Sorting through my dad’s things constantly raised the question of what to do with everything? For some items this became what can I do with this? When we got to his collection of ties the question ‘what can I do?’ was particularly pertinent. I had the idea of using them to make a picture, but this led to the inevitable question: a picture of what? Maybe the beach in Galloway we visited every year on holiday, or the South Downs near where he grew up. However I could not picture the ties working for these pastoral scenes. My mum suggested a cityscape would work better for the ties. Then it dawned on me, I needed to look much closer to home and make a picture of North Staffordshire Potbanks (or more formally bottle kilns or ovens).
Making a picture of potbanks is appropriate for two reasons. First, the industrial landscape of Stoke-on-Trent in North Staffordshire is unique and lends itself to artistic interpretation. The simple, curved shapes of bottle kilns are appealing and whimsical. My design for the tie picture was inspired by Shelley Jayne’s colourful drawings. Second, North Staffordshire shaped my father’s life and in turn he worked tirelessly in serving its local communities and contributing to civic life. My parents moved to North Staffordshire in 1971 and while they did not stay there for all of their working lives, it was where they chose to retire to. My father did not though retire; he was soon elected as a Borough Councillor, served as Mayor for Newcastle-under-Lyme and was appointed Alderman for the Borough in 2015.
Once I had decided on the themes of potbanks the picture came together easily. I cut out potbank shapes from his ties and used his shirts for factory buildings and sky. My father avoided blue in his choice of shirts, so I pieced together a sky at dawn or dusk from yellow, pink and lilac ones. I learnt how to quilt a sky from Effie Gallety’s tutorials on landscape quilting. Grey buttons from his shirts create smoke from the kilns.
I made two tie pictures, one for my mother and a second for my father’s sister. I had not seen my aunt for some time. She had not been able to travel for my father’s burial service because of the restrictions of covid-19 lockdown. My father and his sister were close, more so than we appreciated as most of their communication was by email. In the absence of being together as a family, making the pictures was a gesture of connecting with others who mourned and missed my father.