Lancashire felt fibre artist Catherine Kaufman gains inspiration for her wonderful sculptures from nature and her imagination. Photography: Lee Parkinson
Following on from her win at the Ribble Valley Craft Open Exhibition 2019, Catherine Kaufman was asked to exhibit her work at Olympia in London and she is set to showcase her sculptures in Dublin and Harrogate later this year.
Catherine, who is known as the Woolly Queen, grew up in a household full of art – her father was an antiques dealer and as a small child, she recalls her mother drawing beautiful elaborate pictures.
“My father ran an antiques business so I was surrounded with art and artefacts and our home was filled with beautiful art and furniture – this greatly influenced me. My mother drew dancing ladies with crinolines for me which I loved.”
As a young girl Catherine always had a love of nature, imagining a world of fairy tales in the forests, countryside and riverbanks as she played near her childhood home.
“I remember that I always gravitated to the nature table at school, it was a magnet for me. I was always making and putting things together. I loved sand, playing with water and my favourite was fuzzy felt. This was the start of things to come.”
“I loved the smells of nature and the birdsong and noises. While among nature my imagination would be full of fairies and pixies and characters from stories I had read. It was all there, a rich tapestry just waiting to emerge.”
Attending a Catholic school in Altrincham, Catherine left school at 16 but it wasn’t until she was living as a housewife in Rossendale, that she began to re-engage with her love of art.
“I began painting, I joined a local watercolour class, while bringing up my three children and I was asked to apply for a place at Blackburn University to study for a BA in Fine Art. At first, I thought it was crazy as I had no academic experience and I was a housewife with children! I wasn’t sure they had the right person to be honest!”
“I made every possible excuse not to go as I was scared, but they kept pursuing me so eventually I decided to try it.”
Catherine went on to gain a first-class Fine Art degree in 2012 and is now one of the UK’s leading needle felt fibre artists.
“Working as a felt fibre sculptor happened by chance. One morning I saw a lady who was demonstrating spinning and felting. I had never considered this medium before. I asked her if she thought I could make sculptural figures with wool. She went on to teach me all the craft skills I needed to start creating my work. That lady was Judith Beckett of the Wonder of Woolies and she became my guru and mentor. Wool is now my love and being a fibre artist is my life.”
Catherine gleans inspiration from many things to create her beautiful life-size sculptures, as she explains: “It all starts with a thread of an idea. Where to start comes in many forms, I may find a figure whirling around in my subconscious – I often don’t really know who will surface so it’s very exciting!”
“Then I get to work practically and physically and the figure literally comes pouring out. It’s something that once I start, I don’t stop until its finished, so I never quite know how long it’s going to take or how I’m going to create it. It all happens naturally and organically during the creative process.”
Catherine admits that her creations are a reflection of her emotions: “If I was a writer I would put them into words or as a musician I would put my emotions and feelings into a piece of music. It is a way of working that suits my personality. I work for long periods with my pieces so I am able to attach myself and immerse myself completely into it. I find this very healing and comforting. The making process is so physical – it is very therapeutic and cathartic.”
Having chosen wool as her medium for her art, Catherine says it was important to her to select a material that is environmentally friendly and organic.
“In a world of synthetics there is no substitute for wool. Wool has a celestial symbolism that represents purity and truth.”
She sees her work as a ceaseless daily discipline: “It stems from my love of the making process, the physical repetitive act of making and assembling. I explore my own sense of self and that of the female narrative within the yarns.”
Her award-winning work showcased at the Spring Knitting and Stitching Show in London, was highly praised and she was delighted to be able exhibit there: “I have just come back from Olympia. I was chosen to be an exhibiting textile artist there and was lucky to have a large stand where I displayed my collection of sculptural needle felt. The show was wonderful and I have had a great response to my work and I met some wonderful people.
“Before that I was thrilled to win the Ribble Valley Craft Open Exhibition ‘People’s Choice’ with Miss Havisham – a needle felted sculpture. The people of Lancashire voted for her which was wonderful!”
“I am really passionate about my work and through it, I hope to raise awareness of the value of traditional crafts. This is at the heart of what I do and if I can inspire young people to keep these ancient skills alive, then I have succeeded.”