How every picture tells a story when it's made by Catherine Keane

Catherine Keane at work in her studio
Catherine Keane at work in her studio

Retired primary school teacher Catherine Keane tells Fiona Finch how taking part in Create Longridge and entering a local field day competition, plus an enthusiasm for Japanese Wabi Sabi philosophy, has given her the inspiration to set up a new service creating bespoke mixed media collaged pictures.

This is a special year for Catherine Keane.

Part of a collaged picture inspired by the housemartins which nest in the eaves above Catherine's studio

Part of a collaged picture inspired by the housemartins which nest in the eaves above Catherine's studio

She wants to use it to push her creativity and develop her art practice.

After retiring from her day job as a primary school teacher at Oakhill School, Whalley, some three years ago the mother of three grown-up children is appreciating having the opportunity to follow another calling - to creativity.

Her much admired unique collaged pictures owe their origins both to her lifelong commitment to making things and to a Creative Threads course in Garstang.

A field day contest and the art showcase event Create Longridge also played a key part in her decision to make further “more personal” collaged creations to commission.

Catherine pictured in her studio

Catherine pictured in her studio

She said: “I’ve always made things since I was a little girl. I was the youngest of six children. I was always tinkering - matchboxes became chests of drawers or dolls’ wardrobes, When I was 12 or 13 I made my own school clothes.”

She recalled how her other gave her 50p to go to the ‘push and pull’ stall on the local market - so named because to get at the rolls of cloth you had to push and then pull them out from the stacks of rolls of material.

She made her own school skirt and continued making even though she acknowledged: “When you’re 15 or 16 it isn’t that cool. What you really desperately want is something from Etam.”

She continued: “I’ve always been fascinated by making. When I was younger if I had a bag of midget gems I had to sort them in colour and make them into patterns ... In some ways I wish I’d been able to do a degree in art and textiles.”

Work in progress - a trial run of the collaged picture Catherine made at this year's Create Longridge

Work in progress - a trial run of the collaged picture Catherine made at this year's Create Longridge

Instead she studied English at Durham University after leaving Notre Dame grammar school in Blackburn and then trained as a teacher.

Her career as a primary school teacher offered abundant opportunities to harness her love of art and craft.

Catherine, using skills acquired at the course she took in Garstang made a special mixed media picture to mark her sister’s golden wedding anniversary.

She took it into her local art shop, the Longridge Gallery, to be framed and when she collected it left with not just the framed picture, but a suggestion from the Gallery owner that she take part in Create Longridge - an event which this year saw more than 90 artists descend on and around the town to create a picture in a day.

Catherine at work sewing part of a collaged picture

Catherine at work sewing part of a collaged picture

Overcoming an initial reluctance to take part she said she thought: “Why not - a day creating. I love doing that”.

She needed somewhere with a plug as the sewing machine is in regular use in the creation of her pictures and was delighted to get the go-ahead from So Plants plant nursery at Thornley to become one of the creators working on site there: “I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was nervous. I did a lot of preparation and I loved it. It was meeting people, the buzz, the excitement,the sense of challenge in a lovely environment.”

Her picture “A walk in the Lane” sold in the Create Longridge follow up exhibition for £175.

It represented her regular walk up a lane near her home in Ribchester, near Preston. She said: “I love the changing hedgerow, the tiny differences. This one was based on the time when there was just a swathe of foxgloves by the wall.”

Also much admired was a sunflower design she had on her stand which had been created for her local field day for a special class, a mixed media sunflower picture. The class was in memory of her late friend Heather who had been a key member of the Field Day committee: “It was Heather’s picture that started it. I spent a night with Heather in the last weeks of her life and I thought I’ve got to do this for Heather.”

She included references to a location of significance for Heather, a scrap of sheet music entitled “White Heather” and other significant references and recalled that on completion: “It just felt totally right.”

A soft book created by Catherine for one of her grandchildren - she now plans to make a special book for each grandchild

A soft book created by Catherine for one of her grandchildren - she now plans to make a special book for each grandchild

After the field day she was contacted by Heather’s daughter whom she has now given the picture to: “Then I started thinking I could do this for other people - do their story. I love narrative and I love storytelling. I love the idea of a picture telling a story.”

Catherine has been much inspired by Japanese philosophy Wabi Sabi which embraces the beauty in everyday experiences.

So much so she has named her fledgling creative business after it.

She said: “I read a book called ‘A Book of Japanese Contentments’. It was about a way of thinking and approaching life. It’s about an intuitive response to the world around you and nature and the cycles of life. It’s about beauty in all stages of the the cycle of life.

“Wabi Sabi felt absolutely right to my approach to creating. We’re always trying to be fitter, have more things, be slimmer, you’ve always got this perfect image (you’re) striving to achieve. Actually you don’t need to because where you are is perfect, no matter how imperfect you are. It’s about taking time to see details."

With this approach things which might appear discardable have relevance - even scraps of old envelopes and cuttings from magazines are incorporated in her pictures. She also makes stamps from her drawings and prints them on to small pieces of calico, which are added to the collaged pictures.

Nor has she left teaching behind completely. The 58 year old still teaches piano.

Iti s a perfect balance for Catherine, who is also a proud grandmother. She said: “I feel this year is pivotal. I mustn’t let this go without feeling I can explore to see what I can do. I think I’ve got a very privileged time of life.”

*Catherine is in the process of creating a website for Wabi Sabi Creations and can be contacted at catherine@wabi-sabi-sewing.co.uk

Part of the picture created for the golden wedding anniversary of Catherine's daughter Anna's American in-laws

Part of the picture created for the golden wedding anniversary of Catherine's daughter Anna's American in-laws