Frances Crowe is a seasoned artist whose creative journey began in childhood. While her formal education sculpted her artistic perspective, it’s her unique affinity for tapestry that distinguishes her work. Drawing inspiration from the world’s news and the plight of the vulnerable, Frances weaves intricate stories into her tapestries, aiming to evoke emotional responses from viewers.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
As a child I was always drawing, painting, creating, making. Art in school was my all-time favourite subject. I knew from an early age that I would pursue a creative path. When I left school, I went to the college of art in Waterford the town in the south of Ireland where I grew up. After 2 years there I transferred to the National College of Art and Design NCAD In the Capital city of Dublin, where I studied Painting for 4 years. I knew that I would have to make a living and opted to become an art teacher, It was in my final year that I discovered the weaving department and fell in love with Tapestry.
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Why tapestry? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
A good question, Why Tapestry? A question I often ask myself.
While spending many years teaching Art in school and raising my family, I continued to practise my art, I found it difficult to face a blank page or canvas, but, had no difficulty in putting on a warp and weaving.
My studio space was like my sanctuary, a place I could be alone with my thoughts, my loom, my warp and weft.
Many long hours, weeks and months go into the creation of one Tapestry. The work becomes part of the maker, and the maker becomes part of the work.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I am not too sure about that, I guess I have my own style of weaving, but I do like to explore new materials and possibilities. The feeling and statement behind the visual presentation matters to me. I hope the viewer gets an emotional response from the work.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
My inspiration comes from the constant news cycle, of radio and print media. I am concerned about the world and how we live. This affects the most vulnerable in our society, namely women and children.
War, displacement, and climate change are a constant theme in my most recent work. I am creating a new body of work for a solo show in Westport in county Mayo, Ireland, June/July 2024, Recently I feel drawn towards the marks on the landscape, Human intervention and weathering.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
I have a need to work every day, I am a little bit obsessed with weaving. I seem to need it in my life, and my daily practise engages me for up to 6 hours per day in my studio. If there are other family or social commitments, I will pop in and weave for an hour or so, to relax me and the motion of over under over under, settles me, it is a type of therapy and mindfulness.
If I am not in the studio I am constantly researching, and developing new ideas. Taking photographs, and thinking about my next project.
Describe your creative space.
I am lucky to have a partner who is also a builder. Together we have developed the space in which we live over the past 40 years. This includes a studio addition which we built onto the back of the house 20 years ago, which I can access through my bedroom door. A little bit like a magic wardrobe.
It is a large, high, bright space, with a small studio apartment as a later addition. However, I sometimes feel that I am running out of space, because I am so productive, we constantly find solutions for storage, which could be on the ceiling, or in the two lofts above the working space. The large windows look out onto the permaculture garden.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I am happy to have my home-made free-standing loom, where, I simply wind a warp around two metal bars and weave away. I also have a large scaffold upright homemade loom, where I create the larger works. I purchased a Dryad Loom three years ago where I also create works.
In terms of tools, well I don’t use them, my hands and fingers are the tools of my trade. Having a large supply of yarns is a must for me, and I never seem to have enough shades, tones and colours.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I have to admit I am a news junkie; I never get enough of world news. I think about what is happening to people around the world and imagine how that will affect their lives, this is my constant inspiration.
In the late afternoon I like to play music from my YouTube shuffle, which will include Hozier, Dylan, Cohen, Donovan, Mary Black, etc etc, and all my 70s and 80s tracks
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I start new projects all the time, I love to work alone and in groups, I enjoy teaching, and facilitating community and school-based projects. I take private students into my studio and tailor workshops around their personal needs.
My starting point is always an idea, which lingers for many weeks, while walking, talking and researching. Next, it is put on paper, enlarged to the size required, which is usually constrained by the size of my loom or upright frame. Next, it’s colour, yarns, gathering materials. I like to push the boat out regarding ideas, and materials.
