70 Years at Sturt (1941-2011) - Weaving
A short history by Grace Cochrane
Spinning and weaving classes were run from 1941 in the original building, now still the weaving room, by Frensham art teacher, Ruth Ainsworth and from 1942, Dorothy Cohoe. They used a loom and spinning wheels brought back from a visit to England by Ainsworth in 1936. The Weaving workshop was set up in 1951 by Erika Gretschel (later Semler), who arrived in Australia as a refugee from Germany, and was the first professional person to be employed at Sturt. Amongst other projects, she worked with Sydney designer, Marion Hall Best, to make upholstery and curtain fabrics.
A continuing presence of highly trained colleagues from Germany was maintained as the weavers moved on: Ursula Walde from 1954, Jutta Schley (later Feddersen) from 1957, Ulrike Lewis from 1958 and, in 1959, Elisabeth Nagel. As well as running regular classes, by 1965 Nagel had begun work on commissions which included tapestries, floor rugs and furniture for the Hong Kong Hilton Hotel and 100 yards of upholstery fabric for the new National Library in 1967. A friendship established in 1963 between Nagel and Winifred Hilliard who ran Ernabella Arts and Crafts near Alice Springs, brought three Pitjantjatjara women, Yipati Kuyata, Nyukana Baker and Yayimpi, to Sturt for five months in 1971. Elisabeth Nagel retired in 2009, after 50 productive years associated with the workshop. Sturt Weaving continues today with part-time classes taught by Melanie Olde, and the studio is also used for short courses.
For some years from 1973, a screenprinting workshop was run by Richard and Dilys Brecknock, while the annual conference of the Australian Forum for Textile Arts, established at Sturt in 1974 by Erika Semler and Solvig Baas-Becking, was held there for about 14 years from 1991, organised by Janet De Boer.5 From the early 1970s a number of international and Australian visitors, and from 1998 the regular program of artists-in-residence included many working in a range of fibre and textile processes.