No. 5
  • Interview with Polly Morgan

    Written by Michaela Widergren

    The first time I saw one of the art pieces by Polly Morgan, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful and delicate animals. Polly Morgan is a taxidermist and an artist, combining the two in an enchanting and most original way. “All taxidermied(sic.) animals are either road casualties, or have been donated to the artist by pet owners and vets after natural or unpreventable deaths.”

    How did it come, that you became a taxidermist? Did you ever think, while growing up, that you would become one?
     No, but that was really because I didn’t know any taxidermists so it didn’t occur to me that I could be one. I think if I had, I would have decided to learn sooner. I was certainly keen to hang on to dead animals when I found them but was carefully encouraged by my Mother to bury them instead!
     
    How did your education start, and how did it feel, touching the deceased animals for the first time?
     It started because I researched taxidermists online and found a practitioner willing to teach me in Scotland.
    It began as just a day’s lesson but he then became more of a mentor and I returned to him whenever I got the chance and spoke to him regularly on the telephone. Touching the first bird was thrilling, as everything was new to me – I had never studied animals this closely before and it was fascinating.
     
    Are there different techniques to taxidermy, or is there only one way to go?
     There are different techniques. The traditional technique, which I use, is where the skin is first removed and tanned, the body constructed either with wood wool or cast foam or fiberglass, and the skin then stretched over and stitched up around the form.
    There is another technique called erosion casting, where a mold is built around the body and it is then left to rot before the mold is removed. Within both these techniques there are many variations too – there is no singular way to do it.

    While reading about you online, I got the feeling that you just happened to become an artist, is that the actual fact? Or, was it always the obvious choice?
     It wasn’t something I really planned, although looking back over my youth I can see that I was always heading in that direction. My interests were always very arts-focused and I gravitated towards artists, I just didn’t see myself as one until I started working with taxidermy.
     
    How do you choose which animals to work with?
     Sometimes they are integral to the piece for symbolic reasons; other times it is more about the shape and form of the creature that is particularly important. The other consideration is always what I can get hold of. Sometimes I think of a piece of work that involves animals I can’t get hold of and I have to put it to one side and work on something else.
     
    For your art pieces, do you have a definite plan from the beginning, or do you work on intuition and impulse?
     Mostly these days I have a plan. I then have to experiment awhile in the studio to help me work out the execution of the piece. Sometimes I discover things along the way that change the outcome.
     
    Which one(s) of your art projects has been the most emotional and personal creating?
     There isn’t really one in particular. Each new piece takes a lot out of me and makes me feel very insecure at times. Making art is a very personal thing and I feel very exposed showing it to others. There is also a sense of relief when something is complete that makes it all worthwhile.  

    Which one of your pieces is most precious to you today? Is there any of your pieces that you are extra careful about?
     No. I like to be rid of everything as soon as it is made. I find it very difficult to move on with new work if I still have older works in the studio. It doesn’t matter how happy I am with a work, I don’t want to hang onto it.
     
    Is there an animal that you have not yet gotten your hands on, that you would like to work with?
     This idea changes all the time, depending on what I am working on. Right now I am looking for Lovebirds for a new work but in a few months it could be something completely different. It is always nice to work on something I’ve not worked on before as I learn so much about the creature as I go.
     
    We would love to see your work showcased in Scandinavia, when will it happen?
     When I am asked by a good Scandinavian gallery!
     
    And lastly, what are your plans for the future?
     I had a show in Nicosia, Cyprus in March 2012 and shows in Ireland and Italy next year. I am moving into more casting work and can imagine my work developing to the extent that I don’t always include taxidermy.

    All images by Tessa Angus, except Still Birth (courtesy of Other Criteria).

    rest a little on the lap of life
    to every seed his own body
    still birth
    receiver
    dead ringer
    the fall
    ep harbour
  • Interview with Maria Nilsdotter

    Written by Michaela Widergren

    It’s the 28th of August and it’s fashion week in Stockholm. I’m on my way to the event of Maria Nilsdotter, where the Spring / Summer 2013 collection “Lost World” will be presented.

    It’s a busy time at the party, people are conversing and drinking wine while admiring the new collection worn by angel-like models and exposed in showcases like exotic installations.
    Maria and I have a seat at a small table on the terrace, crowded by bloggers, PR-people and other fashionistas.

    The first question I ask her is about the choice of material.
    -Because I’m quite traditionally schooled, material and quality always comes first. I work mostly with precious metals. I love working with gold, it’s soft, yet strong and very worthwhile to work with, but silver is my main material and sometimes I also use bronze, which is a lasting and beautiful metal.

    How much time does the process of creating a new collection take? And how important is the practical part?
    Hmm when I do my jewelry I always start with research and sketching, after that I start creating models to try the ideas. Next I make the first original. It takes quite some time and a lot of puttering with details. It’s all a long process connected with everything around it. The practical part is important because I am able see the process from idea to reality. There are a lot of changes made when the jewelry takes form in 3D.

    She tells me she feels contempt and is well aware of the dirty business connected to mining, and that it’s often hard to find well regulated distributors. She always buys her metals from relatively local distributors in Sweden and England; countries where the regulation and standards are high. Some of her pieces contain details of fur and leather, which are all vintage and hand colored.
    It’s evident that her love for animals can be seen in both her aesthetics and her way of production. One animal, specifically the raven, is frequently recurrent in her pieces.

