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Of stone, art and Wales: Margaret Lloyd draws from Welsh heritage for her artworks on slate

  • Margaret Lloyd, here displaying some of her work on slate at her Florence home, has opened an exhibit in Amherst of engravings and watercolor paintings on slate. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Margaret Lloyd, here displaying some of her work on slate at her Florence home, has opened an exhibit in Amherst of engravings and watercolor paintings on slate. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Watercolor paintings on slate by Margaret Lloyd. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Many of Lloyd’s watercolor paintings are inspired by the Welsh landscape and historic settings such as these standing rocks, at left.

  • Lloyd’s etching on slate of mining boots used in the slate industry in Wales. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lloyd uses a variety of slate, including some from Wales, for her  work. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A view of Welsh mountains in a watercolor painting on slate by artist Margaret Lloyd of Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • “The Sea of Snow,” watercolor painting on slate. Image courtesy Margaret Lloyd



For the Bulletin
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

What better way is there to express thoughts and emotions than getting them down on paper? Artist Margaret Lloyd says engraving them into pure, Welsh slate makes self-expression that much more satisfying.

Lloyd, a native of Wales who now lives in Florence, brought her passion-filled mind and more-than-capable hands to the United States years ago, and she’s since produced a plethora of artwork, from poetry to painting, representing the physical beauty and historical richness of her home country.

A collection of her Welsh-inspired slatework — watercolor paintings and engravings on pieces of slate — that also represents her passion for Wales is now on display in the Burnett Gallery at the Jones Library in Amherst through December 30.

Although Lloyd has spent most of her life in the United States, Welsh culture runs just as thickly through her blood as it did when she spent her early childhood in Wales, after being born in Liverpool, England. She was very young when her Welsh parents decided to move to America, but luckily, the migration didn’t affect her connection to Wales: Her family settled in a Welsh community in upstate New York.

There, her father worked as a minister at a church where he preached in Welsh. “My parents were going to go back to Wales after five years. They came here and didn't go back,” she said.

Lloyd’s connection to Welsh culture remained strong even as she left home for the University of Rochester in New York, where she met her husband. Lloyd says their relationship only added fuel to the fire of Welsh passion within both of them.

“The bouncing back and forth between us was right there,” she said. “He's not Welsh by blood, but he is a Welsh medievalist. He's published books in Wales having to do with medieval poetry, and translated them. He’s also been a professor of Welsh language at Smith, UMass and Harvard.”

Up until two years ago, Lloyd taught creative and advanced writing courses at Springfield College, and she chaired the school’s humanities department for about 20 years. Now, she dedicates her days to art.

“I decided I wanted to live a fully creative life and I stopped my teaching,” she said. “I’ve been able to really devote myself to my artwork, and that's when this whole new slate project began to blossom.”

Slate as artistic muse

Lloyd never anticipated being a visual artist, let alone a full-time one — she’s published four volumes of poetry, an art form that had been her calling since she was a small girl. But as her interest in painting increased, she took it upon herself to learn more through reading books and studying other artists.

“At first, I was astonished at how I loved it,” said Lloyd. “I'm not a painter whatsoever, but watercolor is a wonderful medium because you can't control it completely. It shows you where to go.”

She dedicates her time now to painting, chiseling, and writing poetry, and using all three mediums collaboratively. For “Slateworks,” her Amherst exhibit, she’s drawn inspiration from the country’s historic slate mining industry and her family’s connection to it.

“My family was very involved in the slate industry in Wales, and still is,” Lloyd said. “I probably had quarrymen and slate miners in my background. I'm sure I did. My grandfather was first a slate engraver and then ended up owning mines in Wales. I've always had slate as part of my life because of that.”

The mining industry became significant in Wales in the 19th century and carried on into the mid-20th century. The mountainous country provided coal, diamond, iron and slate mines with rich deposits.

“It was very dangerous work, as all mining is, and that's part of why I'm interested in it,” Lloyd said. “A lot of people got silicosis [from inhaling slate dust]. But it's a huge, important part of Welsh culture, as well as Welsh economic life.”

Lloyd’s paintings in “Slateworks” explore a number of Welsh themes, from paintings of historical images such as slate fences and the worn boots of slate workers, to replicas of artwork found in medieval Welsh books. The paintings are not on the slate’s immediate surface — she carves cavities into the stone by hand and embeds the watercolors into them, then covers the paintings in wax to protect them.

The art isn’t only in what Lloyd creates, however; she also hand-picks and collects all the slate she uses.

“I bring back slate from Wales that I find ... there's a lot lying around in rubbish heaps,” she noted. “It makes my suitcase very heavy. But I also use Vermont roofing slate that has been discarded, and roofing slate that a friend of mine gives me. I like reusing something that's been discarded.”

Not all slate is the same, she adds: Color, for one thing, varies based on where the slate comes from.

“It's really interesting, the geological strata is actually the same,” she said of Welsh and Vermont slate. “I brought this back last summer,” she added, pointing to a watercolor-clad, purple piece of Welsh slate. “I was looking for different colors, because a lot of the Vermont slate I have is gray.”

No two pieces of slate are the same shape, either. Lloyd’s collection ranges from almost perfectly square slabs, to more jagged pieces, to large, rectangular segments big enough to fit two paintings. She often draws inspiration from slate shapes and crafts her paintings around them.

The rich history of Wales is not the only inspiration for the work in Lloyd’s exhibit. She says the country’s rugged beauty also propelled her to put brush to paper.

“I love the landscape of Wales. It's an incredibly beautiful country,” she said. “When I first started painting, I was in Colorado and I was painting mountains that I'd never painted before. [But] I was suddenly painting Welsh landscapes.”

“So it was, at first, all subliminal,” Lloyd continued. “It was as if I was making something out of my longing for Wales and my longing for intimacy with my country. When I'm here, I long for Wales. And then when I’m in Wales, I long for here.”

“I think it's very important to have a creative life with imaginative thinking,” Lloyd said in closing. “It’s just as important as critical thinking. Now that I don't have to work and be an administrator — which was very valuable — I feel very privileged to be exploring the imagination, the divine, eternal imagination.”

“Slateworks” will be on display at the Burnett Gallery at the Jones Library through Dec. 30. All pieces exhibited will be for sale. For galley hours and additional information, visit https://www.joneslibrary.org/206/Current-Exhibit. Additional information about Margaret Lloyd can be found at margaretlloyd.net.