Vanessa Wilson is an emergent fabric and fibre creative. Vanessa Wilson lives in Putaruru a small and unprepossessing rural timber and agricultural service town on the side of State Highway One in the South Waikato. Perhaps not the place you’d automatically associate with fabric recyling, garment recreating and alternative fashion development.
No you most probably won’t find Vanessa’s name in the past lists of WOW (World of Wearable Art) and you may not have met her at bijou fashion functions of the fashion cognoscenti but in a small and unprepossessing rental property in Putaruru, Vanessa Wilson has started her journey as a creative artist in fibre and fabric.
I met Vanessa and one of her children quite by accident. I’m looking for my future small-town home so I’m out and about round places with names that aren’t in the biggest print on the map. I decide I don’t want to buy the house Vanessa and her children currently live in. But, I do want to talk to Vanessa about the dresses I see hanging around the house and the dressmaker’s dummy standing to one side of her crowded little sitting room.
Using traditional art-speak, Vanessa is a mixed media creative. The first dress Vanessa shows me is a repurposed vintage dress sourced at a local op shop. Bubble wrap has been incorporated in the sleeves and clear plastic has been used to create the traditional petticoat underskirt. And the train? Ofcourse, it’s an old curtain. There it is, a Snow White – Red Riding Hood fairytale storybook frock with gathered skirt and back lacing corset closing. What prompted its creation? A Christian-based creative development camp for local women – a transformational experience.
Vanessa’s daughter asks her Mum to show me the dress Vanessa decorated for her school Christmas event. Again it’s op shop vintage. Kelly green chiffon with large letters of the alphabet stitched on it. Other adornments look like bits of Christmas decoration.
What’s going on now – what’s on the tailor’s dummy? Vanessa has heard the forthcoming Putaruru Water Festival is holding an arts and design competition and she’s going to enter a concoction of blue tarpaulin, corrugated cardboard blue painted leaves and another dismembered op shop offering. Daughter drapes yards or kilometres of her hand-woven woollen rope (think french knitting) around the dress. This could be an intergenerational creation.
We’re standing in the garage talking about this proposed work of art when Vanessa tells me she’s having difficulty entering the competition. I encourage her to go back the following day and find out what’s going on. I ask if I can photograph them, no, but I can photograph the dresses. We hang them on the doors. We swap phone numbers and contact details.
I get a call from Vanessa telling me the Water Festival isn’t going to have the arts and design competition this year after all. I suggest she finish her creation and ask for a display space at the Festival. I also suggest she approach the Putaruru iSite, local businesses including Van Dyke Furnishings – why? Because I think Putaruru is trying to change and grow and I’ve seen the Van Dyke name in media reports I’ve read about these efforts.
I get another call from Vanessa. Can she email me an image of the completed creation. You bet. Then there’s a text. The dress is going to be displayed in the Putaruru iSite. I’m so pleased and I text my glee back. A smiley face returns. I suggest that Vanessa make contact with the established fabric and fibre creative Debra Laraman: who knows where that will go.
I remember formally trained stitch artist Jo Dixey explaining to me her need to create, the feeling the physical act of stitching gave her and I can tell that this is something rurally brought up Vanessa feels too. Will I be driving over the Kaimai’s, through the back road to Putaruru – but of course. There is no difference between our respective needs to create and express, we’re just using different media and doing it our own way.
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.