It was a pleasure to visit Newcastle-upon-Tyne to meet Donna Cheshire for Craft&Design Magazine.
Since she was a child playing with Granny’s button box, Donna Cheshire has worked and played with textiles. She still zings with enthusiasm and says, “It’s still exciting and it’s still satisfying. If I have a period when I’m not making textiles, I really miss it. So it’s still a big passion.”
Donna is an artist. Due to the nature of their unique work, many artists work alone. But Donna has made sharing the core of her business, by leading community art projects.
The point of community art, she says, is to involve people in the making process, giving them a stake in the finished work. Along the way, people learn new skills and are often enthused to take them further. Donna also incorporates their ideas and experience in the finished artwork, a feat which she describes as ‘no mean task.’
Organising a project so that people of all ages and abilities can contribute is a skill in itself. Early in her career, Donna trained as a teacher, and this experience helps her to plan the work in a way that allows everyone to become involved.
Donna shines when communicating her love of textile art. She constantly sketches ideas, but, she says, “In textile, it comes into completion. Through fabric and stitch, you can build layers and add texture.”
Her attic workshop, wonderfully lit with roof lights, is lined with shelves of fabrics, sorted by colour. “That’s my palette,” she smiles. She has a scrapbox which, “One day,” will be an inspiration in itself.
Donna studied for her first degree at Huddersfield, where technical and industrial skills were taught. Later she went into teaching, which gave her invaluable skills in communication. Today, Donna brings all her skills together to involve others in creating textile art.
Donna’s artistic vision drives a project. From there, she selects the techniques and materials most suited to bringing that vision to life. She says, “I went into appliqué more and more, and machine embroidery. I went back to dyeing for the colour palette I want.”
As for materials, she says, “For dyeing, natural fibres. But texture’s as important as the colour.” She continues to try new things and learn, commenting, “I’ve got a bag of avocado skins in the freezer to experiment with because I’m told it makes a pink dye. But I use whatever’s appropriate to the project I’m on.”
Donna finds inspiration in a sense of place, a subject that works well for communities. She is keen to bring her art to as many people as possible, and avoids ‘art speak’. She explains, “That’s talking to a specific group of people, and not a wider group of people. Because I work in the community, I look to break down barriers and let people in. Art that has to be explained is cutting people off. It needs to be accessible.”
She adds, “A piece of art can work on different levels. People can say I love the colours, I love that place that’s depicted, or this is a piece about the value of nature and preserving it. It comes back to meeting people. If they meet the artist, they can understand more about why you did it. It’s all about communication.”
Happily, she adds, “I like people. I like to communicate with people and my passion about art.”
But, she adds, “I also can’t be airy-fairy. I need to be practical and pragmatic to lead a project. It’s a sense of professionalism. If someone says they need something by a certain date, you can’t say they can’t have it because your creative muse has flown away. You have to get it done.”
And it’s Donna’s combination of practial and artistic skills that is enabling her to introduce many more people to the joys of making their own art.
Donna Cheshire is winner of Craft&Design’s Selected Gold award for textiles. Read more in Craft&Design, September/October 2016 issue,