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24 Feb 2023

Alchemy in Action

Jessica Moughan is drawn to mediums that reflect her affinity with the natural world and are transformed by her maker’s hands. After being part of Creative Waikato’s ELEVATE programme she has achieved more balance between making and mahi.

Her artistic journey began with an open day at the Waikato Society of Potters where an experienced potter guiding her on the wheel was surprised to learn it was her first time. Weekly play with clay sessions and an intensive workshop with Adrian Bevis honed her skills. Under her OEPAN brand she began selling over Instagram and at markets before launching into full-time production and distribution. Jessica married John, and with their toddler Sloane, they live in Ngāruawāhia against the backdrop of the Hakarimata ranges.

Things were going well, but Jessica felt tethered to the production line and wanted to explore and expand her art practice. She had a work Community Cloth commissioned by Creative Waikato as part of the Kotahitanga project. The kaupapa of the exhibition was for Waikato artists to champion the fight for unity through works of art. This first woven artwork was made during 2021 lockdown, with a baby in tow, requiring a combination of ingenuity and tenacity.

Jessica built a frame loom with a large Kmart frame, using a jigsaw for its notches, with guidance via YouTube tutorials. Using her own plant-dyed wool she created this woven tapestry with its clay beads, using locally sourced Hakarimata clay which she pit fired in her home woodburner. In Community Cloth her use of dyed yarn speaks to a diverse community while the scale beads speak of burdens. “Beads of our burden don’t weigh down an individual, they just sit there and are carried by everyone.” After the project, which she was “pretty thrilled about,” finished she promptly went out and purchased a rigid heddle loom.

From this jumping off point she signed up to Creative Waikato’s ELEVATE in 2021. While being self-employed “I had realised that I wanted to step more into being an artist rather than a feeling like a one woman production factory with my ceramics.” This programme is to help and support Waikato based creative practitioners into achievable, financially viable and sustainable creative careers and is supported by the Ministry of Social Development.

Because of lockdowns the class was online for around half of their nine month time period which Jessica found the most challenging part of the programme. She loved eventually meeting other like-minded creatives in person who were immediately comfortable, having already established a good understanding of each other from time spent over Zoom. Jessica particularly enjoyed the way a number of facilitators rotated through the sessions as they were able to share their lived experiences with the group.

She entered ELEVATE pursuing the idea of how she could change direction, but continue to work full time as an artist. Having had no formal training she felt that making money solely from her art practice was important. However, over the course of the programme she experienced a surprising shift in mindset realising that having a steady part-time job enabled more focus on art. “Actually it is how you make your art that matters.”

On reflection she has still achieved the goals that she set out to by joining ELEVATE but the pathway to get there was an unexpected one. “I came to the programme looking for a change and to help focus more on art than on production. Also, through Creative Waikato I thought that new opportunities would open up for me which they have.”

Jessica has changed her company name from OEPAN, with its focus on ceramics, to Earth Alchemy Studio which signifies a new chapter. In 2022 she has been a finalist in the Molly Morpeth Canaday Award Three Dimensional Artform with her multimedia textile work Brown onion, rosemary and iron and this inclusion represents moving into a different realm. This work shows the slow, deliberate and physical process of making, emphasising her tactile engagement in natural materials. Also this year she was a finalist in the Changing Threads New Zealand Contemporary Textile Awards and in the spirit of learning and improving her ideas she joined Artistry Huddle, which provides a place for Waipā artists to gather and critique peers’ works.

Jessica noticed that her best work was happening when she gave herself the time to make for the sheer love of it. She has consciously shifted into a more thoughtful, slow and conscious space so that she feels the tactility of everything from growing and foraging the dye plants, spinning the wool, dyeing the yarn, to weaving. She has reintroduced ceramics and has plans afoot to meld these different mediums. As always, alchemy is fundamental to her practice and she intends to “make more works which aren’t trend-based, rather timeless heirlooms to be treasured.”

– Megan Lyon, Freelance Writer.

Follow Jessica on Instagram at @earth.alchemy.studio.

Piqued your interest in taking the leap from creative practice to creative career? Elevate is back, more accessible than ever, and open for applications from Waikato artists now. Check out the info and criteria on our Elevate page and apply today!