Sandra O.

Who am I and what physical path has my life taken?

I was born in Wagga Wagga, the youngest of three with a nine and five year gap between me and my sister and brother.  At the age of three I contracted bronchial asthma which I suffered regularly until I was 14.  I spent a number of weeks each winter in bed recovering, as was the treatment in the 1950’s, could not participate in sport as it aggravated breathlessness and consequently I carried more weight than ideal.  I was quite happy in my own world, had enough friends to satisfy, loved my dolls and film star scrap book, piano lessons and loved my cat, which of course I learned in later years was the prime irritant for the asthma.  I was quiet, introvert and shy.  At the same time I felt loved and secure within a very happy and loving family.  My father had migrated from Germany many years earlier, and was a loyal and trusted Australian citizen, but in post WWII years this background was a source of what we would nowadays call bullying from some of my peers, and in particular the girl I played piano duets with in the eisteddfod competitions.

At the local high school and then boarding school I did well, but didn’t really apply myself to my studies, except for formal piano lessons.  At high school I excelled in French but didn’t continue with this as it wasn’t available at boarding school.  I almost went on to study speech pathology, but chose instead to be a parish worker in my church.  Following a year’s training I spent two years in Canberra loving and working with Europeans who had migrated to Australia post WWII.  After a whirlwind romance with the man who is my now husband, a christian pastor in the snowy mountains, I spent eight months home with my parents, as I wanted to, as I didn’t expect that our life journey after we married would take me back close to them again.   How grateful I am, as shortly after we married my father died suddenly.

Over the next 25 years, and with two beautiful sons, we moved a few times to beautiful places in southern Australia including Hobart, Melbourne and the Barossa Valley.  As for anyone in a public position we experienced expectations that impacted on our family lifestyle.  I wrote in week 2 that “for many years I rebelled against expectations, not loudly or offensively, but in a way that allowed me to live my life as I chose”.  I’ve always been comfortable with my own company, younger than my siblings, alone while recovering from illness, living in new places away from family, and living and working with new people.

While I write about these experiences as being important, in living with them I developed, even at a young age, an inner strength and confidence that has enabled me to go places and do things on my own.   However, it’s one thing to be comfortable on your own in a crowd, but it’s another thing to feel that others will like or approve of what you do.

For 25 years I worked in aged care, supporting very frail older people to receive support services in their home, preparing organizations and services for accreditation reviews, and conducting these reviews.  I loved working with older people.  I didn’t enjoy organizational politics and often felt a concern that I wasn’t good enough for what they wanted.

I grew up in a household where my mother and grandmother made beautiful textiles both for enjoyment and functionality.  There was little waste with items being repaired, reused or recycled.  This influence developed in me a love and appreciation for the role of fabric in daily life, such as clothes, household items, for sleep, work and play, protection from heat and cold, for celebrations and life passages.  After years of knitting, crochet and counted thread cross stitch, I fell into patchwork and quilting.  I attended courses to gain skills, and it didn’t take long before I was ready to move onto other things, art quilts, or more broadly textile art.

How do I work and what do I love to do?

I’m an organized person, and work well with detail.  I like to put things into piles, stacking them together so that I can easily and quickly get to them.  I also multi task and time manage well and enjoy challenging myself to make the most of the empty spots of time in the day, such as reading, being inspired by how and what someone else does.

The materials I use include fabrics that are old and previously discarded, hand printed, dyed and rusted, and papers and textile throwaways, reflecting a previous use and memories of lives lived.

I’m one of four in a collage group working for an exhibition at the end of the year,   We started 18 months ago with paper and have developed into fabric and paper and this is the focus of a lot of what I’m doing at this point in time.  I love it.  I’m also in another group, made up of the four of us who graduated from college together.  We continue to meet and have two exhibitions planned over the next two years, but this group doesn’t have the same focus as the collage group and as an individual artist I don’t receive the feedback, critique and support as in the collage group.  At this time in my life and my art journey I find that the collage group provides such a good environment and stimulus for me, in that I work on my own for the month and then receive feedback, critique and encouragement to continue working.  I feel inspired as well as disciplined in this environment but know that the outcomes are really up to me.

What do I care about?

I love fabric, the feel, texture and colour, the effect of stitch and I’m so often surprised and delighted with how it all comes together.  I care for and love deeply my family and friends.  My inspiration comes from influences including the passion and skill for all things textile passed on from my mother and grandmother.  I’m currently working with a garden theme.

It is important for me, in bringing together cloth and ephemera, to create something that reflects some meaning or story.  The exploration and use of techniques and fibres are not only an aim in themselves, but also a way to create a story with them being the vocabulary.