leading voices

Liesbeth Den Besten

LdB met colliier Lisa WalkerMisjaB ed small

What are your observations of mothers in arts?

I know that there are many women in arts who consciously choose not to have children. If they decide otherwise they on average have one child. I made a list of 50 artists I know or have known; 27 of these have no children, 12 of these have 1 child and 11 have 2 children. So: 50 women – 34 children, the average number of children per female artist is 0.68, the average number of children per woman in the western world is about 1.5. My data is just based on an estimate, I wonder what hard data there is.

 

How has motherhood been presented within the discipline of jewellery historically?

Historically jewellery has been part of the crafts and was a male profession. In my country (The Netherlands), there were a handful of young women who worked independently as jewellers in the 1930s – but they were quite an exception. I knew two of them.

Nel van der Chijs, who had her own jewellery studio in the city of Utrecht, and moved to New Zealand after World War II – she had no children. She passed away some years ago. The other woman jeweller, Riet Neerincx, studied in London just after World War II, had difficulty setting up her own studio in The Netherlands after her return but she managed, she won some awards and was among the few female jewellers in the 1950s and early 1960s (at the end of the 1960s, with the increase in economic prosperity, the number of female jewellers increased likewise). Riet Neerincx also had no children, and passed away some years ago. Her wife is still alive. I wrote about both jewellers. I composed a brochure for the Silver Museum in Schoonhoven based on my correspondence with Nel van der Chijs; and I wrote an introduction in a publication about Riet Neerincx. Nel van der Chijs once said in a newspaper interview that she only became interested in jewellery when she decided she wanted to study at the IvKNO (Institute for Applied Arts in Amsterdam, now the Rietveld Academy). The director was not very happy with her choice and told her: “Well if you really want to exchange needle and thread for the hammer you should try it for some time but I don’t put much faith in  it.” She started there in 1927. She was quite a woman: she had her own studio in Utrecht, and had business cards printed. Financially it was not easy – later it turned out that she had paid too much tax for a long period of time. According to her this had to do with the fact that she was an unmarried independent woman – people, civil servants, regarded her as a suffragette. It was very unusual for a woman to live the life of a man. She organised exhibitions for other craftswomen in her studio, she had advertisements in newspapers, she participated in exhibitions, she was a very active person. As she said – she was not interested in men.                        

 

Have you seen any changes in recent years?

In those years being a professional craftsperson and a mother must have been a mission impossible. We can say a lot has changed because the combination is possible today but still a lot of women who are ambitious decide not to have children.

 

What are the issues as you see it in motherhood’s visibility within the discipline?

I don’t think there is much work about motherhood. I do know I have seen examples over the years but I don’t think it is the real issue. The real issue in arts (and maybe a little bit in jewellery) is gender.

 

While overwhelming percentages of women graduate into the field each year, motherhood is rarely discussed/made public. Why do you think this is? 

I think most people see motherhood as a personal choice. You have to fight for it yourself, to find your own solutions. Some people succeed very well, others struggle with it for the rest of their lives. For me personally, motherhood was never an issue, I loved being a mother of three, but I also loved my work and I never ever thought for one moment about giving it up for  even a short break. For a short period, I had to work at a slower pace but I managed to do a lot in the evenings and during the hours the children went to daycare or were with a babysitter. I was lucky to have very healthy children who slept well after their first year and I don’t need much sleep myself. Also, I was lucky to have a husband who really cared and who was willing to get out of bed at night. Actually, I think motherhood for me has always been something personal – it’s my life, my choice, my fun and my struggle, why should I share that with others? Would it help others?

Your question could also be turned around: why do girls feel attracted to art academies? Where are the boys going – all in finance, economics, business probably? I think in a period of 100 years the arts have been feminised but at the top it is still the men who are in the lead – you can see this if you look at the ranking lists for artists, professorships and other responsible jobs, though we are seeing changes now.

 

There is a difference in what’s important to mothers and what’s important to the field, we are looking for the place where those two sets of needs meet. Do you think there is such a thing?

What is important to mothers? Can anyone give an answer to that question? Is there an answer? I wouldn’t know. Again, I think motherhood is a personal choice. For me motherhood and work were separate entities. I wanted it like that. I had no problem closing the door and leaving the family behind for a couple of hours. My work was my escape from motherhood, my escape from home, the daily routine and all the boring things that are part of motherhood. Of course, there were feelings of guilt but that’s why you have friends and family to discuss these things with. Older women (who can tell you that you are doing well and that you should ignore the negative feelings) are especially important to meet with every now and then.

…and what is important to the field?

Is there an answer to that question? Maybe: dedicated artists who follow their own way, and try to inspire each other. Inspiration is something you need both as a mother and an artist.

 

What do you think needs to happen to make it easier to work for mothers in our field?

