Jill Walker - Birdcage art from Northwich

Bird with a China Cup and Tin Wing

Bird with a China Cup and Tin Wing - Credit: Archant

Jill Walker from Kingsmead, near Northwich, admits she’s a bit of a magpie, finding objects wherever she can, and turning them into works of art

I am looking at one of Jill Walker’s artworks for some minutes before I realise what I am actually seeing. On a workbench in the studio at her Northwich home, two birds, fashioned from delicate wire, sit on a perch. Only when Jill points it out do I see that the perch onto which the wiry birds are so prettily woven is really an old pastry cutter.

Beside that, another wire bird sits on a colourful cup and saucer from a 1970’s children’s tea service.

Not content with finding old objects, Jill even creates her own ‘relics’. She has put her ceramic skills to use to make a tray of broken bone china cups, ageing them perfectly. More of her wire birds will be mounted on this ‘broken’ crockery.

‘Each piece is made because I want to make it. Sometimes it’s difficult to let them go,’ says Jill.

It is three years since Jill became a full-time artist. She had her first solo exhibition at Mid Cheshire College, and her work is now being sold at a pop-up shop run by Visual Arts Cheshire in Northwich, and also at galleries in Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Farnham in Surrey, Much Wenlock in Shropshire and London’s Pimlico.

Using found objects is a big part of Jill’s work, whether it be a bird cage with an old key hanging inside it, or a paper-thin ceramic piece onto which a design has been scored with a stick found when she is out walking the family pets – a greyhound called Betty and lurcher Izzy, both rescue dogs.

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Jill reaches into a box full of serendipitous finds – an old pink lampshade from the Northwich home where her late parents lived for half a century, a children’s tambourine, a fan, an empty ointment jar, a wooden bat, a test tube. On another shelf, there is a neat collection of snail shells, arranged like a framed picture.

‘It’s beautiful in its own right. It’s like a drawing,’ says Jill.

There are bundles of sticks used as brushes, a tray of pottery fragments – all grist to the creative mill.

‘It’s being inventive with found objects and noticing them,’ she says. ‘By arranging them, you are bringing notice to otherwise discarded objects, whether they are discarded on a flea market stall or discarded on a pathway you tread over.’

Married to David, a partner in Manchester-based building services engineers Crookes Walker Consulting, and mother to Iona, aged 18, and Dillon, aged 16, Jill is Northwich born and bred.

After A levels at Sir John Deane’s College, she did a foundation course at Northwich Art School and then a degree in woven textiles at Leicester Polytechnic. After a couple of years weaving and selling scarves and shawls in London and Bedford, she headed north to Manchester, studied to be an art and design teacher and taught at Lowton High School, Wigan, then later Leighton Primary School, Crewe.

‘I’d always teach through my own work, so I was working alongside the children in the classroom. But I never sold my work’ says Jill, aged 50.

‘I always had my own work going on, so at home I always had my own place to do my own work. It was the kitchen table usually.’

Two years ago, Jill had her own studio built above the garage of the family home. It’s a large, airy space bathed in daylight from the big picture window and the skylights which dot the pitched roof. Artists in dank garrets would die of envy.

By the time the studio was built, Jill had completed another BA degree (with first class honours) in contemporary crafts at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Alsager campus.

Her future is as an artist, but an artist often seeking inspiration, and raw materials, from the past.

‘It’s about childhood memories and narratives, and reclaiming old objects from the past that tell personal stories to me and have personal triggers for other people,’ she says. ‘ It means a lot of trawling round old junk shops and eBay.’

See www.jillwalker.co.uk