Laura Ellen Bacon, a sculptor whose career has been inextricably linked with willow weaving, has a confession to make. ‘This isn’t something I’m proud of, but I’ve never really made a full basket in my life,’ she says. ‘I’ve half-made three but never completed them. I guess I didn’t want to do something that already exists.’
Instead, she’s taken this traditional material and used it to create extraordinary, often sitespecific, structures that appear to seep out of buildings – such as Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house in Cumbria and the New Art Centre in Wiltshire – or occasionally engulf them and possess an uncanny sense of movement. The artist herself has compared her pieces to parasites, leeching off other structures – at their best they’re ever so slightly macabre. The antecedents of her craft can be traced back to a childhood spent making dens. She was given her first hammer at the age of 12 and by 16 had created a tree-house 5m long by 5m high.
After doing a foundation at Chesterfield College, she studied applied arts at the University of Derby. She initially struggled, only truly finding her feet in her final year as she began making work from dogwood and hazel branches on a large scale, much as she did when she was growing up. When she couldn’t find any more branches, she began to buy bundles of willow instead. Yet, while she’s made her name with the material, she’s distinctly wary of being pigeonholed. ‘The reason I never say I’m a willow artist is partly because I’m beginning to use more materials, but also it puts the material first. It suggests I want to hone my continual skills in willow and find ways to use it. But the willow is secondary… I’m not being modest but I’m not particularly skilled with willow. I’ve developed a particular skill to create exactly what I want.’
As if to prove her point, for the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize she’s created a new work from Flanders Red willow, ‘about movement and vigour and trying to show how the material is being worked’. However, as a recent collaboration with furniture designer Sebastian Cox illustrated, she is always willing to experiment and her upcoming solo exhibition, at Sleaford’s National Centre for Craft and Design in October, will include her first experiments in thatch. Grant Gibson lauraellenbacon.com LAUR A
14 Woman’s Hour Craft Prize
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