Last month we managed to catch up with Lincoln-based designer-maker and Design-Nation Fellow Caroline Matthaei as she prepared for two exhibitions, a group project and a solo show.
Design-Nation: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.
Caroline Matthaei: My career as a designer-maker started with my serving an apprenticeship as a goldsmith as well as studying jewellery design in Germany. After settling in Britain in the late Seventies I continued to make jewellery – but only on a small scale. After a decade I decided on ‘making’ as a full-time occupation. I specialized in repoussage making decorative objects in copper and brass, as well as some silver jewellery.
The introduction of wood in my work led to a transition from decorative art to sculpture. The combination of carved wood with metal repoussage lay at the heart of my MA research. With making figurative sculpture I felt I had truly ‘arrived’. And when I had to give up woodcarving for health reasons I continued to make figures – first in plaster and hay or straw, my latest – and smallest – figures have been made from porcelain paper clay.
DN: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
CM: My first goldsmith ‘Meister’ Herr Wieland taught me very thoroughly. I realized only later on exactly how much I had learned from him. This solid foundation in one particular craft gave me the ability to switch to different media with relative ease.
DN: What or who inspires you, and how does this influence your design processes?
CM: I love watching life around me – people in the street, domestic and wild animals – especially birds. Some of these observations may be translated into features or postures. Ideas can also be generated by snippets of texts, images from many sources, sometimes even dreams. Nowadays I rarely sketch but I write down some of these ideas and/or observations, which in turn get translated into figures.
DN: What is the best thing to have happened in your practice to date?
CM: Discovering figurative sculpture for myself. I had been visiting the ‘Museum fuer Kunst und Gewerbe’ (museum for art and craft) in Hamburg and saw some Cycladic figurines for the first time. These full-length female marble figures with their arms folded across their front made a huge impression on me although it took several years until I was ready to create my first sculptural work. The subsequent interest in early Greek sculpture and how it was made led to the subject of research for my MA in Design.
DN: What is your workspace like?
CM: Seven years ago I had a studio/shed built. It is spacious and airy with three windows and glazed double doors providing me with plenty of natural light. It is wonderful to be able to ‘go’ to work by just crossing the garden.
DN: You’ve been preparing recently for two exhibitions, the first being the Design-Nation group show “Cog-nisant” at Sam Scorer Gallery which closed on 1 September. Can you tell us about the title of that show and the work you showed there?
CM: The Lincolnshire group of Design Nation decided on an exhibition as their project for 2019. In our discussions the Lincoln Steampunk Festival came up, which led to the idea of having one large interactive piece made up of ‘cogs’ to be decorated by all exhibitors. We extended the brief to Design-Nation Members from the whole Midlands region and the result is a truly splendid exhibition. My own work took up the Steampunk theme to some extends – especially the large ‘Olympia’ (or Coppelia) figure. The smaller porcelain ‘Lady Bird’ figures with their turn-able heads are quite fantastical as well.
DN: And now you have a solo show later opening soon. Can you tell us about that – where is it and when? How did it come about and what are you exhibiting?
I was very pleased to have been asked to exhibit in the stairwell exhibition space at the NCCD in Sleaford from mid-September ’19 to mid-January ’20. The space will make it possible to show a variety of work: from my plaster figures ‘Women Waiting’ to my latest porcelain ‘Lady Bird’ figures with some of my simple automata and ‘Jumping Jennies’ placed at the levels in-between. Going up the stairs you will be able to see the work – more or less – in chronological order. What a brilliant opportunity!
DN: Do you have a dream person you would like to you could collaborate with?
CM: There are a couple of ceramic artists I admire like Katherine Morling, Claire Partington and Debra Powell – each for their individual style and take on the subject of figurative ceramics. The person I would have loved to meet and collaborate with is the late Adolf Born, a Czech painter, illustrator, caricaturist and filmmaker. His drawn and painted characters are incredible witty, an absolute joy. I would love to ‘borrow’ some aspects of his fanciful creatures and add them to mine. I can no longer ask his permission but trust in his sense of “cosmopolitan humor” that he would allow this form of ‘homage’.
DN: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?
CM: I became a member of the Design-Factory in 2014 and I am very proud to have been made a Fellow of Design-Nation earlier this year. Working by myself for most of the time life can feel a bit isolated. It is great to have a whole network of creative people available especially when advice and support is needed. To have opportunities to show work further afield is just wonderful.
Caroline’s work can be seen in the main stairwell space at The National Centre for Craft & Design from 19 Oct 2019 – 5 Jan 2020.
Interview by Liz Cooper.