Ruth Prowse, June 2015
While thinking quietly about this presentation I was prompted from somewhere to say the following;
Ruth Prowse School is an institution that offers freedom of movement in a structured nurturing environment, encouraging the development, growth and deepening of creative potential and giving the students skills and confidence to move forward in their chosen careers!
That came spontaneously after spending two weeks working here and may sound like a mission statement or serious sales pitch but it obvious speaks straight to the heart of the matter.
Last week I worked here with 19 artists from various countries in a Thupelo workshop. Some of the staff and students were about but we were able to use the space and equipment as our work required. An artist from Zimbabwe used jackets as a metaphor for his work and I thought how appropriate this was in relation to this school. The school is like a patched and well used jacket with many colours and many pockets, some with specific content and others with surprises.
The jacket for me is the school; well maintained and full of history. It is worn by the Board of directors, the director herself, the staff in the office, and the staff on the ground, the staff in the library and in the studios. The studios are the pockets; each pocket is active morning, afternoon, evening; students pop in and out of pockets listening to lectures in one, painting in another, googling cyber space, reading books, sewing on machines etc.; many pockets always busy. The jacket remains intact, well-kept and it invites the curiose.
The cloth of this jacket has a promise and ethos sewn into its seams and folds and creases. These are the embedded curriculum of art as concept, art as tangible object, process, method, material. Creep in if you have a head full of ideas and a heart for adventure, this jacket will embrace you. In the pockets you will learn specific techniques from one teacher and theory from another. The overlap where art meets craft is encouraged as are originality, language skills and personal confidence.
If you listen closely you will hear intimate conversations between students, between students and teachers and laughter too. At times stillness vibrates with the intense concentration of work. Focus is encouraged and instilled as each student and the work at hand are given attention and consideration. The students frown and growl on occasion; that’s what students do and they make changes, make us wake up and get with it! But they do this in the warmth of the jacket.
The inner lining shows me more; the inner and outer worlds of creative expression are respected. Eunice, the director is hands on and quite specific in her requirements around the working of the school and the individuals. She told me a personal story that makes sense to me as a teacher and artist. (This really happened it is not a story I made up or a metaphor) Her passion is print making; she continues her practise and exhibits her work when she has an opportunity. This is not separate from her teaching; she caught herself during a week of “too much to do” popping in and out of her class and telling her students “what to do.” On reflection she realised this was not focused, not on! Eunice started working in the studio with her students and talking about what she was doing, how her concept was developing, about materials and technique, and how her images were taking shape. The students worked and talked and listened. After a few weeks the work was assessed and the deepening of content, the understanding of skills had taken an unprecedented step ahead of the previous work.
This for me is how it should be; we learn and teach by example, interaction and exchange. The work on this exhibition is made by first and second year students, part time students, outreach project students, staff and some of it has been selected from the Thupelo workshop. The exhibition was curated by staff and students keen to assist. There seems to be learning and mentoring in each stitch!
I hope you enjoy and celebrate this space and this work in the spirit of generosity and inclusiveness that has made it possible. You are welcome to pop in and out of the pockets, engage in conversation and perhaps enrol in one or more of the courses, taking your place in the embrace of this unusual and highly functional jacket.