During my first year of the M.A. in Contemporary Fine Art at Salford, we heard the news that all the art courses would be moving away from Irwell Valley.
Bob was fortunate in that he had completed his M.A. course while still at Irwell Valley, and had returned to START in Salford, an arts charity for adults recovering from mental health issues, as a volunteer arts worker one half day a week, where he could also paint.
The foundation courses would now be taught from a modern office building, Centenary House, and the remainder of courses, including the M.A., would be moved to a compact annexe of the old Salford College of Technology, where I had met my future husband in 1971.
At that time, I had been working at a bank in a building opposite the college and I was due to leave, to go where, I did not know. The bank manager suggested that I enroll at the college, so I did. Colin Burrows was teaching on the pre-diploma course in Art and Design and for some reason, I found him very irritating. Later the following year, we got together, and married in 1975.
It was strange going back to the former college. One of the local landmarks happened to be the three stone totem poles in the college grounds, which were erected to commemorate the arrival of Buffalo Bill and the North American Indians in Salford over 100 years ago. They had camped along the banks of the River Irwell during the time they had been performing in his Wild West circus show.
One of the difficulties with the new arts building was that it was much smaller than Irwell Valley, and, in the M.A. studios there was no facility for water, so it was not conducive to painting, although that did not not prevent others in the group from this activity. Instead of painting, I took up knitting leaf shapes, firstly as a favour to a former student who still runs a knitting circle in aid of a breast cancer charity.
I had also recently joined a website, which honours people who have died, and found that many women were kindly lighting virtual candles in my late husband’s memory, and saying prayers for him.
I looked into this and found that many of these women also honour and pray for the souls of neglected and abused children, who had died from their injuries, and I began to draw some of these children’s portraits. However, I started to feel very uncomfortable about drawing them and decided to find another way to honour their memories, so I asked Rachel Elwell, the leader of the knitting group, if I could borrow the idea of the leaves for my new project, and she had no objection.
After a year of knitting, I had over 800 leaves. Each leaf was knitted with at least two strands of the finest wool, silk, or sometimes with mohair, to represent that all children are precious and have a unique heritage. Each leaf was a different size, although from the same pattern. The leaves were also of a variety of natural colours and interesting textures, and curled up in a foetal position.
I devised a short performance for my final show, to be held at Cow Lane Studios, a former factory, whose pillars had collapsed in the 19th Century, killing 200 workers. The space was large, bleak and industrial. The atmosphere was eerie, the lighting dimmed, and the temperature was just above freezing. The corridor leading to the space was dark and dirty and very grim.
Above: Leaves, 2010
I performed the piece, trimming the strands of yarn from each leaf with a huge pair of shears, representing separation from the mother, and allowed each leaf to fall on the hard, cold paving stones. After a while, some of them would land on a soft bed of leaves. This performance aimed to represent the element of chance in life, i.e. that some children are born lucky and others are not so fortunate.