    Tell me about your fascination with ravens and their symbolism? Which other animals do you incorporate into your jewelry and which animals do you avoid?
    I like the raven because it’s such a powerful bird! If you ever see one you’ll be astonished by how big they are! They are just so interesting, for example: they often pare up to form lifelong relationships, then there are also interesting ravens in mythology such as Hugin and Munin.
    I often find inspiration from mystical and scary animals, I like to combine them with precious metals and sparkling stones, it’s a fun and unexpected combination. I don’t think I would avoid working with any kind of animal. In school I made fun little animals like pigs, donkeys and monkeys :)

    Which jewelry would you not leave your home without? And which is the most precious to you?
    I always ware one of my silver claw rings on my pinky. One of my most important jewelry pieces is a big Zuni (Native American) Indian ring from Santa Fé, that I got as a gift from my husband.
    I love how jewelry, because of its solidness can wander through generations, possessing a lot affection and stories.

    The new collection for Spring / Summer 2013 is called Amaranth, inspired by the book with the same name. Amaranth is about an old lady during the 17th century who finds another world, a place that becomes her escape from reality - her own personal truth, her own lost world.
    Maria read the book during her study at Central Saint Martin in London, and now it’s become one of what I think will be her most prized and recognized collections.

    Will sagas and folklore be a continual inspiration for your designs?
    It will always have a place in my heart, I’ve loved sagas and mythology since I was a little child, so I’m sure the fascination will last forever.

    Her artistic vain can be also be seen in the scarves she makes for each collection. The garments are often covered with beautiful and enigmatic illustrations, incorporating everything from animals, insects, skeletons and female silhouettes.

    You’re a brilliant illustrator, if you weren’t working with jewelry, would you be a painting artist?
    Oh, thank you, I don’t see myself as an illustrator but I do enjoy drawing. I draw and sketch a lot during the design process and I think it’s fun to use my sketches for look books, etc.. If I didn’t work with jewelry I would definitely do something else creative, possibly painting.

    Our time is running out and there are a lot of important people for Maria to meet. I feel grateful that she had time for our conversation, on probably one of her busiest days.

    Lastly I ask, if there’s anything that journalist’s write about you, with which you disagree?
    They often write that Madonna wore one of my head pieces during her Super Bowl performance. And actually she didn’t, her dancers did ;)

    tank top NORRBACK

    RALPH LAUREN sequin skirt

    dress JAN AHLGREN

    styling MEGHAN SCOTT / Magnolia

    MICHAELA MYHRBERG hair & make up

    model CLARA J/Stockholmsgruppen

    SAMUEL ÖFVERSTEDT photo assistant

    all jewelry by MARIA NILSDOTTER

  • Match Girl

    Written by Ellen Rogers by Michaela Widergren

    Sepulchral: A Journey in the Necropolis by Ellen Rogers: 1888

    The history of the workers strike most certainly did not start here. In fact the more I look the more it seems apparent that it might even be innate in workers to revolt when exposed to such extreme situations, we are an animal of pack mentality after all. Records of workers striking go back as far as the ancient Egyptians. So this is not anything new. What this story is however, despite its rough start is, well, quite uplifting.

    In June 1888, Annie Besant, a young Fleet Street journalist (and spearhead of the striking movement In the Bryant and May Factory), wrote a pivotal article for the newspaper “The Link” entitled “White Slavery in London.” Both women and children worked in the Bryant and May Factory in Bow, London using “White Phosphorous” to make matches. The work itself was arduous to say the least. According to Besant’s 1888 article, they were required to work from 6:30 AM to 8 PM and stood the whole day. The work each day raised the paltry sum of roughly 50p a day in modern money (that is according to my workings out at National Archives). To add further salt to the wound, there were a series of sadistic fines offered to those who made simple mistakes. At the end of Besant first hard hitting article about these women she wrote:

    Failing a poet to hold up their conduct to the execration of posterity, enshrined in deathless verse, let us strive to touch their consciences, i.e. their pockets, and let us at least avoid being “partakers of their sins”, by abstaining from using their commodities. Her attempt here to persuade the public from busying these matches worked and gained great attention.

    The health of the workers suffered greatly at the hands of these factories. The effects of the “White Phosphorus” itself ranged from “a yellowing of the skin, hair loss, phossy jaw (a form of bone cancer where the whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death)” to dissentions, growths, tumors and numerous external burns from matches and countless occupational hazards caused by the extreme working conditions.

    After Besant published her article in “The Link”, “Bryant and May”, reacted by attempting to force their workers to sign a statement that they were happy with their working conditions. When a group of women refused to sign, the organizers of the group was sacked. The response was immediate; 1400 of the women at Bryant & May went on strike. William Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Henry Hyde Champion of the Labour Elector and Catharine Booth of the Salvation Army joined Besant in her campaign for better working conditions in the factory. So also did Sydney Oliver, Stewart Headlam, Hubert Bland, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw. However, other newspapers such as The Times, blamed Besant and other socialist agitators for the dispute.

    Annie Besant, William Stead and Henry Hyde Champion used their newspapers to call for a boycott of Bryant & May matches. The women at the company also decided to form a Matchgirls’ Union and Besant agreed to become its leader. After three weeks the company announced that it was willing to re-employ the dismissed women and would also bring an end to the fines system. The women accepted the terms and returned in triumph. The Bryant & May dispute was the first strike by unorganized workers to gain national publicity. It was also successful at helped to inspire the formation of unions all over the country.

    My homage here is the women who suffered at the hands of their employers, whilst researching this article I could not find any images of the injured women other than one image of a small group of protestors. My attempt here is reconstruct as accurately as I can what it would have looked like in the hospital ward 1888, I admit it is not without my poetic licence.

    Sources are John Romer, Ancient Lives; the story of the Pharaoh’s Tombmakers. London: Phoenix Press, 1984, pp. 116-123. See also E.F. Wente, “A letter of complaint to the Vizier To”, in Journal of Near Eastern, Mernick, and Spartacus.

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