Hello art-world! After a somewhat unintentional “sabbatical” it is nice to be back. Actually it is a bit daunting! To avoid ‘giving an account’ of the summer I am simply going to start from here and now. I will refer to things that happened as they come up and in the context of today.
My fingers are itching to get into the studio and make! Not that I have not been making – it is just that I have not been making my own work since moving. A trip to London in July, getting the flat ready for and then welcoming friends and family, and working full-time as the plume-makers assistant has kept me more than busy. Speaking of which – plume-making – I have been made a very interesting proposition! Tim has asked if I am interested in formally becoming his apprentice. Neither of us know exactly what this means and we are too busy with head-pieces and special costumes for the final number of Mamma Mia the Party to spend time finding out right now however we are both keen to see how it could work for us.
The idea of being Tim’s apprentice has given me a lot to think about: it an equally fantastic and frightening possibility, so I guess that the reality will come to lie somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes. Or possibly swing between those two extremes! It is great because it offers the potential to make a living from doing something wonderfully visually creative and fun, it is scary because I will almost certainly have to kiss goodbye to my aspirations of a career in academia. Having said that I should acknowledge that academia is just “not that in to me” (to borrow a line from Sex in the City). My overwhelming feeling is that Tim is offering me an incredible life-line and that I would be an absolute fool not to accept. The question came up after Tim was chatting with a “Master” tailor, she is actually a woman, who could not believe that Tim was not recognised as a Master in his field. I should point out that in some ways Sweden is quite traditional and apprenticeships, guilds and masters in handwork are still very much alive and respected. If I understand correctly, and we discussed all this in Swedish so I may have missed a few of the finer points, in order for Tim to be accessed as a Master he needs to have his work examined by a committee of relevant experts AND he needs to have trained an apprentice.
I am very flattered to have been asked. Tim’s skill and expertise are acknowledged in both the theatre and fashion industries, he is also a guest teacher at one of Stockholm’s best design schools, and counts celebrities and royalty (Swedish) amongst his clients. Soon after I started working for him he mentioned that it was a shame that I was not at least ten years younger as he should be starting to look for someone to train-up in order to buy the business when he wants to retire. Tim is only in his early fifties so there is no immediate urgency from his side, however his comment made me very conscious that I am considered old to be making a career change of this type. Despite Sweden’s more enlightened attitude to second careers for the over forties at my age (forty seven) I would have difficulty getting (and then re-paying) the bank loan necessary to buy the business. If I was training for a second career where I would be employed in the more traditional sense there would not be such difficulties. Because of this I had imagined that I would be working with Tim up to and until he found his young apprentice. Now it seems things have shifted and after working together (successfully!) for a year Tim sees another way of doing things. I may never be in a position to buy his business but I could become a qualified plume-maker working for him, for his successor, and even on my own. In the meantime he gains his master title (and status) which increases the businesses value, and we get to keep working together which works well for us both.
As I said we have a lot of work to do to re-establish plume-making (feather work) as the recognised and respected expertise that it once was. It is a challenge that I think both Tim and I will enjoy – looking back at the historic aspects to when the skill was on a par with other hand-work professions where the term “master” is still used – tailoring and hat-making for example. It does strike me that “master” here does not denote, or even connote, anything to do with being male – rather it is understood as a level of skill devoid of any gendered prerogative. Tim, I and the examining committee also need to look at what plume-making can be, and needs to be, today. Contracts for military plumes and even regular commissions for private customers are not as frequent as they were at the turn of the century, today theatres provide a lot of work and at the moment (evidenced by the fabulous Alexander McQueen show at the V&A) fashion designers are keeping the feather industry going.
For the moment though we have a lot to do in advance of the public previews of Mamma Mia the Party. If all goes well, and there is no reason that it will not, after the official premier in late January there is the likelihood that the concept will be rolled out internationally! I do not expect that I will necessarily make pieces if the show is put on in Sydney but it would be amazing if Tim’s interpretations of the designs, and some of my handiwork, become the models for subsequent productions.