What would it be like to graduate alongside not one, but two members of your family? This year, Gwenan Williams and her daughters, Lleucu and Swyn, graduated from Central Saint Martins. We speak to the trio about their experience and work.
“One of my first memories is working with mud pies,” says Gwenan, “I love working with clay and always have done.” Having built a studio at her home in North Wales, Gwenan knew she wanted to study ceramics. For Lleucu, the journey was less direct, her focus was on illustration but the more she saw of her mother’s process the more she realised clay was the medium for her work. They both applied BA Ceramic Design and were accepted.
Swyn had finished studying industrial design and knew that she wanted to move into furniture. Her mother and sister were already studying at Central Saint Martins: “I saw what they were doing and it was such a different approach to design.” So, she applied to MA Design (Furniture).
What is it like sitting in class with members of your own family? “The teachers were very careful and aware,” recalls Lleucu, “There was some moments when Mam would go into ‘Mam mode’, she’d get protective and I’d get embarrassed.” “It rarely happened,” continues Gwenan, “but when it did it was with the roar of a lioness! I was Mam first and student second.”
While few of us have been in a class with our siblings or parents, many of us experienced working in close quarters with our families during the pandemic. The Williams family were no different. The trio worked in the outbuilding at Gwenan’s home: “We called it Y Granar, which is Welsh for ‘the granary’, so we were still in Granary Square, just a different one”.
Lleucu’s award-winning graduating project, Straeon, focuses on storytelling. She was initially interested in the stories that shape Welsh place names and the project grew into a series of monochrome ceramics, illustrating folk stories and protecting them from extinction.
Gwenan’s final project responded to the isolation of the pandemic as she built a community kiln: “Ceramists can be quite insular, we work alone. So, this was a celebration, something to be done together. I call the kiln Fflam y Ddraig [the Dragon’s Flame]; the dragon is massive for Welsh myths and legends, it’s about protection. She’ll be there for the next half century, for the grandchildren probably.”
Swyn focused on traditional Welsh furniture, adapting it for the scale and aesthetic of contemporary homes. In her ode to the stick chair, Swyn collaborates with Rhodri Owen to combine traditional making with CNC-ing to create pieces inspired by both the landscape of Snowdonia and the rise of the Cofiwch Dryweryn movement in 2018.
While their individual work shares no discernible aesthetic, it all flows from a deep engagement their Welsh identity – the language, the landscape and people. “All our work starts with that passion,” says Swyn, “Usually in research, it takes time to find something useful, but we were talking and sharing all the time. It was like we had a library together.”
Now graduated, Gwenan, Lleucu and Swyn are all at different stages in their lives, creatively and beyond. One can’t help but think how powerful their collective creativity could be in articulating the community and country from which they come. “We’re on different paths at the moment, but we’ll definitely work together in the future,” confirms Lleucu.