Sue Byatt, January’s guest speaker

Sue applied for the grant on behalf of Carmel Buggy who is a weaver without sight, speech or hearing. Sue runs a Studio Artes, an organisation which helps adults with disabilities explore their talents in various branches of the arts including painting, dance, sculpture and textiles. After working as an occupational therapist, Sue decided she wanted to do something which celebrates peoples abilities rather than tries to compensate for their disabilities. She uses her training and experience to find ways for people who may otherwise have no creative outlet to express themselves.


She met Carmel several years ago and was, at first, confronted with a very angry person who had great trouble communicating. After working out a method of sign language in which she draws on to Carmel’s hand with her own, Sue managed to start a dialogue which, although limited, works amazingly well. Sue has had a lot of experience with Saori weaving which she learned in Japan. She thought that the philosophy and technique of Saori weaving could be useful for Carmel as it can be taught to people with limited abilities and encourages self-expression and the telling of stories through weaving.
After establishing that Carmel was enthusiastic about learning to weave Sue and her helpers set about trying to translate colours into texture and aromas that Carmel could relate to. For instance the colour orange was presented as a yarn that had been scented with orange oil along with an actual orange for texture and taste. Red colours were presented with rose oil and strawberries, and so on. Sue also tried to differentiate colours by their warmth or coolness in the colour spectrum by heating yarns in a microwave or putting them in a freezer before presenting them to Carmel.
We can never be sure how Carmel thinks of these colours or indeed if she has any concept of colour but somehow the ideas that Sue tried to convey lodged in Carmel’s mind and she can now work out pleasing colour palettes to use in her weaving. After painstakingly teaching Carmel to weave by guiding her hands through the steps until she was able to do it on her own, Sue has also managed to teach Carmel to thread her loom and is working on teaching her to wind her own warps.
It became obvious to Sue and others that Carmel not only enjoyed weaving and gained a great deal of satisfaction from it but was a very expressive and skilled craftswoman. There has also been a great reduction in Carmel’s anger issues with her increased ability to communicate and produce work. As encouraging as this was Sue thought that rather than have Carmel weave endless metres of cloth to no particular purpose she would organise an exhibition and sale of her work. Considering the very limited communication between the two of them it was difficult for Sue to explain the concept of an exhibition to Carmel and she went to some effort to contact Carmel’s father, who was living in China, to find out his views on the plan. He convinced Sue that she should go ahead with the idea and so she started to plan the exhibition. Through repeated conversations with Carmel, Sue believes she managed to convey to her the importance of what was going to happen.
The Freda Neale grant was put towards the costs of the exhibition and has also been used to partly fund the purchase of Carmel’s own loom.
On the opening night of the exhibition Carmel’s father and some of her siblings were present. It was the first time in 30 years that the family had been united and was obviously an emotional and important occasion for them all. The photos that Sue showed us from the opening night clearly show the pride that Carmel felt at what was happening. Many of the pieces on display were sold and Sue has been encouraged to develop some more projects of a commercial nature for Carmel to work on. Currently they are developing a range of cushions to sell and Carmel is expanding her output into painting and papier maché work and also combining her skills in mixed media pieces.
Studio Artes is a self-funded organisation. Money and materials are always needed to keep the space open and running for the long list of clients who want to use their services.

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