Category Archives: Resident Artist

The High Window’s Resident Artist: Autumn 2022

Rowena photo cropped

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Rowena Sommerville introduces herself:

I was a lucky baby-boomer, able to go to art school to study Graphics and Illustration despite my parents’ (perfectly justified) anxieties, and despite knowing nothing, either on arrival or on graduation, of how one actually earned a living from these skills. I then worked in a variety of youth justice, psychiatric and social care settings while picking up bits of illustration work (including for Spare Rib!), and gradually learned how to put together a creative life. When I had children I also began to write ‘for them’ and eventually had my first children’s book published, which I had written and illustrated.

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Like almost all practising artists nowadays, I have had to earn a living through a ‘portfolio career’, parlaying varied skills into varied income streams. My craft skills have generally been those considered as traditionally female – particularly knitting and sewing – and those types of skills have often been dismissed or disregarded by the realms of art and culture, so I am inviting viewers of The High Window to pay renewed attention to these practices and to see how they enrich and decorate our world.

I have designed, made and sold things, designed and made bespoke commissioned things, and have taught other people how to design and make things, so the worlds of yarn and textile do tend to lift my soul. I am including here three images from knitwear that I designed, made and wore, and an image from a wall-hanging I made – which hangs on my wall – celebrating Jimi Hendrix, himself no stranger at all to style, colour and rich fabric.

I am also including a poem (from my collection Melusine published by Mudfog in September 2021) entitled ‘Five-petalled’. This poem celebrates both my parents, but particularly my mother, who passed on her textile skills to me, even though she wasn’t always entirely comfortable with what I went on to make and wear.

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Yin and Yang

yin and yang

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Cat and Window

cat and window

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Poppies

poppies

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Jimi wallhanging

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And for those of you who recognise the quote, here’s Jimi’s Purple Haze

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FIVE-PETALLED

I was surprised to sudden tears
by delphiniums
sky-petalled in a country garden
their heavenly plenty
dragooned in strict rows
just as my father had grown them

I remember coming home one night
teenage-drunk
standing silenced
at the luminous marvel of the gladioli
I had thought them lovely only in close-up
but there they were
tied to rocket sticks
glowing back magnificently at the moon

My father had green fingers
our garden was a chequer-board of lettuce
and beans and potatoes and cabbage
signposted by seed packets
presenting leaves in drilled lines
saluting the starred rapture of the flowers

My mother’s hands once
were elegantly practical
now knotted and splayed
they fumble where they were deft
semaphoring inadvertent messages
approaching their targets at odd angles
She does not complain
nor voice regret for the caresses no longer invited

I have inherited my mother’s hands
So far, my fingers are straight
my skills direct, my touch still welcome
but I am already disconcerted
by two small liver spots
and I do not think I shall bear
distortion, refusal
with such fortitude

She has placed tenderness in the world
She has grown me with it
I hope to keep my mother’s hands in mine
acknowledgement always five-petalled

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