“At school I couldn’t take the 11plus because the headmaster said I was a dunce. I was brought up in a double decker bus, bullied, born out of wedlock and always had the inner feeling that I was different. I grew up in a remote area in the 1940s and I adored it. I was so curious I was always wandering off and being returned by the milkman! I was in the lowest class at an all girls’ secondary modern school. I wasn’t expected to do any exams as it was considered too much for me. My art teacher recognised something in me and said I must do the art exam.”
This set Diane on the road to art school, though first she had attended evening classes at the local Tech’ to study history, scripture, embroidery and art.
“I was told to apply to Hammersmith as they love people from the north because they are so grateful! I was offered a place there straight away but I really wanted to go to study fine art at Goldsmiths. I kept ringing them up after my interview and eventually, against the odds, I was told that because of the strength of my drawing and my determination, I was in. At school Miss Skinner had said ‘You will have to compete with the men, so do a woman’s subject.’ But I was always contrary and I did big bronze sculptures. I was so inquisitive and I felt that there were no boundaries to what I wanted to absorb.I knew from being little I had something and I followed it.
I never wanted to teach but ended up doing teacher training in Liverpool. There was no gentle introduction or chance to observe. I was thrown straight in at the deep end to teach pottery, which I had no idea about. I was sent to a school that was so bad it was later pulled down – by the children! In Liverpool they worked hard and played hard which suited me. I discovered I absolutely loved teaching. I then came here to teach City & Guilds part-time, before being offered a full time post.
I spent 35 happy years teaching at Bradford College and I saw lots of changes in the intervening years. I took a paid secondment year to do an MA when I was 40. I might have been expected to choose textiles but I didn’t want to rely on something I knew but be pushed to think, so I chose to do an MA Industrial Design in Birmingham. The other students on the course were mostly young lads who had just graduated with degrees in the subject. I invented a fastening system and I also learnt what it was like to be a mature student. I realised how good we were at supporting mature students, in terms of technical and pastoral support, in Bradford. People might assume that I spent years in a nice little comfort zone as a teacher. But I chose to teach. I still miss it as I found it so rich and rewarding. My first love was my students. I did my own work in holidays and at weekends.
There are so many avenues that artists can go down. I know I would be no good at commission work. I can’t take orders. I would feel like Mike Yarwood, just imitating someone else, and lose my place. I could have been successful just making dresses for people but it was not me.” Diane recalled a commission she had done for a wedding dress covered in masses of ivy leaves which entailed 7 or 8 months painstaking work. The bride’s mother wanted to collect the dress but was reluctant to pay. “I thought I don’t have to do this. I do the work for its own sake. I create exhibition pieces not designs to order. It doesn’t matter if I sell something or nothing, I work without outside interference. The cart pulls the horse. Networking doesn’t suit me. It feels too much like showing off. Hawking my wares is not my style. But it works for some people and we all have to find our own way and not be neurotic if rejected. I go where I feel more valued. I never look for anything but prefer people to come to me.
For instance, I had been doing some life drawing for my own enjoyment and a gallery in Jersey approached me about showing them. So I am being flown out, all expense paid, for an exhibition of my life drawings in March this year. It is an unexpected development and I don’t know how it will be received.I did all the big shows but I am personally sick of seeing my frocks. I could carry on until the cows came home but it is time to move on. My creative life is not over but is still developing. I am not a dancer whose legs have gone! I am moving away from the body and everyone knows me for this. People will probably say ‘where’s your frocks?’ but I don’t want to put myself in a safe spot. I have recently done lots of trips teaching overseas, most recently to Australia. I sell massive amounts of jewellery. It sells as soon as I can make it, and I have also sold drawings.” Continued