I recently posted on felt designer Barbera Keal and her fantastical headwear… the envy of every child’s dressing up box. Barbara has kindly agreed to an interview to tell us a little about herself and her influences. So sit back have a cuppa (and a slice of the chocolate cake below!)…Have a great weekend
How would you describe your work and style?
My work as a feltmaker mainly consists of tranformative animal headwear – hats. The hats feel very genuinely animal because they are made from animal hair (sheeps wool and alpaca fleece) in natural colours, I love this material and do all that I can to allow it to maintain its original qualities. There is a tension in the work between gritty realism and fairytale beauty.
What, where and/or who inspires you?
What inspires me is the desire to make work that can help a person feel more fully alive. My local “Malling Hill”, part of the Sussex downs is where I most frequently experience that aliveness I want to share. Something about the hill’s plump gravity, the dumb meeting with a cow, the ecstatic rising song of the skylark gives me a sharp realisation of my place as one amongst the community of all creatures. It is also home to the sheep whose fleeces I used for my first feltmaking.
Which is your favorite personal project and why?
Oh, I don’t really have a favourite. Most of my years since graduating from art school have been spent making “live art”, within that context the making of the animal hats from simple to hugely elaborate has all been part of one rather ongoing project. If however I look specifically at my work as a feltmaker there are myriad works.The project which brought me to feltmaking was the making of a dress for myself from the fleeces of the sheep on Malling Hill. The skirts of the dress were huge, I used working horses to help me with the felting. In the end the dress was like a cave which could hold an audience of 10 people, to whom I sang wordless improvied songs through resonant clay vessels I had hand buit for the purpose. In another respect I was most deeply moved by making a felt shroud for my aunt, luscious soft white wool, a winter lanscape with a large white spirit dog running across it’s barren expanse.
What has been the most exciting point in your career to date and why?
I don’t know that I really have a career as such. Somehow that word implies a definite trajectory in a predecided direction. I came to feltmaking through the search for meaning and aliveness that was, and still is my “art work”. Felt making and the animal “hats” in particular has taken me to some interesting places, places I never desired nor expected to visit. Shepperton Film studios, Kanye West’s London studio, Rockerfeller centre – New York, Paris, Somerset House or Nantes. All these places are extremely curious to see. I never made my work thinking of a career and even now regard the whole thing as a suprising journey. The most wonderful opportunity I have been offered was that of working together with my husband Richard to make a large installation for the gallery space in anthropologie’s Rockerfeller centre store, simply because it was so good to work together in such a sustained way on a large piece – A wall torn from our imaginations, made solid in wood, wool, slate and clay.
If you could have your work displayed anywhere in the world, where would you like it to be displayed?
On the heads of every person in London! I grew up in that huge impersonal city and would love to see it inhabited by a million animals for one day in winter. (Not that my body could rise to the challenge of felting all those hats!)
If someone were coming to visit your home town where would be the must stop place or places to visit (this could be a place, restaurant, cafe, etc).
Of course my Malling Hill! To meet the wild rugged sheep, look at the town from above and if they are lucky glimpse the sea on the horizon.
Describe your perfect day
A long, happy hill walk on a warm day – rain, cloud or sun. Singing, whistleing on the way and ending with a swim in the sea.
If you were to board Noah’s Ark and were told that you could take three things with you. What would they be?
I must say I love the idea of being on Noahs Ark. Clay, felting needles and a guitar (i’d already be wearing my hat). I’m assuming I could get hold of some fleece on board!
Now as much as I love your work, I love cooking and am always eager to find out a new recipe… what is your favorite dish to cook??….Would I be able to ask for the recipe?..
Well, I doubt if I can offer a recipe you’ve never heard of but I can offer a mega cake challenge! Every year my eldest son Isaiah tells me what sort of birthday cake he would like – from an orangutan driving a dumper truck to alpaca’s grazing the Andes mountains. Here’s a recipe for chocolate and meringue Andes mountains with marzipan alpacas.
10oz self raising flour
3oz cocoa powder
4oz brown sugar
4oz unbleached castor sugar
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
Rub butter into flour, brown sugar and cocoa, beat eggs and castor sugar add to butter and flour mix very well ( add a bit of milk if super stiff)
Heap the mix into centre of baking tin. Bake at 180.
Use the 4 egg whites to make a giant meringue to put on top. Here’s a recipe:
Once all has cooled whip ½ pint double cream the meringue goes on top of the choc cake.
For the puposes of brevity buy some marzipan and form it into alpacas of various sizes. Each alpaca can stand in a big drop of melted chocolate as it becomes nearly solid on the lower part of the mountain or in a dollop of cream at the top.
(BCD – This could take some time for me to create this one!!)