Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jane Lemon -- Artist and Teacher 

A recent telphone conversation with my friend Robin about an upcoming seminar and a query on a designers group about needlework teachers have led me to focus on an experience with a truly great artist and teacher of needlework, Jane Lemon.

For years, stitchers in the UK have been able to attend lectures and workshops given by Jane Lemon at branch, regional and national gatherings of the Embroiderers' Guild as well as local college settings such as Missenden. This extraordinary artist has now virtually retired and limits herself to a few lectures. She now seems to focus her lectures on her beloved Sarum Group, their history and their many accomplishments.

Although I was traveling to England regularly to do research, in the early 90's I made a special trip to Durham where the AGM (Annual General Meeting) of the Embroiderers' Guild was scheduled. Hands on workshops at the AGM are scheduled prior to the main meeting days and I was enticed by promise of a special visit to the Cathedral led by the Cathedral Embroidery Guild to see their needlework collection -- including the Cuthbert Embroideries. I registered for two classes. First was a goldwork class with Tracy Franklin. I had done some extended goldwork workshops at the RSN (Royal School of Needlework) when Tracy had been in her apprenticeship years there and enjoyed her as a teacher.

The main attraction of this trip was, however, the opportunity to attend a workshop with Jane Lemon. I was a beginning-intermediate goldworker who had poured over Jane’s book Metal Thread Embroidery and the chapter by her in the Search Press book Gold & Silver Embroidery. It took years for me to own a copy of her book Embroidered Boxes which has now been republished.

Jane had plotted out a lovely little project inspired by marbled paper patterns. The most important experience however was simply being in the presence of a great artist/teacher and walking away in sensory overload. She is, of course, brilliant in technical needlework skills and renowned for her design accomplishments, but she has the greater attributes of being approachable, sharing, keenly interested in others and rates my highest accolade "A Decent Human Being."

Do my students today get a strong dose of Fibonacci sequence, design notebook nudges and various other tips and tricks of working with metal threads? Then they have Jane Lemon to thank.

She demonstrated the importance of design notebooks by bringing to class two of her notebooks so we could see the design process from commission, to inspiration, to design, to execution and installation. Another notebook was simply crammed with decades of collecting peacock motifs. Everything from magazine images to sketches of examples seen on her travels.

All this nostalgia has led me to ponder on the points I think make a good teacher and especially a good teacher of needlework. First I think one needs a deep and thorough understanding of the needlework technique one is teaching as well as a passionate belief in its importance. Not just the mechanical rendition of the technique, but also its relationship to other textiles, other techniques and general placement in social, economic and political history. It is this confidence in one’s ability that allows for generosity of spirit in sharing knowledge with students and the ability to define and share with students those things one does not yet know. Through sharing meals and workshops and casual conversations with Ms. Lemon that weekend, I was inspired, enriched and taught technical skills.

She has in recent years received an well-deserved MBE but I’m sure it hasn’t made her any more (or less) just plain NICE. And if you ever get a chance to see her sitting at a worktable fondling, manipulating, taming and transforming an assortment of gilded kid, purls, and other assorted metal bits, I assure you it will exceed the fascination of watching a close-up magician at their art.

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