OBITUARY / Jeannie Fay Skyring OAM, January 18, 1932 – August 11, 2019
By Meredith Hinchliffe
FAY Skyring was a weaver who played a considerable role in the cultural development of the ACT and the nation as a whole. She died on Sunday (August 11), at the age of 87.
Skyring began work at 16 years of age, in 1948, in a photographic studio in Murwillumbah. She moved to Brisbane and established her own photographic studio, developing her skills in colour matching and decorating the black and white photographs of the period. Her photographs were of a high standard and were published in the Brisbane social pages of “The Australian Women’s Weekly”.
After moving to Canada with her scientist husband Graham and their three children, she returned to Australia and moved to Canberra in 1970.
Here she was introduced to weaving and became a member of the Canberra Spinners and Weavers (CSW), where she attended classes and workshops. She excelled in the craft and created works for many exhibitions for the CSW. She collaborated with other artists from different fields for exhibitions and projects, including dance with the Meryl Tankard Company and sculpture and wood with Phil Goldacre.
Skyring was awarded a grant by the National Capital Development Commission to study textiles in Japan and on her return was determined to establish a workshop where the craft of weaving could be shared and practiced within the community.
In 1985 she set up a weaving workshop – Skye Workshop – at Ainslie Village, funded by a Commonwealth employment program grant. The workshop accommodated eight people and she supplied the equipment and yarns. Here she taught and mentored the participants who produced a huge volume of work, due to her enthusiasm and encouragement. Their work was shown in exhibitions and fashion parades in several venues in Canberra. Several of the participants have gone on to develop careers in textiles and related fields.
As a member, Skyring exhibited in many exhibitions organised by Craft ACT. These included the Office Environment, which showcased the talents of local craftspeople and was intended to bring them to the notice of for the architects and interior designers of the then new Parliament House.
Skyring’s handwoven upholstery caught the eyes of Romaldo Giurgola and Pamille Berg, the architect and art and craft program coordinator, respectively. Skyring collaborated with them to produce handwoven fabrics to enhance the design intent of the major parliamentary suites: the prime minister’s suite, the leader of the opposition’s suite, and the speaker’s suite. The project required imagination and expertise with the colour and design aspects, experimentation and determination to refine the technique, and the capacity to complete the job under pressure.
This was a large commission of the finest quality, particularly for a solo weaver. It was highly successful and she was commissioned to reproduce the fabric three times – for replacement fabric, completing 650 metres in total. Although the job was huge, time consuming and physically demanding, she kept the production going so that future commissions for the fabric can be passed on to other Australian artists.
Beaver Galleries also carried her beautiful scarves.
In 1989 Giurgola commissioned Skyring to weave the altar linen for the St Thomas Aquinas Church, Charnwood, which he designed and which she donated. In 2003 he commissioned her to weave the altar cloths for the new Saint Patricks Cathedral in Parramatta and in 2008 she was commissioned to design and weave the altar cloths for the new chapel at Saint Ignatius College, Riverview, Sydney.
Skyring’s work for Parliament House was recognised and featured on “Stateline,” ABC TV Canberra in 2005, and in 2013 a documentary titled “The Warp and the Weft ,” a weaving story of national significance, produced by Richard Snashall was commissioned by the Canberra Museum and Gallery to document the production of the Parliament House upholstery.
In 1998 Skyring produced prayer shawls for the Jewish Contemporary Ritual Exhibition which toured four Australian states in 1999. She was also commissioned to weave the stage curtains at Gorman House Arts Centre in Canberra in 1990.
She curated several exhibitions, including a major tribute exhibition to Solvig Baas Becking, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Canberra Spinners and Weavers, and who taught many people in Canberra to weave.
The exhibition “Decades and Diversity” was held in 2007 at Craft ACT and was considered to be one of the most successful of the year. The work of Pam McDougall (taught by Baas Becking), Fay Skyring (taught by McDougall), and Di Landsdown (taught by Skyring) and Baas Becking commemorated mentoring and the sharing and passing on of knowledge from one artist to another.
Skyring taught evening classes for many years, first at Weston Creek and then Dickson Evening Colleges. As an informal teacher, she gave generously to many budding weavers and they, and the Canberra community have been the beneficiaries.
She frequently joined the managements of organisations with which she was involved. She was on the management committee of the CSW and Craft ACT. She was a ministerial appointment to the interim board of ANCA and later became the honorary secretary when she moved into a studio at ANCA Dickson. After moving her studio to Gorman House, she became a tenant board member.
Skyring practised her craft to a very high standard and inspired others to achieve their potential. She made a significant contribution to the development and recognition of weaving in Canberra and in Australia.
She was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in June, 2017.
Fay Skyring is survived by her husband Graham and their three daughters Fiona, Sally and Melissa.
The funeral service for Fay Skyring will be held in the Chapel of Norwood Park Crematorium, Sandford Street, Mitchell, 1.30pm, Monday, August 19. A memorial service to celebrate her life and work will be held at the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, 176 London Circuit, 2-4pm, Friday, September 6.