Welcome to Ann Wood’s Workroom
Geographically ambiguous, hauntingly beautiful and the hub of artistic industry. Ann Wood’s moody blue surroundings foster remarkable creativity and provide shelter for her and her dolls and soft animal sculptures – By Susan Hurley
Here’s a little guessing game for you: Where would you find this studio space? Bet you go straight for Victorian England, right? It’s got all the tell-tale elements – potted aspidistras; barley-twist furniture; tread-worn parquetry; button-studded sofa; and fine-bone cups and saucers, ready for ‘elevenses’ . It could be Soames Forsyte’s drawing room or Mr Chips’ parlour.
Well, guess again! It’s actually the studio space of Ann Wood and it’s slap-bang in the heart and hubbub of downtown Brooklyn, New York – a small (32 sq metres) home that doubles as a workroom within the walls of a classic brownstone building. Who’d have thought?
So let’s set aside images of genteel British salons and head straight for the pulsing metropolis where Ann lives and creates all sorts of wondrous fabric dolls, objet and wild creatures – owls and ravens, spiders, mozzies and even perfectly attired rats. All her sweet creations are as charming as their surroundings, and are dotted about the place as if they own it. Birds with scrap-fabric features roost on tabletops. Papier mache galleons hang from the ceiling, as if floating on a sea of air. Wire-legged spiders scurry out of glass jars. And delicate rag dolls wear lacy pantaloons. These few square metres provide as much of a home for dolls and critters as they do for the artist herself.
Ann says her home and studio are the very reflection of her style of crafting. “I love the oldness of the building. The place comes with its own charm, with giant windows and period details. It makes a good home for my work. I love waking up with my work right there waiting for me. My life and my things fit right in. It all feels right to me, and it all kind of blends together and becomes a jewel box world of my own making.”
But even the most romantic of environments can deliver a dose of reality once in a while. We suspect Ann may not have been quite as enamoured of her surroundings when her 13ft-high ceilings caved in recently. There she was, gently sewing a new doll, in happy ignorance that her plaster ceiling was about to cave in on her. She had to dive for her life as hundreds of pounds of plaster suddenly came crashing down. It was “like an explosion,” she said. “But fortunately the doll and I were unscathed.”
But a structural malfunction has done nothing to dampen Ann’s love of her work and living space. “It’s a cosy and happy space to work in,” she says. “Most of my things are either old, acquired from family or picked up at flea markets here in New York. I like age and patina. Because my space is so small, I acquire things very carefully. I have to love them.”
The only exception to the romance of her antiques and bygone grandeur is an Ikea Ivar storage system, which injects a practical and functional touch. And while it does its job well, it only scratches the surface of storage requirements, according to Ann. She has a “ton of fabric”, which is organised by era or culture – 18th century, 19th century, Japanese etc – and all of it crying out for some sort of orderly system. The solution was to use simple brown filing boxes, so that things are easily identified and pulled out when needed. “There’s never enough storage, though,” says Ann. “I wish this space was twice as big. I’ve had to get creative with what I have – making it work.”
The essence of her decorating style is “nostaligic, eclectic and lots of plants” but the personality injected into her work and living space by her own fabric creations cannot be oversold. These appealing soft sculptures dot her surfaces and steal the limelight, which is saying something when they’re up against such wonderful architectural gems.
A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS
WHITE SEWING MACHINE – My mother’s White Rotary sewing machine is what I learned on and I still sew on it today.
CHEST OF DRAWERS – A wonderful piece that was originally in my dad’s workshop.
BUTTON DRAWER – I have a substantial collection of antique buttons and love looking through them for just the right one. (I especially love doing that when I should be doing something else!)
NORFOLK PINE – I got it to serve as a Christmas tree four years ago, and it has been with me ever since.
FABRICS & QUILTS – All the textiles, the quilts and fabrics that are so inspiring to me. I love cloth – old cloth, especially – hand stitching and other simple techniques and materials. The practicality appeals to me, and I love giving old or discarded things new life – new importance and meaning.
You can find out more about Ann Wood and see her collections at Ann Wood Handmade: