Joan fell in love with the medium on the first day of her tapestry degree at Edinburgh College of Art.
“Somehow it had everything I wanted - narrative, decorative and pictorial possibilities combined with an exacting series of technical skills to be learned and perfected, and a repetitive, direct physical engagement with the materials.”
After completing her studies at ECA, Joan went on to undertake a post-graduate study of Tapestry at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. This allowed her to study a very different approach to tapestry. “This long period of intensive study gave me a sound creative platform and the beginnings of a personal tapestry vocabulary.”
For the next eight years, Joan extended and improved her technical and creative skills by working in commercial tapestry studios in England and Australia. She worked on tapestries designed by international artists such as Howard Hodgkin, John Piper and Henry Moore, and was part of the team that wove the famousHenry Moore tapestries.
In 1987, Joan became an independent tapestry artist. From her studio in Sutherland she creates beautiful, vibrant works, which capture the light, colours and textures of landscape and history. She works in the classical woven tapestry tradition, usually creating rectangular, wall mounted tapestries woven in wool.
“This traditional process continues to excite me because, although slow and deliberate, it still allows me to push boundaries in design, technique, material and concepts. I have recently been working with tie dyed warps and digital images, with willow and aspen branches and with the different surface textures that can be achieved with plant fibres in conjunction with wool. “
“My work deals with landscape and its history. I am particularly inspired by the rich cultural heritage and wild beauty of the far North of Scotland where I live. My tapestries describe landscapes which slip between realism and pattern. Often my tapestries travel through a landscape, showing multiple horizons and describing more than one viewpoint and more than one time-frame. My research mostly consists of walks in the hills, looking for old tracks and fields, for burial places and the sites of forgotten clachans. Secondary research takes the form of looking at maps, Google earth and local archive material as well as retracing my steps to look again and take photographs in particular light or at a particular time of year. I do a minimum amount of designing on paper but quite a lot of sampling. I like the edgy excitement of developing the design as I construct the piece, never quite knowing whether it is going to work or not. If I could draw it in its finished form beforehand there would be no need to weave it.”
Joan now devotes herself to the craft full time through developmental work, teaching, and commissions.
“Its a bit of a precarious balance but it since I have arranged my life so that I can live on what I earn from my tapestry skills, rather than expecting to make a real living from them, I seem to have been able to sustain a happy and productive life, doing what I most want to do."
“A young visitor to my studio once said rather scornfully of tapestry, 'it takes ages to learn, it takes ages to do and you can't make any money from it, why would anyone want to do that?' Why indeed? It doesn't surprise me that younger people simply wouldn't consider a career in tapestry, seeing it as unviable. There is no doubt that being a tapestry artist is tough going, but it’s a choice you make with your eyes open, no one makes much money or gets much recognition outside the tapestry ghetto. My colleagues and I have spent our careers trying and largely failing to raise the profile of contemporary tapestry. It’s disappointing and discouraging sometimes but that’s just how it is. I choose to work in this ancient medium because I find it beautiful, its pace suits the way I create and it continually excites and satisfies me.”
During 2010, Joan has exhibitions in France, Sweden and the USA, and she is one of the makers featured in our Meet Your Maker exhibition in Timespan.