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Stella Benjamin

The rug weaver Stella Benjamin was born in Chislehurst, Kent, in 1933. She left school at 15 and worked in an insurance office before deciding to study art at the Regent Street Polytechnic, London. In 1956 she moved to Cornwall with her artist-husband Anthony Benjamin; from the early 1960s she worked for the sculptor Dennis Mitchell, then at the Troika Pottery as the decorator. Benjamin took up weaving in 1975 at 42, when working as part-time assistant to the artist-jewellers, Bryan Illsley and Breon O'Casey in St Ives. Breon O'Casey taught her to weave, although he himself was self-taught. They wove woollen rugs to O'Casey's simple designs using upright looms made from bed-frames. Benjamin took over O'Casey's looms and studio when he left St Ives and, for several years, continued to weave in the same premises on her own account with one colleague. In 1979 she installed a Navaho-type frame loom (made by Bryan Illsley) in her dining-room at home and then taught herself to weave on it. Using this loom, she has worked alone ever since, but now occupies a loft workroom.

At about the time of switching to the Navaho loom, Stella Benjamin discovered the beauty of handspun Omani sheep and goats' hair yarns and bought a large quantity from the late Gigi Crocker (a weaver and teacher who worked in Oman) and began to dye her own colours. This provided her with new qualities and hues with which to produce her distinctive plain-colour rugs with contrasting borders. At the outset, Benjamin continued to make jewellery to finance the rug weaving and was also awarded grants by South West Arts (1977, 1982, 1985) the Guild of St George (1988) and the David Canter Memorial Fund (1991).

Stella Benjamin has had two notable solo exhibitions at Contemporary Applied Arts (1990 and 1994) and one at the Christopher Farr Gallery (2001), both in London. She has participated in many other group shows and was nominated for the Jerwood Prize for Textiles in 1997. She works slowly, does not undertake commissions, and comments: 'I have to be completely free to make what I feel like - to take risks, allow the rug to grow, and learn.' (Quoted in Crafts Study Centre correspondence on the Digitisation Project, 2003).



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