I wonder if our field is more difficult than any other free creative profession. In the creative sector it is hard to earn your money and the liberal professions rarely have official maternity leave policy. If you have a second job it can be easier because you can afford to pay for childcare.

The most important thing is that you are able to clear the children out of your head every now and then, to stop being a mother and to be an artist again – which is incredibly difficult of course. But I really think, from my own experience, that motherhood shouldn’t play the most important role in your life: that you should fight for free space beyond motherhood – only there you can start creating again.

 

Do you think it’s important to represent mothers for example in the gallery sphere?

That sounds interesting: to start a collective of mothers that runs a gallery space. But if you do so, should all the work presented in the gallery be about motherhood? I do think it is important that mothers help each other: you are in the same situation and you understand each other well. But I wonder if it is interesting to make motherhood your prime identity: a woman is so much more. ‘Motherhood’ lasts for a relatively short period of time, although you will be a mother until your death. So, I would say: think beyond motherhood. Motherhood is personal, precious, nasty, difficult, and lovely at the same time – but nothing unique.

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Charlotte (28), Jasper (27), and Vincent (30)

 

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leading voices

Amy Lowe

amylowe work

Do you find there are differences in how you work and how you approach your work now you are a mother? Please explain.

There are most certainly differences, it tends to be ‘grab time when you can’, although if I have a looming deadline that will be my priority as much as possible. This can mean there is some kind of fallout if I’ve forgotten to wash the school uniform or make the supper. It can be chaotic at times but we find a way.

If you sell your own work, you have to constantly promote yourself constantly and schmooze. I didn’t quite realise this until I was less able to do it. What was once the norm can become a formidable task as private views and work socials are at the bedtime hour. It becomes easier not to go out and for me this has stuck. It is only now that my daughter is 12 that this is becoming easier, though complicated by her recent diagnosis of diabetes. We find a way to do it but my work does become secondary. I was lucky when she was younger – my husband would support me financially and he would give his time when he could. I wasn’t earning enough through my work to justify paying anyone to help and family were too far away but would help when they could.

Because I had left an established business when I was pregnant it was slow to start over again as a maker but I kept my hand in with open house, exhibitions and special commissions. After a while I felt out of the loop, I lost touch with other makers so I decided to go back to education to refresh my skills and meet like-minded people and I am currently doing an craft Masters specializing in metals.

As my daughter is getting older, I want to be a positive role model for her, I am a mum and a maker! I want her to see that both of these roles are very important. She has started to ask if I will teach her to make jewellery so I have shown her some techniques and we are making her a ring out of copper. Previously and on her own initiative she has made jewellery out of paper and wire.

Working with materials other than precious metals has definitely been a change and a challenge and has developed my desire to work within the community, using my skills and helping to nurture and develop creativity. Playing and making with my daughter and her friends and doing kids’ workshops when she was younger reminded me of just how important creativity is and how children can open your eyes to uninhibited creative play – food for your soul. Don’t ever give it up!

My latest work for my MA is about a children’s hospital and it’s patients. It was built on the seashore in East Sussex in the 1920’s, and is now a ruin. The history of the place fascinated me and my work touches on fragility, healing and impermanence. When my daughter was first diagnosed with diabetes I did a lot of research into human cells and disease and used my findings as source material and inspiration for my practice. So my work is definitely influenced by becoming a mother and all that goes with it.

 

Did you work when your child was younger? What guided your decision? On reflection, how do you feel about this decision now?

I realised I was pregnant whilst leaving one job and was thinking about what to do next. Everything had been thrown up into the air, the changes were huge. I had to leave everything behind and start over but it wasn’t until my daughter was about 18 months and got a place in a daycare nursery, that I started in a new workshop and took on various commissions. She would be at nursery from 9 – 5, 3 days a week.

When she was 3 we moved from London to Hastings. All change again, however, I kept my hand in, making and exhibiting, but did less. It wasn’t a conscious decision. As a mum, your eyes and ears are more tuned to your kid’s needs than anything else. My work fitted in and around other people but it was never an option for me to completely stop, whilst my nurturing side kicked in I also missed the work routine but then I came to accept my new role and enjoyed it. There is an incredible richness in becoming a mother and your creativity finds new ways to express itself. I’m not sure this is really recognised enough though.

I feel very lucky to have been able to spend so much time in those few precious early years together. I think it’s all about finding a balance between the two though, which is difficult and not always possible.

 

Now you have a child, do you feel your requirements as a maker have changed in any way? Please explain.

Time is always limited and you have to be so much more organised. I have a space at home to work which helps, though it easy to get distracted with home life – it can sometimes take a long time to sit down to work when the dog needs a walk and that pile of washing needs sorting.

