sculptural basket maker harriet goodall

It is an ancient art form yet one that is resulting in international commisions for Australia's Harriet Goodall. She describes herself as a sculptural basket maker. The work incorporates craft, knowledge of plant materials and design. As part of her oeuvre, Harriet also collects discarded industrial farming materials to shape into objects such as light shades. She also co-founded Warp & Weft in 2005 with her husband. Together they import organically dyed, hand spun textiles from Peru and Argentina. The couple live in the Southern Highlands, an area of countryside south of Sydney. Harriet has a studio there, pictured above, which is a former milking shed. She also runs workshops on basket weaving.

Which five words best describe you?
Expressive, loyal, feisty, open-hearted, restless.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since?
My work-life path has been full of twists. I don't think I had one defining kick-start. My country childhood was crucial to my aesthetic perspective. I coasted academically at school, struggled with authority and wasn't ready to commit to being 'one thing' so I chose a degree that was theatrical, practical and fun. I studied communications in theatre/media at CSU Bathurst - a shout-out to the fire-breathing unicyclists of Australia.

I spent the next 10 years working mainly to fund travel. I had jobs briefly in radio, then media, in recording studios in London, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Sydney Olympics Ceremonies production team and then after a mid-20s soul-search, in not-for-profit organisations and teaching English to adults. Global travels and a love of textiles and markets led my boyfriend and I to start up a small ethical business working with less privileged but highly-skilled weavers from Peru and Argentina importing textiles. We still do this part-time.

When we had our first child I allowed my creative side to be completely in charge. Perhaps my inner-child came out to play when I felt I didn't have to justify my education. It turns out I do need all the left-brain skills I gained from years of office jobs so that I can run the business side of my creative practice. Having stood up in front of adults as a teacher for a few years also helped when I was approached to take my first basketry workshops too. Now my focus is on three things: workshop, commission and exhibition.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
Don't sit on echidna quills! (it's particularly stupid when you upholstered the chair with them just the day before). Seriously, I've come to realise that I am writing my own story and while things happen to you that you can't control it's entirely up to you how you deal with disappointments and make the most of your opportunities (and we here in Australia have many). Ultimately I have to be brave and I have to be proud of what I do.

What’s your proudest career achievement? I finished my first international commission of a cluster of big sculptural pendant lights and a five-metre stick dividing wall (Rwith the help of Joe Vinks & Nick Goodall), and they are now in a restaurant in California.

What’s been your best decision? Steering clear of city life, living simply with one of the world's finest men.

Who inspires you?
Mother nature first and foremost. Contemporary Australian women fibre artists, assemblage artists and sculptors; Shona Wilson, Jade Oakley, Virginia Kaiser, Tanya Stubbles, Rosalie Gascoigne etc.

What are you passionate about?
The subtle colours and aged surfaces of found objects wearing the marks of time and place. Bark, nests, eggs, leaves, vines, cocoons, pattern, patina, rust, feathers. My babies, sleep.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Jesus. I am not religious at all but I need a carpenter who can perform a miracle in my kitchen - and he must have been the most charismatic man who ever lived.

What dream do you still want to fulfil?
I feel like I am just at the beginning of this chapter of my story so there is a list but I have a strong idea for a beautiful and much-needed book and I would love to take basketry and textile tours to some of the places I have been in the far-flung corners of the world. I just missed out on a fantastic new studio and workshop space so that goes back on the list. To help my children become kind and adventurous people is also important to me.

What are you reading?
I have just read India Flint - Eco Colour cover to cover - I am learning about vegetable dyeing. I just started Geraldine Brooks, Caleb's Crossing and am halfway through listening in the car (talking books are perfect when I am too tired to read at night) to John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath. My family had to leave our family farm due to financial hardship in slightly less depressing circumstances but the story does resonate. Our four-year-old must be picking it up by osmosis because he asked me in the bath the other night, "Mum, are our houses us? I mean, are we our houses?" I hope not my love, that makes us a delapidated weatherboard.

images courtesy of harriet goodall, todd sutherland & sohi (studio shots) and stuart cohen (portrait)

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