Katharine MartinB-urgers is one of NEA's newest studio tenants! Katharine is a highly skilled textile artist, silversmith and sculpturess. Her entry into @chilternartprize this year is one example of her highly detailed and labour intensive works. We love her story behind this piece." Michaela Alexander, Media Team
"Thank you for all the positive likes to my piece. For those who don't know how I came to this idea, allow me to explain.
I was studying textiles in the 90's and I started to put One and Two cent coins into my work, with titles such as 'Pocket Money' and 'Small Change'.
In 2008 to 2010 I studied Silver Smithing. I wanted to learn to do small metal pieces after doing big sculptural work in the 80's. I enjoyed the course and fell in love with silver!
My mother became interested in my work and studies, and mentioned to me that she had saved 5 cent coins because they were the smallest coin in silver, and she offered them for me to use in an art work. Next thing I ended up with $15 's worth of 5 cents in silver!
I came to the idea of surrounding the coins with a flower crochet like a doily. After testing, I decided to use wire. It gave a different beauty to the crochet and it accentuated the silver coin. When encompassing the coins I realised that to crochet and cover the coin like a precious stone I was using jewellery making techniques.
Each coin took 2 hours to do, so if I wanted to do a dollar's worth, it would take a 40 hour working week to complete. A dollar a week, very similar to how textile workers' labour was valued.
The table cloth idea came when I put my first One Dollar block together: one dollar a week for 24 weeks would create a beautiful piece and a statement about the low economic value placed on women's labour and Textiles skills.
Test for yourself how much the piece should be worth if you were to be paid a fair hourly rate: $-- /hour x 40 x 24 = $-- .
Anyway the piece is finally finished and I named it 'An Artist's Dollar; in memory of Brenda Faunce Martin', my mother."
Katherine Martin Burgers working on 'An Artist's Dollar' at NEA in 2017.
Katharine Martin-Burgers recently settled into a studio at NEA, establishing a longed for space in which to work on creative projects. Katharine has a degree in Fine Arts and works in textiles, sculpture and silver smithing, typically finding interesting ways in which to combine these.
After finishing art school Katharine worked for five years making fly screens in a window factory, a physically complex and repetitive task which led to significant and ongoing pain issues. Juggling subsequent family responsibilities and pain management meant largely putting her creative life on hold for two decades.
With her children now having completed secondary school, Katharine has been able to set up a studio at NEA, where her partner Frank Burgers also has a studio. Katharine is currently undertaking a course which will enable her to apply modern 3D printing and laser technology to jewellery making techniques when completing her creative projects.
Katharine describes herself as a creative person, rather than an artist or artisan.
Where is home, Katharine?
We currently live in Wangaratta, but it doesn’t feel like home, it feels like somewhere we park ourselves. Home to me is Ringwood, where I grew up, and Bright, where we brought up our children. We had a lovely time as a family unit living in Bright.
Where would you most want to live and create?
Somewhere near Lilydale or Yarra Glen-- I love the view of the hills there. I love and miss the Dandenongs, which I could always see when I was growing up.
It would have to be chocolate. There’s lots of comfort food in my refrigerator! I love vegetables, even cauliflower’
When I was very small, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci; Annameika Mein when I was learning textiles at High School. Towards the end of my schooling I began looking at modern sculpture, but sculpture wasn’t where I was thinking of going then, I thought it would be textiles.
Current reads/films/exhibitions attended?
‘I recently went to the National Gallery of Victoria to see the costume exhibition there – it was a collection of costumes from the 1850’s to now, displayed on the second level with art work from the period –each costume is exhibited with the art work of the same period. I’ve always tried to see exhibitions of couture or fashion design when they are in the gallery.’
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m trying to get components made for my silver smithing project for my class in Jewellery, objects and computer design. I’m making design objects from metal spoons and learning to use a 3D printer to map my design. I’m trying to get as many designs ready for 3D printing as I can while I have access to the machine.
What was the first work you exhibited publically or sold as an artist?
The first work I exhibited publically was in the Royal Melbourne Show. I exhibited a baby’s smocked frock in Year 9 and received first prize for it! In Year 11 my entry to the Show was influenced by an Annameika Mein exhibition I’d attended at the time - my textiles teacher dragged me away from the art teacher for me to attend. My entry received three prizes – two in the students’ section (the Student 1st Prize; the Teachers Home Economics Award) and a Special Prize won in the open section sponsored by Semco – this had never happened before.
The first work I sold was a sculpture, a massive 7 ft tall welded steel plate piece. I was 20 at the time and had just finished my degree in fine art, majoring in sculpture. I had cut it with an oxyacetaline torch, ground and arc welded it. It definitely took me out of my comfort zone. The student union bought it – it’s still there at Mt Helen, outside the Dean’s office area. Frank and I have been wondering if we should arrange a plaque for it, as it doesn’t identify me as the artist.
How has your background influenced your creativity ?
Massively! Mum was a dressmaker, her grandmother was a dressmaker/tailor. When mum looked back later in her life she realized how much she had learned from her grandmother. When I showed interest in textiles she tried to get me to think artistically about design and the fabric. She didn’t want me to become a dressmaker, but encouraged me to work with fabric creatively!
My father was a floor layer – often laying tiles. When I was old enough, perhaps to give herself respite, mum would send some of us (there were six children) to work with him. Sometimes there would be all sorts of tradies, materials and machines at the site. I watched, taking it all in. I’d help, or watch the tradies from a distance, soldering, machining. There was often a lot of fine metal left to play with, to manipulate. This play came back to me when I was doing sculpture, I thought ‘Hang on, I know what I’m doing, I’ve done this before”. A lecturer was a bit bewildered when I went to art school and was trying to mix fibre work with sculpture. I showed him what I was doing and asked him to think of it as ‘texture’. Fibre has a wonderful tactile quality to it and looks great.
Basically mum and dad gave me hand skills I didn’t realise I was developing; the art and design just came naturally eventually.
Also, when I was in year 12 I had to do work experience and wanted to complete it in a creative setting. The school mentioned the Meat Market who had to say no, but suggested I try the Melbourne Tapestry Workshop. I had no idea what this meant but they agreed to my being placed there. When I walked into the tapestry workshop it was heaven. The ceiling was three stories high and there were three people sitting on stools translating paintings into tapestry. They taught me how to make small tapestries. Watching the women, seeing the colour ranges and tones they had available to them, was for me like being in a candy shop! It was a magical time! Being able to be immersed in this creative setting and to be inspired by the work there was truly wonderful. It opened my mind to alternative options and later led to my seeking out the Melbourne College of Textiles.
What’s the best part of being an artist?
When I think of an artist, I think of someone who exhibits and sells. To me I’m a creative person. I don’t like the word craft; I think that this is used too much for something which is an art work. I’m a creative person and make things I want to make, it’s up to the person who views it to decide whether it’s art or not. Some people get that silversmithing can be sculptural pieces which are small or wearable art. I’ve done pieces which are seen as wearable art…The best part of being an artist is the joy of making and developing ideas and seeing a piece through the stages from start to finish and thinking ‘Whoa, I made that’
Katharine, you mentioned preferring to describe yourself as a creative person, rather than an artist. What is the best part of being a creative person?
One of the best parts of being a creative person, to me, is that it’s an escape. Have you ever had the feeling that time has just flown, that you’ve been totally absorbed in what you are doing? You get to the point in the day where you think, oh, I haven’t eaten, oh I’m dying to go to the toilet…
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