Mullumbimby-based textile artist Anne Leon has been sharing her 30 years of experience in the business with a group of Indigenous women.
Ms Leon, who has a Diploma of Fine Art, specialises in textiles and screen-printing, designing everything from wraps and shawls to lingerie and bridal wear, using a natural plant dye method on different fabrics.
She said over the past four years she had been working with a group of Indigenous women through a TAFE supported program called “Our Happy Women”.
Ms Leon said the women in the program were taught the art of textiles and how to produce original artwork.
“So, for the past three to four years, I have been working with this awesome group and they have learnt a variety of textile techniques, including shibori and indigo dyeing, screen-printing, lino-printing on paper and fabric, plant dyeing, silk painting, fibre-reactive dyeing, weaving, candle making, and some hand-built ceramic techniques,” she said.
YWCA cultural community engagement facilitator Amelia Bolt, affectionately known as Auntie Mim, coordinates the Our Happy Women group, working alongside Ms Leon and teaching the students the power of creative art.
“I coordinate a program initiated from the Communities for Children Program that is called ‘Ngalingah Mijung Dubai’s’, which translates in the Bundjalung language to ‘Our Happy Women’ that seeks to empower Aboriginal women through creative arts,” Ms Bolt said.
The classes, which are held weekly in Goonellabah, New South Wales, aim to bring the students together to connect on a cultural level and to create their own art inspired by Ms Leon.
External projects often stem from the student’s hard work in the form of art exhibitions, fashion shows and cultural exchange tours.
Ms Bolt said the lessons had the potential to give the women in the class the confidence they needed to achieve their own success.
“These classes benefit the women through empowerment, increased confidence, increased self-esteem, and, for some, even the ability to believe in themselves enough to start their own businesses,” she said.
Ms Bolt said working with Anne Leon had been one of the best parts of her career to date, and had helped to mould her as an artist.
“Working alongside Anne has been one of the highlights of my working career,” Ms Bolt said.
“Anne has taught me so much, not only in the arts industry, but a lot about myself and who I am as an artist,” she said.
“Anne has the ability to pass on her knowledge in a gentle way that enables the learners to grasp a hold of what we would call gold nuggets that Annie gives away to us.”
Ms Leon has had a long career that has given her the chance to work with a lot of different artistic mediums.
She said she had been making and designing bridal wear for the past five years, using the remnants of bridal bouquets to create unique natural plant dye designs to commemorate the occasion.
“I started making scarves from the bouquets of brides, as a lasting memento of the day and was asked to go into partnership with two sisters [Pip and Jane] who are now marketing the concept,” Ms Leon said.
“I have also made bespoke wedding and bridesmaids dresses to order, usually with the incorporation of plant-dyeing or to the taste of the customer,” she said.
Ms Leon’s most recent artistic success was a large-scale hand-crafted kimono, which was displayed as part of the two week long Swell Sculpture Festival on the Currumbin beach front from September 13 to 22.
The kimono sat proudly amid more than 50 large-scale sculptures, which were strategically placed among the natural setting of Currumbin Beach.
The annual Swell Sculpture Festival attracts more than 275,000 visitors each year, giving participating artists the opportunity to showcase their skills to a large audience.
Ms Leon said her large-scale kimono was inspired by the substantial amount of waste contributed by the world of fashion.
“This piece was called Bojagi Kimonoand is my response to the proliferation of waste in the fashion industry,” she said.
“This giant kimono, made from scraps and samples of Indigo and Shibori, are a response to this waste and proliferation of landfill.”
Ms Leon said this is not her first successful submission to the popular Swell Sculpture Festival, having previously contributed work to the festival in 2011 and 2013.
“This is my third time in the Swell Sculpture Show,” she said,
“My first entry was in 2011, where I erected 30 flags screen-printed with birds and called it Trans Migration.
“The second entry, in 2013, was a school of 12 fish flags, hand-painted, printed and sewn, and also erected on the beach, called Fabulous Flying Fish,” she said.
Ms Leon’s husband Graham Porter (Potts), an artist himself, has been collaborating on projects with his wife since 2004, and said their first collaboration was a sizable project for a hotel in Fiji.
“Our first collaboration was in 2004 when we designed uniforms for the Shangri La Resort in Fiji, using Fijian tapa prints,” Mr Porter said.
“It was a massive job, we were designing uniforms for every department, from the front of house staff to the janitors,” he said.
Mr Porter said his favourite collaborative project with Ms Leon was a series of murals in Kingscliff.
“We painted several murals over several weeks and managed to keep it together,” he said.
“It was very different to working with fabric, so we both really enjoyed it,” he said.
“I’d paint the murals and Anne would come along and polish it all up.”
“She was like the icing on the cake.”
Mr Porter said being married to a fellow artist had its benefits, especially when it came to the complicated creative process and finishing a project.
“She will always tell me to stop when I need to stop,” he said.
“If I’ve been working on something for too long, it starts to look bad; that’s when Anne steps in and tells me that it’s finished.”
Anne Leon is already planning her submission for the next Swell Sculpture Festival, and plans to use recycled materials wherever possible.
“I feel it would be great to re-use the structure I had made to support the Kimono, and weave a giant dream catcher, or something from recycled junk,” she said.