On the way home from our summer holiday last week we popped in to Canberra. As you do - the nation's capital and all that. We took the kids for a quick one hour walk around Government House, and on our way out of town we decided to take them to the Australian War Memorial. We weren't surewhether it was the right decision as my kids don't yet know that much about the other side of life. We've talked mental illness, disability, homelessness etc.....but we haven't yet got to war in any detail.
And so we were looking through the exhibits in a pretty superficial way - one that was keeping them away from photos of things they aren't yet ready to understand. A speed tour if you like. But I kept coming across craft made during the war that I didn't want to leave.
The jumper in the photos is one such item*. I don't know anything about the facts of this jumper. All I know is what you see in the photo below and what a quick internet search will tell me. It was made by a soldier called Duncan - Sergeant Duncan CarseIdine - his Red Cross Wounded and Missing record is online and shows he was a prisoner of war in Limburg, Germany from 1917-1918. I don't know any details about it's making other than that I can see it was made from scraps. It has colourwork and cables and a saddle shoulder. There is at least seven colours of yarn.
What I do know is that as I stood there in front of it I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. And I've thought about it and Duncan ever since.
It made me grateful that I make. Grateful that I understood what was involved in making it. That I could feel the stitches in my hands. That I understood that to design and make what Duncan had made, it would have provided him with comfort and respite from whatever else was going on in his world. It would have given him that feeling of flow one enters when one is manifesting an idea into a tangible product. I was grateful that he had the chance to make it, and grateful that I could recognise the feeling.
It's the collar that really got me. Maybe it was the fashion at the time (?), but it felt to me like he just wanted to go on knitting.
Seeing pictures and exhibits at a War Memorial for me is often a disconnected, almost distant experience. I've had no experiences in my life that enable me to connect with what happened to the people in those pictures long ago. It often almost doesn't seem real to me - an experience that happened to other people at another time. I'm worried this will sound trivial, but the craft in the exhibits enabled me to feel the humanity of the people who made them. And by feeling their hearts and hands in their work, it made the exhibition something alive and human, tangible and real.
*Photos were taken with permission.