Julia Douglas

Julia Douglas was the first of four artists to complete a residency for the Art Across Sutherland project which took the theme of ‘bridging’ arts and local/community interests. Exploring the history of the croft house and the notion of home, Julia created a body of work and the residency culminated in an exhibition and publication, both titled Close Knit.

For this residency, Julia focussed her attention on the history of Sutherland crofts and the crofter’s lifestyle. She gathered stories about their lives by and the relationship they had with their homes and the objects they put in them, playfully transforming these into mixed media artworks. She explored the multitude of domestic chores, which were part of daily life in the croft, including: washing, cooking, cleaning, preparing stock feed, spinning, mending creels, knitting clothes, knitting the Helmsdale Gansey pattern for the fishermen, mending and darning and personal hygiene and the work that she produced while here, made reference to these everyday tasks and craft skills.

Because crofter’s lives were both ruined by and dependent on sheep farming, Julia worked with wool as a main material, using processes such as knitting and felting to create the works of art. She also worked with members of Timespan’s enthusiastic knitting group and children from Helmsdale Primary School to create For Your Own Good, a knitted installation inspired by the clearance village of Badbea where families, anxious that their children might accidently fall from the cliffs into the North Sea were said to have tethered the youngsters to rocks when out playing. This cross-generational collaboration not only contributed to the final exhibition but also developed closer relationships between the generations and allowed the knitting group to hand down some of their traditional skills to a younger generation.

Close Knit 21 August – 10 October 2010

Julia’s residency culminated in an exhibition in Timespan’s Gallery taking as its subject the ruined croft houses around Helmsdale and the lifestyle of the people who lived in these houses during the 1800’s. Douglas focused on the size and design of the croft house as well as the crofter’s daily domestic routines of toileting, sleeping and eating, caring for the children, the sick and the elderly, their approach to health and safety, and their ability to care for the limited possessions that they had.

Works made during the residency and shown in the exhibition included fiery flower installations in gable ends, a satirical spoof Estate Agent’s document that aims to sell you a ruined croft on a cliff edge in Badbea, Caithness, a knitted installation made as a cross-generational collaboration and an award-winning rusty old bucket with a new, beautifully woven bottom.

Douglas worked with members of the local community on several pieces for this exhibition. One of these collaborations, ‘For Your Own Good’, was created by enthusiastic members of the knitting group and several children from Helmsdale Primary School, who all gave up hours of their precious summer holiday in order to be a part of the project.

A book of the same title was published at the time of the exhibition containing images of Sutherland and Caithness, snippets of gathered information and quotes about life in the crofts, alongside images of the artist’s works. The book is available as a paperback from Timespan’s Shop, or as a digital book for the iPad, published by COFFEE TABLE.

More about Julia Douglas

Julia Douglas is a textile and mixed media visual artist based just outside Edinburgh in East Lothian, Scotland.

Her work comes from an interest in the home and the relationship people have with the objects they put in their houses. Julia makes art by exploring seemingly trivial household objects, remaking these by playfully transforming them, often using them as surrogates for the owner’s body, and, consequently drawing attention to their significance in helping to tell a story about the inhabitants’ life and the culture in which they lived.

Since graduating with a degree in Textiles and a postgraduate MA in Art & Design in 1999, Julia has worked continuously as a textile and mixed media fine artist, undertaking artist residencies with Deveron Arts, Gracefield Arts Centre, Hospitalfield House and Timespan, and exhibiting continuously throughout, including annually as a Professional Member of Visual Arts Scotland since 2006. She has won a number of awards, including the Richard Coley Award for Sculpture in 2011 for her piece, One Perfectly Good Bucket, which was made on her residency at Timespan.

For more information on Julia’s practice and other projects that she has worked on, visit her website.