IN HER role as a human resources professional, Deb Watson often contemplates whether it is nature or nurture that defines a person. In most cases she comes to the conclusion that it’s probably a bit of both. Certainly that’s the case for her. Growing up surrounded by her mother’s craft projects, she probably didn't have a chance of being anything but artistic. I am sure you can picture the scene – macramé hanging baskets, embroidered cushions and a whole bunch of hand-painted china, mostly featuring cats.
Deb's mother had studied art but Deb studied science throughout high school and into university. She was one of those gifted children who didn't have to study to sail through her high school years. She thought she could do the same thing at university and enjoy all the temptations of the city. She made it through first year but in second year she failed … and got kicked out!
So she tried her luck producing art pieces. Her first project was a series of designs which her mother then painted onto a set of ceramic goblets for her brother's 21st birthday. In her 20s she was making earrings and necklaces out of polymer clay for a shop in Melbourne. If you remember the old Southern Cross Hotel, you will remember the souvenir shop at the bottom. She would turn out her jewellery based on Australian animals and birds and sell them for $6 to the store owner. The tourists would pay $36 – which wasn't a bad mark up by the store owner – but Deb was just happy to sell her work. (Not sure that I would have paid $36 back then to have a pair of galahs hanging off my ear lobes – but who am I to judge?)
At the same time she worked at the State Chemical Laboratories undertaking all sorts of chemical analysis. She even managed to work with Shell Oil and Gas in WA before realising that she was never going to succeed unless she completed some qualifications. She decided to head back east and took a business degree in human resources – this time she studied. (Eventually, early this century, she completed the circle with a masters in applied science, but that’s another story.) While living and studying in Wagga Wagga she immersed herself in the strong local arts community and sat on the arts committee. She helped to project manage the first major wall mural in the town.
She left the country for the city life again but there was little work to be found in Melbourne in the late `80s. Ultimately she found herself in a role with CSL which after 10 years laid the way for her to work in the US for three and a half years. She lived in Kansas and found it to be very friendly and very conservative but with a rich music and arts culture. She then travelled to Florida for a new project and found an interesting mix of people. She spent long hot days socialising with a mix of cantankerous locals and exotic travellers … and snow birds, of course!
When she returned to Melbourne she started working with glass. First of all she tried beading but found the hot flame and labour intensiveness were not for her. Then she tried glass blowing. It was far too hot for her to handle and she didn't enjoy being so close to the molten glass which reaches 1700 degrees. And so she arrived at her passion, which is kiln formed glass.
She assembles the pieces of fusible glass in the kiln. Once they are heated they soften or melt depending on the heat and assume the shape of whatever surface they are resting on. They can be flat from the kiln floor – or curved as they assume the shape of a mould. Whilst the technicalities can easily be learned, it is the artist's ability to understand design, composition and colour that makes the wonderful pieces that Deb now creates. It doesn't always work to plan. There is sometimes a terrifying moment when the finished pieces come out of the kiln and she hears a sharp 'click' that means her beautiful creation is no longer in one piece.
Deb was fortunate to be able to purchase a kiln of her own when she moved to Wonthaggi in September last year. She and her soon-to-be husband, Brent, found a perfect house (and most importantly studio garage) in Wonthaggi. She never expected to move here. She was really looking for something on the rail line that would take them to Melbourne when they wanted to. But then the practicality of living so close to the beach where they could walk their dog daily took over.
She has now immersed herself into the local community, such is her wont. She has been 'conscripted' into ArtSpace and is the secretary. Besides continuing to improve her art form (she plans to move into three-dimensional sculptural pieces next) she also has an HR information website to help people unravel the mysteries of human resources. You can visit it on www.yourworklife.com.au. It comes through in Deb's advocacy for finding the right work/life balance. I think she might have found it for herself.
PS. Deb and Brent were married in March in the State Coal Mine gardens. Their cake topper, of course, was made by Deb in glass …