As I’ve said before, my daughter was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes so there are unexpected days off school and hospital visits- although all parents can experience unexpected and sudden changes to well laid plans!

Instead of socialising at university I will be rushing home to get the tea on. I tend to work better in the early morning when there are fewer distractions, I am often up at 5.30am and by 8pm I can’t function so well and I’m usually in bed by 10pm.

 

What do you think needs to happen to make it easier to work for mothers in our field?

Perhaps there should be longer paternity leave? More dads are becoming involved with childcare and it would be helpful if there was more emphasis on this as well as financial help from the state. The Nordic model of getting help as and when you need it would be wonderful but then our government and the tax system would have to change radically which I can’t see happening for a while. As mothers we should continue to be vocal about it, so often in the work place motherhood is seen as an impediment.

Being a new mum can be isolating, schemes like Sure Start which have been axed should be readily available to all as well as places for new mums to get together and meet up and connect. I was lucky to live in an area where there were many support groups – communication is a real positive between mums in establishing supportive networks.

My family have always been a long way away so I could never rely on their support for childcare on a day to day level. The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ can be much less so in the western world as communities and demographics change. New mums shouldn’t be worried about asking for help. I was very lucky to get a place in the local day care centre, I had put my daughter’s name down before she was born! It was a very good nursery but the waiting list was very long. It should be easier for mums to get their free childcare. More creches in the workplace would also be helpful.

 

What for you are the main differences between being a female maker without children and being a female maker with children?

I don’t think you can fully empathise with people who have kids until you have your own, I know I didn’t understand as my younger self. I think if you put all your energies into your work something else will suffer, finding that balance is a constant struggle. As women we are expected to be the kind, caring, nurturing ones and to succeed in the workplace, we have to become more ‘male’. I think it is important for mother makers to find their own pace and space to grow and allow themselves to appreciate just how important raising a child is. Sadly, I think this society does not recognise this or encourage it.

 

 

If you could give your younger child-free self any advise on how to work with other mother makers, what would it be?

I realise it can be hard for either side, people with kids will need more flexibility and those without are expected to accommodate this. Compassion, good communication and all round understanding of everyone’s needs can go a long way.

 

What are your observations of mothers in arts?

The field I work in is craft where women have always been strongly represented. It is also associated with the home, and domestic life is not deemed important. Many female artists and makers have subverted this idea and have been called feminists. The feminist label would probably get you more recognition in the art world  than being called a mother. The literary critic and writer Cyril Connolly arrogantly asserted back in the 1930’s that, “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” Make of that what you will, but perhaps he believed that motherhood and domestic preoccupations were detrimental to ‘the creative self’. I believe that motherhood is an incredibly rich, inspiring and creative experience (along with all its trials and tribulations!)

There are a lot of mothers who are makers out there, quietly getting on with it but perhaps aren’t recognised as such because our society doesn’t value motherhood enough. Perhaps they don’t feel a need to shout about it and don’t necessarily want to be labeled as such. To be left quietly undisturbed is not necessarily a bad thing. But I feel workplace and motherhood is not talked about enough.

For me, one of the strongest pieces of art depicting motherhood in a positive way is Louise Bourgeois’ ‘Mamam’, which was a tribute to her own mother. And I really like spiders. Crafts have always been associated with women and that was the preferred place for them to be in a patriarchal society so the art/craft crossover has meant more women are represented in galleries but it will be a craft gallery more than an art gallery.

 

While overwhelming percentages of women graduate into the field each year, motherhood is rarely discussed/made public. Why do you think this is?

Perhaps mothers feel they can’t shout about being a mother in a male dominated patriarchal society. I think it can only change if women support each other here though and stay vocal about it.

 

Do you think it’s important to represent mothers for example it the gallery sphere?

I think it’s all about choice, if mothers want to be represented more in the gallery sphere as such, then yes why not, but I think it is equally important to retain the essence of being female , not become too male, clinical and stark as many galleries are. There is room for it all.

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About


Amy Madge studied jewellery design at Plymouth School of Art and Design, graduating in 1990. She continued to develop her craft and distinctive designs in London whilst working for other designers such as Jacqueline Rabun and Naomi Filmer. In the late 1990’s she co-founded @Work, a contemporary jewellery gallery on Brick Lane in the heart of Shoreditch, East London that she co-ran for 6 years.

After the birth of her child and moving on from @Work, she worked with L-13 Light Industrial Workshop working alongside the artists in residence there taking on various commissions.

In 2004 she moved to Hastings and continued to focus on her own work in silver. She was involved in museum projects and exhibitions including Hastings Museum and Ditchling, open house and Coastal Currents and private commissions.  In 2015 she returned to college to study for a Designer Maker BA (Hons) degree and is currently doing her MA in Craft specialising in metals at Brighton University.

She continues to live and work in Hastings and her daughter is now 12.