Featured artist: willow sculptor Jacqueline Rolls

Featured artist: willow sculptor Jacqueline Rolls

by Sally Churchward.

Artist Jacqueline Rolls is best known for her willow sculptures – from bees and other insects through animals such as pigs and hares to large unicorn and dragon heads. 

But in recent years the Southampton-based artist has been pushing herself further and further out of her comfort zone, seeking out challenges and developing her practice as an artist.

Picture shows close up of willow pig.This has included being an artist in residence at both Furzey Gardens in the New Forest and  Tudor House in Southampton.

A self-taught artist, Jacqueline did a degree in cultural studies as a mature student, before going on to work in a variety of community-focused roles, including on a play bus.

“I used to make a lot of things, including making things as gifts, and people said ‘why don’t you do this as a job,” she says.

“I gave a workshop at a business in 2007 so it started that way, working with people, getting people interested in creative things, giving them confidence to express themselves.

“I always worked with a lot of natural things or recycled materials as I was on a budget. This is still a big thing – space and finance are barriers for people.”

Jacqueline began painting and took part in local group exhibitions as well as receiving support through local mentoring programmes for artists.

Then, around 15 years ago, a trip to a music festival took her career in a whole new direction.

“They had willow for sculpting and I gave it a go,” she explains.  “I kept going back and making things for the whole weekend. Then I started introducing willow into my workshops.

“While I was teaching I was gaining confidence. I started making the willow sculptures that people know me for.”

Jacqueline became very skilled in making willow sculptures and they remain popular amongst buyers but she was aware that she was focused on making what others wanted her to create, rather than exploring her own craft, regardless of how commercially viable it was.

Picture shows unicorn head made of dark willow with paler horn, mounted on white wall.“I do enjoy making the sculptures, but I really wanted to personally develop as an artist,” she says.

“In 2019 I was supported by (Southampton arts organisation) aspace. I was awarded a small grant to explore new ideas and contacted Furzey Gardens to ask if I could be a self-funded artist in residence there. I like to put myself in uncomfortable positions. 

“I was still working part time, doing workshops. I used the grant money for a mentor and a photographer to document the work.

“I had to push myself into challenging places. It was about responding to what I found.  It was more about land art – the work changes and decays with time. I couldn’t just put things on display. Work would be damaged, for example by the weather, and I’d have to deal with that.”

After the success of her artist in residence experience at Furzey Gardens, Jacqueline was keen to work in another site specific space, creating work inspired by her location.

She applied for a Developing Your Creative Practice  Arts Council grant in order to focus her time on being a full-time artist and taking time out to experiment and create new work. 

With the support of Southampton City Council cultural services team and a successful funding application, from September 2021 to June this year, she was artist in residence at Tudor House in Southampton.

“Being at Tudor House pushed me out of my comfort zone a lot!” she says. 

“It also gave me a lot more confidence. I wanted to work in different ways. All the things I made while I was there, were made in ways I hadn’t done before, for instance out of recycled plastic bags.

“For me, the process is equally as important as the finished item. It’s being involved in it and letting it happen. It’s very cathartic.”

Jacqueline continues with her commissions – recently a number of her pieces went on display at Itchen Valley Country Park – but her real interest at the moment is in taking her work into new territories, challenging herself and finding out what she is capable of.

“In the future, I’m really interested in more residencies and projects,” she says.

“I want to engage with others and also focus on experimenting and creating. I will see what direction I’m taken in. I like new challenges and to experiment.”


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Picture shows organic willow sculpture, similar to yin yang, made of darker and lighter woven willow, mounted on base in garden.