What better way to express your thoughts and feelings than to put them down on paper? Artist Margaret Lloyd says engraving them in pure Welsh slate makes self-expression much more satisfying.
Lloyd, a native of Wales who now lives in Florence, brought her passionate spirit and more than capable hands to the United States years ago, and she has since produced a plethora of works of art, from the poetry in painting, representing the physical beauty and historical richness of his country of origin.
A collection of his Welsh-inspired slates – watercolors and prints on pieces of slate – which also represents his passion for Wales is now on display in the Burnett Gallery at Jones Library in Amherst until December 30.
Although Lloyd spent most of her life in the United States, Welsh culture runs just as deeply in her blood as when she spent her early childhood in Wales, after being born in Liverpool, England. She was very young when her Welsh parents decided to move to America, but luckily the migration did not affect her connection to Wales: her family settled in a Welsh community in the north of the state of New York.
There his father worked as a pastor in a church where he preached in Welsh. “My parents were going to return to Wales after five years. They came here and did not come back, ”she said.
Lloyd’s connection to Welsh culture remained strong even when she left home for the University of Rochester in New York City, where she met her husband. Lloyd says their relationship only fueled the fire of Welsh passion within each of them.
“The back and forth between us was right there,” she said. “He’s not Welsh by blood, but he’s a Welsh medievalist. He published and translated books on medieval poetry in Wales. He was also a Welsh language teacher at Smith, UMass and Harvard.
Until two years ago, Lloyd taught creative and advanced writing classes at Springfield College, and she chaired the school’s humanities department for about 20 years. Today, she devotes her days to art.
“I decided I wanted to live a fully creative life and stopped teaching,” she said. “I was able to really devote myself to my artistic work, and that’s when this brand new slate project started to blossom.
Lloyd never planned to be a visual artist, let alone a full-time artist – she published four volumes of poetry, an art form that had been her calling since she was a little girl. But as her interest in painting increased, she decided to learn more about it by reading books and studying other artists.
“At first I was amazed at how much I liked it,” Lloyd said. “I’m not a painter at all, but watercolor is a wonderful medium because you can’t control it completely. It shows you where to go.
She now devotes her time to painting, engraving and writing poetry, and using the three mediums in collaboration. For “Slateworks,” her exhibition in Amherst, she drew inspiration from the country’s historic slate mining industry and her family’s connection to it.
“My family was very involved in the slate industry in Wales, and still is,” said Lloyd. “I probably had quarrymen and slate miners in my past. I’m sure I did. My grandfather started out as a slate engraver and then ended up owning mines in Wales. I have always had slate in my life because of this.
The mining industry became important in Wales in the 19th century and continued until the middle of the 20th century. The mountainous country provided rich deposits for the coal, diamond, iron and slate mines.
“It was a very dangerous job, like any mining operation, and that’s part of why I’m interested in it,” Lloyd said. “A lot of people have silicosis [from inhaling slate dust]. But it is a huge and important part of Welsh culture, as well as Welsh economic life.
Lloyd’s paintings in “Slateworks” explore a number of Welsh themes, from paintings of historical images such as the slate fences and worn boots of slate workers, to replicas of works of art found in the medieval Welsh books. The paints are not on the immediate surface of the slate – she hand carves cavities in the stone and inserts the watercolors into them, then covers the paints with wax to protect them.
Art isn’t just in what Lloyd creates, however; she also selects and collects all the slate she uses by hand.
“I bring back slate from Wales which I find … there is a lot of it lying around in the garbage piles,” she noted. “It makes my suitcase very heavy. But I also use scrapped Vermont roofing slate, and roofing slate that a friend of mine gives me. I like to reuse something that has been thrown away.
Not all slates are the same, she adds: the color, on the one hand, varies depending on the origin of the slate.
“It’s really interesting, the geological strata are actually the same,” she said of Welsh and Vermont slate. “I brought it back last summer,” she added, pointing to a piece of purple Welsh slate covered in watercolor. “I was looking for different colors, because a lot of the Vermont slate I have is gray.”
Nor are there two pieces of slate of the same shape. Lloyd’s collection ranges from almost perfectly square slabs to more jagged pieces, to large rectangular segments large enough to hold two paintings. She is often inspired by the shapes of slate and creates her paintings around them.
The rich history of Wales is not the only source of inspiration for Lloyd’s exhibition work. She says the rugged beauty of the country also prompted her to put the brush on paper.
“I love the landscape of Wales. It is an incredibly beautiful country, ”she said. “When I first started painting I was in Colorado painting mountains that I had never painted before. [But] I was suddenly painting Welsh landscapes.
“So it was, at first, all subliminal,” Lloyd continued. “It was like I was doing something out of my desire for Wales and my desire for privacy with my country. When I am here I aspire to Wales. And then when I’m in Wales, I want to be here.
“I think it’s very important to have a creative life with imaginative thinking,” Lloyd said in conclusion. “It’s just as important as critical thinking. Now that I no longer have to work and be an administrator – which was very precious – I feel very privileged to explore the imagination, the divine, eternal imagination.
“Slateworks” will be on display at the Burnett Gallery at the Jones Library until December 30th. All exhibits will be for sale. For kitchen hours and additional information, visit https://www.joneslibrary.org/206/Current-Exhibit. Additional information on Margaret Lloyd is available at margaretlloyd.net.