‘Listen to the Land’, say South Australia’s Pitjantjatjara tribal elders.
In a world most people elect to fill with a cacophony of man-made sound, a brilliant artisan in our midst chooses to fill her own space with the backing music of the bush outside her backyard studio at Cabarlah near Toowoomba. Barbara Scott’s thought processes keep her firmly connected to Mother Earth. This she knows and loves. It’s a deeply spiritual connection, born out of a lifetime’s exploration into mankind’s relationship with the land.
It expresses itself visually through the extraordinary fibre art pieces – wearable and otherwise – that emerge from her workshop in every conceivable form. All manner of natural materials disappear into that unremarkable shed – whole banana leaves, straight-from-the-woolshed Merino fleeces, bundles of silkworm cocoons, mulberry bark, natural dyes. Even manmade polyester fabrics make the cut, occasionally. They emerge collectively as fabulous items, each with its own story of love in the making, and each waiting only for someone to engage with its spiritual connotations and recognise it as their own. Knitted, felted, handspun and stitched clothing, hats, handbags, wall hangings – layered decoupage-like in a wild assortment of fabrics, natural colours, shapes and designs; they shout their messages to an appreciative audience.
It’s not a slow process. Nor is it easy (although Barbara says it is). The whorl of her ideas is as large as the whole wide world and all the things in it; nothing is excluded. But to create a multifaceted felted item from a raw fleece incorporates many steps and many days. It ends in her second, indoor workshop where no less that eight separate sewing machines ply myriad techniques to finish off her fabulous creations. Felting, says Barbara, is the oldest textile technique known to mankind. The early Mongolians infused their felting process with spiritual energy. This understanding, combined with Barbara’s long and deep connection with Australia’s Indigenous people – she speaks Pitjantjatjara fluently – and her knowledge of many of their ‘secrets’ and dreaming (not to mention her penchant for perfection) brings a unique quality to her work. Yet Barbara is quick to add that connection to the earth is not just an Indigenous knowing; all Australians share it in their various ways. Australian-born Barbara’s parents were Scottish. They too carried a deep and abiding respect for Mother Earth and her produce. Generations before them were involved with raising sheep in the great wilderness of the Scottish highlands.
Barbara’s mother taught her to knit at the age of three. The texture of the wool seems to have awakened an instinct that was genetically imprinted; she fell in love with it. By the age of 12 she was selling handknitted, self-designed arts and crafts at the local market. All these years later, after a lifetime’s rich experiences as a teacher, wool breeder, qualified wool classer, artist, designer and fabric-maker, Barbara is able to concentrate on her love of fabrics, and sharing her knowledge and prodigious skills through teaching. Her first-ever solo exhibition was at Goombungee’s Rosalie Gallery in April.
Words by Jane Grieve Images by Janine Waters