In Conversation With Artist Rowan Macgregor
Posted by TEAM WILD BEAUTY
As we continue our conversations with British artists who are inspired by nature in its many forms, we are pleased to introduce Rowan McGregor. Rowan is a Bath based artist specialising in the creation of delicate copper wreaths. Her work is reminiscent of pressed flowers or bits of buried treasure that have been dug up after hundreds of years underground and each piece is different and unique.
Tell us a little bit about your background – did you always want to be an artist?
I have always wanted to be an artist. As a child I drew and made things constantly and loved the drawings of Jill Barklem’s ‘Brambly Hedge’ series, as well as Jane Ray, Shirley Hughes, Arthur Rackham, Angela Barrett, and JR Tolkien. I probably should have gone to art college, but I instead went to Bristol University to study archaeology which is another great interest of mine. When I left university, I did a graduate internship at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and worked in libraries and archives for a few years – the ancient books, maps and manuscripts were hugely inspiring to me. I then worked in university administration at various institutions, but I was thinking constantly of a creative outlet – I just had to find my ‘thing’! In 2017 I had my brainwave moment and started developing my copper wreaths.
What brought you to work with copper and how did the idea of your wreaths originate?
I remember seeing a picture of an ancient Greek golden laurel wreath and being blown away. The wreaths were presented to victors at Olympic games or used as tributes to the dead. Even though they date from around the 4th century BC, the wreaths still in existence are in pristine condition and so intricately and beautifully made. The leaves look paper thin, and the petals are delicate and very natural looking. I was so inspired I wanted to have a go at making my own version. I spent many hours researching the best way to make them (and still do!) and spent a long time going round B&Q with my dad deciding what material to use. I settled upon copper because it has a lovely glow to it, can be soldered and then develops a beautiful Verdigris patina when various chemical solutions are applied. My Dad taught me to solder and that was it really – I’ve been experimenting and honing my technique ever since. I want my wreaths to look old – I guess that’s where my interest in history and archaeology comes in. I think the most exciting thing in the world must be unearthing ancient artefacts on an archaeological dig. I want my work to look like they could have been dug up after hundreds of years underground, or perhaps pressed between the pages of a long-forgotten book.
Your designs are inspired by the British countryside and nature – do you live in the countryside yourself?
I live near the centre of Bath, not really the countryside, but the lovely thing about this city is that we are surrounded by rolling green hills. Even standing in the centre of Bath you can see the hills and trees in the distance – it gives a feeling of space, and you never feel claustrophobic like you do in some cities. I do long to live more rurally though – I hope one day soon to have fields on my doorstep. I am very inspired by the countryside – especially our hedgerows and woodlands and all the plants and creatures that live there.
Which season do you find most inspiring for your work?
I find winter the most inspiring season for my work. In winter the fields and hedgerows are stripped down to their bare bones – seed heads and teasels, red berries, pine needles and evergreen leaves. I like to look at a small cross section of hedgerow and try to translate that into copper – lots of overlapping delicate plants, seeds, and leaves.
Other than nature, where else do you seek inspiration for your work?
I draw inspiration from antique embroideries, textiles, papercuts, European and American folk art, old maps, engravings, and old English folk traditions. I also love looking at Mary Delaney’s exquisite paper cut flowers.
Do you see your wreaths developing into pieces to be worn?
A lot of people have asked me to make them headdresses, tiaras and crowns for weddings but I’m not sure my copper would translate well to being worn as the metal can have sharp edges. I have however, completely separately, created a collection of weathervanes which I Iove making.
Is there a particular building or landmark for which you would love to design a copper wreath?
A while ago I read about Croft Lodge Studio in Herefordshire which is the crumbling remains of a 300-year-old cottage encased in a modern steel and iron shell. It’s like something out of a fairy tale. The owners have kept everything about the cottage intact – even the ivy climbing up the walls and the birds’ nests in the eaves. Apparently, there is still a preserved bat somewhere in the building. I often think it would be a great place for one of my wreaths to live! I’d also like to see one of my wreaths in Dennis Severs’ house in Spitalfields or the National Trust property Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire.
What would be your wild beauty escape?
In the UK I love Cornwall so much- I spent every holiday as a child in Penzance with my grandmother, and my favourite beach ever will always be Sennen. I lived in Germany for 5 years as a teenager and I do love it there – anywhere with mountains, forests and fairy-tale villages. I would love to travel round Scandinavia and Romania also looks very beautiful.