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Pioneer of Felt and Paper – Caroline Kisby

Caroline Kisby is more than a textile and mixed media artist, but rather a phenomenon placing art at the heart of well-being

Passionate about creativity in the community for most of her career, she has been instrumental in the promotion of mental health arts in Peterborough. One of her greatest contributions was the founding in 2008 of the Art Gallery in the new mental health hospital, The Cavell Centre, where she now curates 3 exhibitions a year.

It’s only recently that Caroline has started to focus on her own business of creating, exhibiting and selling her art, with the launch in 2005 of her own company Pink House Arts. In a purpose built, white washed and organised studio, at the back of her pink cottage in Fotheringhay, I observed the rows of bowls sculpted from felt, vases fashioned from silk paper and exquisite collages of found objects and fine hand stitching on paper. How intriguing! And yet familiar, as this has become her trademark. The use of the word unique can be rather glib, but I think this work is literally unique: the shapes and textures, the choice of medium.

I create 3D sculptural forms which you might like to call bowls and vases, I have a passion for vibrant colours, texture and pattern and love to fuse the concepts of decoration and function.

I had little notion about the art of felting before entering Caroline’s studio. But take heed! You should not confuse her felting art with more common forms demonstrated on popular TV shows. Hers is based on the old traditional skill of wet felting practised in Asia to make rugs, clothes and yurts. ’These wet felting sculptural forms I realise are a real niche and although it was used for centuries I don’t know anyone else doing it in quite this way. It’s a real labour of love sculpted from Merino wool fibres. I pull off pieces of wool and make layers with different colours. This is the design stage. I sprinkle over hot soapy water and rub with circular movements to cause friction, which transforms the wool into felt. With the use of a resist the 3D form is moulded.’ Caroline specialises in limited editions. Her latest designs, the Ribbon and Swirl Series have a common theme but by their very hand crafted nature, each piece is unique.

Sometimes I create real one offs like the Fusion or Jazz pieces. I have also developed a line of silk paper sculptural forms, including light holders incorporating a safe LED light. These have been in such demand. I am at the moment working on new textile jewellery designs in felt and silk paper for the spring and summer.

Caroline is fascinated by how the state of a material can be transformed, from something flimsy for example into something quite robust. Particularly intriguing is her desire to push materials to their limit. How far can she stretch and tease silk paper over a former to create the ultimate translucence in a vase? What is the thinnest, most delicate paper she can hand stitch? How seamless through rubbing and moulding can she make her felt bowls? And now she wants to see how big she can make her felt and paper sculptures. True artists always seek challenges from their medium.

Equipped with a Creative Industries qualification, a keen understanding of her market and regular clients who already collect her work, I have no doubt that the felt, silk paper and stitching of Pink House Arts will flourish. Caroline has exhibited regularly since 2004 in the Peterborough and Northamptonshire Open Studios, local quality fairs, Oundle Art Group and the prestigious Whisper Through The Trees Exhibition at the Yarrow Gallery, Oundle. She aims to exhibit in more galleries in 2012 and at the renowned British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate.

What I’m not sure about is to what extent Caroline will shift the balance from her commitment to her arts in mental health work, to selling her own art, or whether it really matters. It is true that she is no stranger to business ventures. In her previous life she had established her own legal services business and co-founded a small theatre company Big Idea Productions producing theatre in quirky places. It’s a question I guess of whether she’s ruled by her head or her heart. Caroline has always shown a real commitment to the art projects in the community. In 1980s, she organised art exhibitions at the World Conker Championships at Ashton to give local artists the opportunity to exhibit. She felt and still feels a certain antipathy towards art snobbery and believes that any artist should be given the opportunity to experiment and exhibit. She also in 2000 founded and acquired funding for Art Promotions, a not for profit volunteer organisation offering art and craft activities for children in the villages during school holidays.

The turning point for Caroline came 5 years ago when as an arts and crafts tutor at the City College, she was asked to do outreach workshops with adult mental health and dementia patients at the Edith Cavell. Alongside her own art business ambitions, this work became her raison d’être. ‘I will always see my therapeutic art workshops as part of Pink House Arts. I know I have the qualities to contribute positively to mental health issues and I also have plans to take my workshops into residential homes. I love inspiring others who think they have no creativity to explore and experiment.’ In 2008, through Arts and Minds, a local based charity, Caroline was invited to work with mental health patients in the Cavell Centre.

I established creativity in the unit and very significantly the Art Gallery. Giving patients the opportunity to express themselves artistically and to exhibit alongside established artists raises self- esteem incredibly but also breaks down stigmas about mental health. Exhibitions bring the general public into the centre. I have achieved one of my dreams.

Caroline’s art can be viewed and purchased at:

The Gallery
Unit 3, Aston Business Park
Shrewsbury Avenue

Pink House Arts
The Oaks

Beginner and Intermediate felting workshops can also be booked.

07980 034040

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