Susan Schuller & Gavin Malone – Australia

Gavin Malone

Susan Schuller

The following is an excerpt from Gavin and Susan’s travel diary about their stay at Stiwdio Maelor:

Day 9 Sunday. Lower Corris, North Wales, clinging to a valley wall, meandering a valley floor, steep, windy narrow streets for carts rather than cars, population now about 300 at a guess. Slate mining its rationale about 100 years ago and even our bed quilt and and pillows are made of slate. Well not really but slate walls, rooves, fences, steps, paths, baths and garden mulch, the old mine a mile up the valley road. And slate is in mascara, eye liner, ‘your eyes look a bit heavy deary’, as well as other make up, toothpaste and a hundred other things.

A friend Veronica has set up an artist studio, Stwidio Maelor, here in an old shop and residence. There’s a basement, ground floor, first floor and attic so quite roomy really. She’s setting it up as artist studios with a residency program and we are one of the first. More of a consolidation of thoughts and collecting of ideas for me than hands on, and Susan plans to felt.

One of the first things we find is that the valley and others nearby are used by the RAF for ground hugging terrain training, the sonic wack of a Tornado jet fighter just out the sky light a startle the first time and soon familiar, along with lumbering turbo props. It becomes a game to try and get a good photo, they won. Another day when driving along a valley the eiry sound reached us just before the scream by; and you think emergency service vehicle sirens can put the wind up you sometimes. The pilot pivots the wings around the body of the craft and disappears quickly along another valley, probably only 20 years old and still hasn’t shaved.

Fifty yards up the road from the studio is the railway station with its little steam train, one of many in the region that hauled slate down from the mountains to the ports and other railway networks to market. Not much serviceable track left now so only a short ride but we both get to ride in the cabin, me one way, Susan the other. Good yarn with the driver, a portly IT specialist, and the fireman, a retired bloke who had done his PhD in Canberra, and astonished to learn we are riding in a new build loco, only a few years old, and another is under construction. We saw the progress in the workshops when we were shown around. Good fun.

Another day is a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology, CAT, which just celebrated its 40th birthday, and just down the road from Corris where we are staying. Established in a former quarry, like the Eden Project, but unlike the Eden Project this did not disappoint. Set up by a group of people in the 70s who understood the finite nature of resources and fossil fuels, they have been experimenting and contributing to the sustainability debate ever since; now to government, industry and others. Half a day to look and listen and a few more hours in their woodland with a very novel bird hide built as part of a post grad architecture program.

Another day is a visit to Aberystwyth, Aber for short, the town and University where Veronica is doing a four week Welsh language workshop on top of studies completed to date. A good look around the town and in the evening an artist talk by me to a printmakers group. The guy with the key to the art school didn’t turn up so an improvised venue in an artist’s studio with a laptop still went OK. The body of a young man had been found on campus that morning in suspicious/unusual circumstances and an area had been closed off, including the building where Veronica’s class had been scheduled; brings home the fragility of life.

Veronica did a TV interview about her work on exhibition at the annual Eistetford down near Cardiff with the Welsh television channel while we were there. A bit nervous before but what we saw looked fine although we couldn’t understand a word she said.

Another day a visit to the Welsh National Slate Museum. I use slate stone in my work (particularly with Karl) and have been evolving a potential project with Veronica and others called Bangor Bangor about cultural relationships through stone. There is a Bangor slate quarry near Willunga and the Bangor region in Wales has played a central role in the slate industry. Called in at the Delabole slate quarry in Cornwall on our way up as there was also a Delabole quarry near Willunga. Also drive through Snowdonia and past Mount Snowdon, the area of particular interest for Susan as her brother used to go there for mountaineering activities.

Walks, talks, driving, writing and reading (landscapes as well as books) round out the several day stay at Stwidio Maelor. A stay over for a night with Veronica in nearby Dolgellau where she and partner Mary live part of the year (and part in various regions of Australia, Mary being a doctor who works with remote communities) before we say farewell and head north.