Yes, I often work on several projects at a time. Currently I am a member of Contemporary Tapestry Artists Ireland, The Timelines Tapestry Group Project, Interconnections which involves 4 Tapestry artists from Ireland and 4 from Scotland. I am an active member in all of the above, seeking out funding, exhibition spaces and opportunities.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
I will describe the inspiration and process for the creation of the Torn Apart Tapestry. Please see You Tube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubIvOsMNvuc&t=77s
I was inspired by the Border situation some years ago, where children were taken from their parents and held, often never to be returned, or lost in the system. This large scale work measuring 1x3meters, woven in 2020 explores the pain of separated families. It was woven on its side, with exposed warp in the centre. I enjoy hanging it in different spaces in different ways.
The process is always the same, Many long hours of research and developing a theme, Drawing, enlargement, and slow tapestry weaving over many months. The commitment is enormous, the work is both physical, and rewarding at the same time.
Which part of the design process is your favourite? Which part is a challenge for you?
I do not consider myself a designer. I come from a conceptual space, where the ideas are the most important, the making is slow. I become deeply involved in the creative process, immersed in the images I have woven, working from the bottom up, the image appears in front of me day by day. Cutting off and finishing is my least favourite part.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
To be honest, it never gets in the way, as my formal art education was so scattered, and so long ago, I have developed my own way of working within my practise.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
I totally believe that creativity is indeed part of human nature. We are all creatives; however, it does need to be nurtured. Parents are the first teachers, who must give children the opportunity to explore nature, encourage the youngsters to make, create, have fun, provide art supplies, get dirty, make and break stuff. Cook, dig, paint, make and make. Compliment them on their efforts. Process is important and not the finished product.
How have other people supported or inspired you?
I feel really lucky and grateful to have so many inspiring and supporting people in my life.
First up is my Husband Jack, we have been together for 48 years, I run all my ideas by him, tease out how I am thinking and feeling about my next project, If I come up with some crazy plan for how a piece might be constructed or installed, we will figure it out between us. If I need to do some heavy lifting, delivering a large piece to a Galley in a confined space, he is always on hand.
Next up are my 2 Children, a son and daughter, who have lived with a mother who is a practising artist, my 2 grandsons live next door and understand about Grannys studio practise, there is wonderful repour and respect to my working time and life.
I have a large group of artist friends and colleagues, who I share time, plans, exhibitions and collaborations with, we have a passion to bring Tapestry weaving to a larger audience.
Then there is our group of Scottish weavers, who play a large part in my life, sharing skills, expertise and knowledge. I am supported financially by My local Roscommon County Council, with an individual artists bursary each you, and by the Arts Council of Ireland, namely an Agility Award in 2021 and 2023. Creative Ireland is supporting our Timelines Project currently with a financial contribution enabling us all to travel and work on the project and also to film the process of making.
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
If you are destined to become an artist, it will find you, there is no getting away from it. It becomes a part of your life, like breathing.
Allow the gift in and embrace it. Work hard, and never give up. Believe in yourself. Being practical, you may need another job as well to support your practise, Teaching is a good option, people always want to learn new stuff.
If we visited you today, what would we find you working on?
Today you would see at least 3 different pieces under construction.
One on my homemade wooden standing frame, this piece is the second in the series based on a trip to the Highlands in Scotland. I was inspired by the colours, shapes, and marks in the landscape, and the big low skies, very similar to Connemara, in the West of Ireland.
I also have the Dryad Loom set up to begin working on a theme that has occupied my head space for some time now, It makes reference to the housing shortage currently in Ireland. I want to make a social comment on the fact that the Government stopped building corporation/council houses over 20 years ago, and left the home purchase situation to developers, big corporations, and the banks, thus allowing houses to become trading objects rather than homes.
Another work is being woven on a metal frame it is the 3rd in a series of 4 pieces, using very thick yarn, rope and sisal, showing our footprint on the landscape. All of these new pieces will form part of my solo show which will take place in The Custom House and Studio Gallery in Westport, Ireland in June of 2024.
Where can people see your work?
Interview posted October 2023
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