Cambridge Open Studios 2015 - Mary Jane Montgomerie House

Cambridge Open Studios includes artists outside of the city itself, so last week we travelled to Swaffham Bulbeck to visited the studio of artist Mary Jane Montgomerie House to find out what inspires her delicate work...

Mary Jane Montgomerie House

The work people can see when they visit you for the Open Studios festival has the theme of 'Life.' This is a strong message throughout your practice. What aspects of life are you depicting? 

My work is inspired by living things. I am intrigued by life at the micro / cellular level as well as the macro scale. This attempts to convey the message that life with all its many complexities and challenges is both beautiful and instils a real sense of wonder and awe. The artwork depicts a balance between the tension of being on the treadmill of life with the hope and inspiration of a positive new page.

You have trained extensively in the arts, through your years in fashion design and printed textiles. Which aspects of your training are appearing in your practice currently? 

Colour, pattern and texture are key aspects of my current work along with the exploration of metaphor which comes out of my academic research training as well as the journey of making the object and the art object itself. 

Most importantly, your own life experiences have impacted on the kind of work you make. Tell us about your time teaching and your travels in Nigeria, and how those experiences feed in to your work today. 

I lived and worked in Nigeria for a few years teaching and being head of the technology department.  During this time my life was enriched by the diversity and richness of the Nigerian culture. I travelled extensively throughout the country being exposed to new art forms and became part of a cross cultural group of Nigerian and UK artists. I developed a particular interest in one of the tribes called the Hausa who have a great heritage of cloth and decorative ensembles. This lead to some further research work when I returned.


In your works on canvas, the same colour is used throughout the image, but different shades are used, with a great deal of detail. What themes are emerging in these pieces? 

For life to exist you need certain elements such as air, water and light. Aspects that feature strongly in the canvasses are reproduction, seeds, light, water, living objects, love, movement, peace, calm, joy, contentment, balance, conflict and tension. I invite the viewer to discover other layers of detail within the art and so see parallels with the deeper narrative of life.

We think people will be very interested in the 'travel blanket' concept you are developing. The idea of taking a family trip, and enroute, knitting a rectangle, using wool and materials that suit your mood. How will this be displayed on your Open Studio weekends? 

The travel rug pieces will be hung from overhead wires using the walnut tree as the main support. The pieces will be attached to the wires using multi-coloured metal clips. Each square has a story and together they form part of my life narrative living in Cambridgeshire and beyond.

We enjoyed your framed pen and ink pieces when we visited, and their immediacy of mark making. How will these be shown? 

I intend to exhibit my “Life” inks in a marquee in the garden to act as juxtaposition to the “travel blanket”. I am hoping that visitors will find their own interpretation as to how they see the drawings representing Life.  For me they are loaded with metaphors about Life and I might put up some connecting text to act as a catalyst for inspiring further thought.

Community art projects are a very important part of your creativity. Tell us about the workshops, school and church projects?

I am passionate about using art to contribute to bringing community together. Since 2009 I have initiated a number of community based arts projects and every year I organise a Christmas Art Workshop in the village church. Some of the projects have involved making 104 A4 size textile pieces (one for each child in the village school) and combining them to create a large wall hanging which is on permanent display in the church; another was an Olympic project for the school resulting in very large mural boards.

Pom Pom Installation

What has been your biggest community project to date? 

The latest and also biggest project was a hanging pom pom installation inspired by a visit to the Holst museum. A large part of the community joined together to make pompoms and one little girl called it pompom land. Each of the 800+ pom poms represented a member of the community and visitors were encouraged to take a pompom from the basket and take it back to their own community. The furthest travelled pompom was America. It has been thrilling to see visitors being inspired to kick start projects in their own communities. I was recently invited to the church in Toft where they had created a large pompom installation as part of their May day celebrations.

How many weekends are you doing for Open Studios? 

This is my first time at doing Open Studio and I will be open for all the weekends in July. I will be serving fresh coffee, variety of teas and fresh cakes. I am hoping that this will be a wonderful opportunity for the visitors to be part of the Installation and immerse themselves in the art.

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About Karen Jinks