Young Tumut artist wins scholarship

Jess Forster with some of her felt pieces, including a bag that can also be utilised as a fruit bowl.

Local artist Jess Forster, 25, has won a $10,000 Young Regional Artist Scholarship from the NSW government.

Jess is a felt and textile artist who aims to use her country background to create art that uses local produce and traditional techniques in innovative ways.

She was the winner of the Fibre Art section at the Tumut Art Show, and said her work is strongly informed by the farming lifestyle of the Riverina.

“I was really inspired by growing up in a sheep-growing area and being around wool, as well as learning from local people – that whole thing of traditional knowledge and passing down skills like knitting, crocheting, felting, sewing, and so on,” she explained.

“For example at the Tumut Art Society the ladies were awesome enough to teach me how to felt and do different things and I became really passionate about that, because I think these are skills that are in danger of being lost.

“If young people aren’t more aware, you know, how do we actually utilise those hand-making skills and change them into a contemporary context that’s accessible?”

Jess Forster’s ‘Phases’, which won first prize in the Fibre Art section at the Tumut Art Show.

Jess is back in Tumut and Tumbarumba after studying design and education at UNSW, Sydney.

She also recently returned from the Netherlands, where she worked for four months with one of the best artists in her field, Claudy Jongstra.

“I loved her work, it’s these monumentally scaled felt pieces that are all hand-made and hand-dyed, it’s all about taking local produce and turning it into an artwork,” Jess said.

“She has all her own sheep – that are actually an endangered species so she’s also doing this conservation work – and she takes the wool from these sheep and does all the processing herself by hand.

“She also has gardens full of plants that she makes the dyes from. In her studio, it’s phenomenal, she’s got these giant pots and they’re always brewing these amazing dyes out of onion skins she gets from local farmers, or marigolds she’s harvested from her garden…I was inspired by that whole process, farm to studio, so I emailed her out of the blue and went over last year.”

The Young Regional Artist Scholarships go out to 25 regional artists aged 25 or under in NSW, to be spent on professional development and measures that will progress the winning applicants’ careers.

This year two Riverina artists were chosen, Jess and a photographer from Wagga.

With her grant Jess is planning to spend the money on workshops, developing a substantial body of work to exhibit, furthering her website and online presence, purchasing wool and specialist tools, and using the freedom that money provides to focus on her work and developing her skills as an artist.

“What I want to aim for with this grant is, yes, obviously developing my own skills as an artist and as a designer, but I also want to find a way to give back in some way,” she said.

“I’d love to be in community projects eventually.”