We are always interested in the stories of local creatives – if you would like to be interviewed, please get in touch (email editor AT creativenottingham.com). Today we take our hats off to:
Who are you
Hi! My name is Jay and I am a frustrated sculptor/painter! Okay, Jay Ann Knox – of Manu Mea Millinery, Selston, North Nottinghamshire.
What brought you to Nottingham?
I was born just down the road from where I currently live, but was brought up in Carrington in Nottingham. It has changed hugely from my formative years – sadly my old home no longer exists, but the hill behind the Lido where I used to come racing down on my ‘trolley’ (soap box cart) and skin my knees is! I have lived in several different parts of the world, but came back to the area about 2 years ago.
For many years I had suffered in a succession of dread end jobs (dreading going every day and loathed the environment of the office). Fast forward through three successive redundancies and the anguish of losing both parents, I had a bit of an epiphany where I discovered what I really wanted to do when I grew up – at the age of 50!
Being unable to draw anything other than something that Lowry would have rejected at the age of 6 has always been the bane of my life. I managed to blag my way into Art College in the 80s, where I quickly discovered that there was much more to this art thing than I had first realized. My stepfather Arthur was responsible for encouraging me to try out different mediums, techniques and materials; he and my husband are the most supportive men I have ever met.
I’d always been a maker – whether it was clothes, handbags, objects for the home, models, mosaics – you name it, I had a go at it. Redundancy gave me the impetus I needed – after all, I have two hands which were unoccupied so I thought about what skills I possessed and what could be used to earn a living. I took up dressmaking, concentrating on clothing for the re-enactor, whether it was WWII or Tudor costume, enjoying being able to indulge my love of history. I learnt to tailor – self-taught from books – and loved the discipline of cut and drafting. However, it wasn’t long before I realized there was something missing.
I had collected hats for a few years, loving their forms and how they could transform the wearer into another person entirely – the femme fatale, the sophisticate, the clown….and yes, into myself. So I learnt how to make hats.
Where does the name Manu Mea come from ?
I fished around for ages to find a name which hadn’t already been taken. As I don’t just create hats but other things too, I didn’t want anything too specific so decided on Manu Mea – which is Latin for ‘my hand’ – I really should have chosen De Manu Mea (from my hand) but it was too much of a tongue twister!!!
What keeps you in Nottingham?
I love the fact that everything is accessible and Nottingham is going through a renaissance at the moment. It’s full of people who actually smile and often will say ‘Hello’ when they pass you in the street.
What makes you different to other creative people in Nottingham?
Whilst I create hats, fascinators and headpieces on a daily basis for clients, I love to conjure up a surprise and produce the totally unexpected, especially with choice of materials and found objects. Photography also enables me to explore avenues of creativity, along with experimentation with textiles and pottery.
What do you think is Nottingham’s best kept secret?
The beautiful designs of the lace makers – my great-grandfather was one of them; the tunnels, passages and caves which lie beneath most of the city and the history of kings who visited Nottingham.
What would you like to see more of in Nottingham?
I would love to see travelling exhibitions of major works of art – it seems so unfair that these are confined to the larger galleries and museums in London. There is a world outside of London!
What big thing are you currently working on?
I am working on putting together a cohesive collection with the hopes of being able to exhibit somewhere in the city. I had wanted to do something in my own particular idiom, to commemorate the war to end all wars and several ancestors as the centenary of the First World War came around. I thought of top hats, with the connotations of Edwardian mourning and death and began to use details from paintings of the Great War as part of the piece. By taking details from these works I wanted to produce a fitting monument to the suffering of the men in the trenches – I used all sorts of found objects, in deference to the fighting men, who would produce trench art in much the same way.
By producing this collection, it has given me the courage to go on and experiment with materials not traditionally associated with millinery – plumber’s ‘O’ rings, acetate sheets and cable ties for the Kandinsky ‘Circles Within A Circle’, redundant business cards for ‘Remember My Name’ which won an international competition, recycled ‘pop’ bottles for ‘The Bargeman’, barbecue skewers for ‘Atomic’ and the humble paperclip for ‘Floating’.
Finally, when will hats for men get the sort of creative input that we see in hats for women? Have you done any hats for men?
Actually, I have! Way before the steampunk movement really took off, I did some experimentation with cartoon fabrics and top hats and bowler hats. However, thanks to the new movements in tailoring, it looks as though there is a resurgence of men’s hats, so hopefully there will be a place amongst them for the more quirky piece – if so, I’ll be at the front of the pack!!!