When the Junkies team discovered the work of Margaret Wells we just knew that we had to feature her in the magazine. The astonishing garment worn by Christine Crawshaw and photographed by Louisa West appeared on the front cover of Junkies Winter Issue 9 and is the result of the creative output of this inspirational woman.
Always purposeful, inventive, playful, imaginative and skilled is a good description of how Margaret Wells approaches her life and art. Margaret was born in Warrigal in 1929 and has lived and worked in Melbourne, travelled and lived overseas in her 20s and raised a family in the outer suburbs. Through it all her artistic endeavours have accompanied her: photography, painting, sculpture and silversmithing.
Margaret has the true artist’s gift, that being observation of her environment. Her work reflects and is often directed by what surrounds her and a need to respond to it. To mimic someone else’s style would make no sense to her, though a deep appreciation and enjoyment of what people make is always there. Her inspiration comes from engaging and interacting with the physical and social environment she is in. With an artist’s eye she will often see what is invisible to many.
In her late 70s Margaret moved to a small house in the middle of St Kilda. She found herself in a very new and different environment artistically. Stimulated, she began to explore her new space. A poster-sized collage appeared made from photographs and ephemera gathered from the streets surrounding her. Using found objects has often been a part of Margaret’s art.
Following this project she started collecting beer bottlecaps. On the weekends the St Kilda streets are scattered with the things. What Margaret saw strewn in the streets, gutters and tram tracks were objects with potential: metallic, well crafted, colourful blue, green, gold, red, endowed with iconic symbols and images – a star, a stag, a cupid. Each bottlecap she gathered bore the marks of their time spent on the street. Like gathering seashells from a beach, they were all unique in their own way. They became precious objects, artifacts that embodied the character of St Kilda.
The collection grew and Margaret began to envision them all linked together. This idea evolved into an image of a garment. Drawing on skills from silversmithing and working three dimensionally, Margaret began.
She used a small section of railway line as an anvil and would hammer each bottlecap flat before drilling four small holes around the edge. Then using copper wire salvaged years before, she began to thread them together. Meanwhile the collection of bottlecaps continued.
Using a dressmaker’s dummy, a bottlecap outfit incrementally appeared. Cut up beer cans made an appearance in the structure of the bodice. The whole object changed and evolved along the way as Margaret problem-solved practical issues and worked towards her aesthetic goals until she deemed the work to be finished.
From the detritus of the streets of St Kilda was created a beautiful and inspiring artwork.