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An image from 'A forager's manual - How to get lost during a global pandemic' - a collaboration between artist Estelle Woolley and photographer Jaime Molina.

An innovative, internationally-acclaimed artist whose projects include facemasks made from foraged natural materials is returning to her roots at the University of Chester as part of a nationwide initiative nurturing creative talent.

Visual artist and University graduate Estelle Woolley is joined by fellow graduates and postgraduates Tony Hayes, Jodie Gibson, Emma Grzonkowski and Clare Owens, in working with the University’s Department of Art and Design thanks to the AA2A (Artists Access to Art Colleges) scheme.

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An image from 'A forager's manual - How to get lost during a global pandemic' - a collaboration between artist Estelle Woolley and photographer Jaime Molina.
An image from 'A forager's manual - How to get lost during a global pandemic' - a collaboration between artist Estelle Woolley and photographer Jaime Molina.

The University is one of 12 Higher and Further Education host institutions across England in 2021/22 offering residencies for visual artists and designer-makers through the initiative, to develop their work and share their expertise with current students.

Estelle, a graduate in Fine Art, is extending her series of self-portraits, featuring masks made from delicate natural materials, including flowers and plants.

At the beginning of the pandemic, she returned to the family farm, near Nantwich in Cheshire, and found nature therapeutic - and also inspiring - in such a challenging time. Her inspiration for such masks began, and Chester Virtual Bandstand commissioned her to create a series of them. Since then, her work has been highly commended in The Sustainability First Art Prize and published in Wales Arts Review; New York Magazine and the Danish newspaper Politiken, and won the Ty Pawb Open People’s Prize, to name a few accolades.

The team at AA2A also liked Estelle’s portrait ‘Breathe’ so much, they used it as their 'pic of the week' to showcase AA2A creatives and students work across their social media channels.

She is currently collaborating with a photographer based in Edinburgh, Jaime Molina, on a series of seasonal portraits involving other models in the natural landscape to develop the project, called ‘A forager's manual - How to get lost during a global pandemic'. They are working on a book and set of prints to be showcased in the CASC (Contemporary Art Space Chester) gallery at the end of the residency.

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'A forager's manual' rekindles a fundamental relationship between ourselves and nature, from a year long reflection due to a global pandemic.
'A forager's manual' rekindles a fundamental relationship between ourselves and nature, from a year long reflection due to a global pandemic.

Alongside this, Estelle has also been approached by Cheshire West and Chester Council to work on a project exploring Chester’s heritage, which takes inspiration from promenading along the City Rows, ‘Fashion On The Rows’. With Fashion students from the University, and the local community, Estelle is creating a series of wearable garment sculptures, drawing on artistry from Victorian millinery and the use of flamboyant natural materials. The hats will be modelled in a fashion shoot which she is organising, and she has started working with models, hairdressers, makeup artists and photographers. As part of the project she is also running a competition, micro-commissions and workshops.

She said: “The resources within the University will enable me to develop my work in ways in which I am limited in doing independently, but more importantly the shared environment, ethos of creativity and networking opportunities will be very beneficial.”

Adding more about the motivation behind her work, she explained: “A close engagement with the environment is at the core of my research. The act of closely looking at the world around us is pertinent to the philosophy of Heidegger; the idea of paying attention to the things that we might normally disregard. I am interested in ways that we work with or against nature; how we react and intervene, and how nature responds back at a domestic level and beyond. By subtle manipulation I hope to renew a sense of curiosity, while always highlighting the beauty inherent in the forms used.”

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Estelle - one of five AA2A artists at the University - is planning to showcase the work in the CASC gallery.
Estelle - one of five AA2A artists at the University - is planning to showcase the work in the CASC gallery.

Associate Professor Bernadine Murray, Head of Department for Art and Design said: “We are thrilled to welcome Estelle, Clare, Tony, Jodie and Emma through the AA2A initiative.

“As in previous years, we are delighted to offer our facilities, have the chance to nurture such outstanding and unique creative talent and are excited to see the projects realised. At the same time, it’s also a great opportunity for our students to benefit from the talent, skills and knowledge of practising artists and makers.

“It’s fantastic to see the ideas and techniques flow in both directions, with our AA2A artists sharing their experience, the students offering their input and the artists exploring other territories or boundaries from their normal practices.”

The AA2A project is a national set of schemes, providing visual artists and designer makers with the opportunity to undertake a period of research or realise a project, using workshop and supporting facilities in Fine Art and Design departments of Higher and Further Education institutions.

To find out more about all of this year’s AA2A artists at the University of Chester and for further details about the scheme, please visit: https://aa2a.biz/colleges_menu/college-pages/chester.

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art design residency AA2A CASC