‘Rekleiming’ Community: One Connection at a Time   

Willowa Carter with her Re’kleimees in the grounds of Eskbank House Museum, Lithgow.

Story and photographs by Tracie McMahon

Willowa Ana Carter is a multi-disciplinary artist with a passion for creating community connection. I saw her perform as a finalist in the Inland Sea of Sound song-writing contest. She was playing a hand-painted guitar and her singing wound joy into the hearts of a very appreciative audience. It felt like a musical hug. I had to know more.

Willowa moved to Lithgow in 2009, attracted by the landscape and the quiet comfort of a regional area. The change initiated a period of introspection, out of which came what she calls her ‘Re’kleimee’ (a playful alternative spelling of ‘reclaim me’). 

A selection of Willowa’s Re’kleimees

Each Re’kleimee (pictured above) is unique and made from recycled materials. She adopts an 80/20 rule as part of her design ethic, where a minimum of eighty percent of her content is upcycled. Willowa sources materials locally from donations and op-shops, selecting fabrics for their sensory delight. Favourites include soft blankets, ribbed corduroy, velvet and cotton drill. She then sews and stitches unique embroidered designs. Finally, she hand-stitches a sequential number on the rear leg of each Re’kleimee, before taking them to selected retailers. 

Hand-stitched numbers on the Re’kleimees

Willowa hopes to remain connected to each of her creations. Members of the five hundred strong Re’kleimee ‘family’ have found their way interstate, overseas and into TV stardom: two recently featured in the first episode of Totally Completely Fine, on Stan in Australia and Sundance in the USA.

They seem to develop a life of their own, with people placing repeat orders, waiting for a particular number or providing fabrics to be made into a Re’kleimee. Willowa says she has had requests from people wishing to memorialise loved ones by using a favourite item of their clothing for a Re’kleimee.

Exhibiting her work

Since arriving in the region, Willowa’s work has featured in Sculpture at Scenic World, Subliminal Festival and Waste 2 Art in Lithgow. Her sculptural work is assembled from mattress frames, found objects and texture-rich ceramics.

Willowa has two workshops coming up at Eskbank House Museum on 17 & 24 June. Part of the National Trust Australian Heritage Festival, workshop participants will upcycle their own clothing and materials inspired by heritage textiles on display at the museum. Find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/events/235902878976572/235902885643238?event_time_id=235902885643238

In July, Willowa has a solo exhibition at the Union Theatre Art Gallery, Lithgow titled: OLM, which stands for ‘obsolete lifestyle memorabilia’. It explores how possessions reflect the past and influence the present. She says, it is “unwanted human resources of past possessions; it’s not as simple as saying garbage!” For her, all materials are either in use or in transit, waiting to be reclaimed and reused in a new story.

For those wanting to know more about Willowa, or her work, she can be found on Instagram @rekleimmes. Her products are sold at The Annexe, Portland, The Seven Valleys Visitor Information Centre, Lithgow and Silverfox Vintage, Katoomba.

This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

About Tracie McMahon

Tracie lives, writes and walks on the unceded lands of the Dharug, Gundungurra and Wiradjuri people. Born in Lithgow, she and her family have spent most of their lives living and working with the people and places of the Lithgow area. Her passions are nature and community, which she pursues through story, art, and volunteering in Lithgow and the Blue Mountains.

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