Meet our Member – Natalie Oldham

Like many, my creative journey began as a child. I was an only child until the age of 13 so creative thinking and imagination were crucial. I spent hours drawing and creating, playing in the garden and marvelling at the colours and patterns found in the natural world and generally just admiring its beauty.

Art was my passion throughout school, much of it self-taught from my observations of the world around me. Colour, pattern and texture have always played a huge part in my life and work. At 18 I attended an Art Foundation Course at Dewsbury College …this was a real revelation to me and broke all sorts of conventional rules and generally taught me it was OK to play – not everything had to look like photograph. I look back on this time fondly …….this was where my textiles journey really began.

I spent years visiting and admiring the beautiful work and exhibitions at local galleries, especially Bankfield Textiles Museum (a gift to have on my doorstep).  I was always amazed by the rugs of Peter Colgan and a display showing his design process…..this was where my interest in hand tufted rugs began.

I followed a specialist Art Textiles route at the University of Wolverhampton (based at Kidderminster College – yes that’s right, I travelled from carpet town to carpet town). I studied B.A Hons Design For Floorcoverings and Interior Textiles (the only course in the country at the time that did a hand tufting specialism). I spent 3 years designing and making different textiles but finally specialising in hand tufted rugs and wall-hangings.

It was during my degree course that my appreciation of my hometown of Halifax and Yorkshire heritage began.  My work often looked at the natural and man-made landscapes, the distinct architectural features of the carpet mills such as Dean Clough.  I had not realised when I lived here that I had such a stunning natural backdrop to my life – the hills and fields, the patchwork of green, framed my life.  It wasn’t until I moved to the flat Midlands that its absence was apparent.

At University I had a 3 piece rug design selected to be produced and hung as a permanent exhibition in the newly built Kidderminster Library.  This was a fantastic experience, leading and managing a team of my peers to produce the large scale pieces.  The final outcome was a hand tufted triptych  based on the town and its heritage.  I included rag rugged sari silks in the windows of the buildings – giving me the challenge of developing a two person rag rugging technique through huge a stretched canvas.  I graduated with a First Class Bachelor of The Arts Degree and was finally presented to Princess Ann when she opened the Kidderminster Library.

At 22 I progressed to the University of Central England, Birmingham, to complete the most intense and amazing PGCE year, training to be a secondary Art teacher.  I was selected to travel to Holland and take part in an international ceramics and ICT project with teachers from around Europe….all such amazing experiences that have helped to shape and form the teacher I have become today.

I used to love driving home and watching the landscape rise…..coming off the motorway in the middle of nowhere, occasionally having to avoid a “free range” sheep. I always knew I would return “home”……. 10 years in the Midlands and Worcestershire but I knew I would return and settle here.

I have now taught for over 20 years, initially for 6 years in the Midlands, I moved back “home” and worked for 10 years inBradford and now I am Head Of Visual Art at Calder High School in Halifax.  I love shaping young minds, watching their creativity grow…creativity is infectious and I constantly strive to push and develop myself as well as my students.  I have to create work myself to help me unwind and to benefit from all the health properties that creativity can bring.

I have been constantly developing my textiles skills and knowledge on a variety of courses since I returned to Halifax. Initially I went to Varigations in Sowerby Bridge…loving the creative atmosphere and likeminded people I met. Initially this was an invaluable part of me developing my textiles skills to set up an Art Textiles A’Level when I worked in Bradford. I started to support that and then became hooked!

Once Variegations closed I looked for other places I could learn new skills.  It was on a course by Anne Brooke that I first heard of the Halifax Embroiderers Guild.  She encouraged me to join ….and I haven’t looked back since.  The Guild is a great bunch of creative people with so much shared knowledge and experience….and a good sense of humour.  We have fab speakers, inspiring workshops and lovely play days.  I love it, it is such a progressive group and everyone is so supportive and encouraging.

For many years I didn’t take part in the challenges as I always thought I was too busy). Last year I entered for the first time and won the Chairman’s challenge with my miniature bee book in a box, I was so excited. I entered the “Man in Space” Aurefil challenge on regional day and came third in that too. This has really encouraged me to make more time for myself to be creative as I have realised how important that is for me.

This summer I have created a page on Facebook called “ArtyNat” and I am using this to showcase and catalogue the work I make. I am setting myself new challenges in terms of subject matter, but there is always an underlying connection with nature and the environment.

My personal work has developed over time, drawing on all the different experiences and skills I have gained on a wide variety of courses and workshops over the years. I have brought together my passions: my local environment and landscape, textiles, colour, pattern and drawn imagery. I print, dye and bond individual and unique backgrounds, draw on fabric and collage it into the piece, finally machine and hand stitched embellishments finish the scene.

I am constantly striving for a new personal challenge and so am working through a variety of different subject matter and themes. I have recently completed a Gentleman Jack series celebrating all things Shibden and Ann Lister, following the fantastically successful Sally Wainright series.

If you want to follow my recent work then please look on Facebook (follow the link).

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