a variety of elements that range in skill level so that people of all ages can participate.  The poppy design that we came up with was perfect for all ages and came together beautifully.  We are so pleased with them.

Have you always been a full time artist? If not, do you remember when you decided to take your art practice into a full time career?

No, I haven’t always been a full-time artist.  I have a Bachelors and a Masters Degree in Psychology and worked as a school counsellor for a few years.  I was a full time mum for many years.  I have never gone to art school but had always had a desire to.  I immigrated to Australia 12 years ago and couldn’t work for a long time due to immigration issues. I started taking art classes at living and learning centres to keep from going crazy.  When I started to sell my work, I was hooked.  It was the most thrilling thing to sell something you have created.  I am still hooked.

You are also busy with your individual exhibitions and installations; can you tell us about that?

I have had many exhibitions as a painter but only recently have I been exhibiting my textile works.  Robina and I were invited to have an Artist in Residency at Montsalvat after the First Train project where we both got to focus on our own individual work alongside creating public installations.  It was a wonderful incubation period for us both where we just worked tirelessly on pieces both large and small. We yarn bombed Montsalvat which had never been done before, and some people loved it, some did not.  It was the first time I experienced really negative feedback about my work.  It was hard to take but sort of thrilling at the same time because art isn’t always comfortable for everyone, and it was great to think we could really strike a nerve.

What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?

Space and colour inspire me.  I see the world in shapes and texture.  I always want to value add to it.  I admire all of my hard working friends and colleagues in all mediums.  Artists are hard working people and they often don’t get much reward for it.

Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?

I have very fond memories of Robina’s knitted peacock sculpture.  She has worked on it for years!  She is totally obsessed with it and changes it and adds to it all the time.  I don’t think she will ever stop, it is a perpetual work in progress.  I will always associate peacocks with Robina, I buy her peacock trinkets.  I can’t help it.

How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?

The future is wide open……I take it as it comes

What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?

My housekeeping box.  It is a very handy tin tool box that has everything in it that a yarn bomber needs.  But I don’t think I could go through a day without using cable ties!!  I have them in every size.  I should buy stock in them!

What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?

Break the rules, clash colours, mis-match prints. go nuts!

The giant poppies from the City of Greater Dandenong’s Poppies for Peace project can be viewed in the civic square until Friday 8 May.

You can also read more about Margaret by visiting http://wildyarnsandstuff.blogspot.com.au/p/margaret-robina.html

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