At 82 years young, Ruth Collett captures vibrant scenes of the Glasshouse Mountains in cross-stitches which are printed locally to make cards and bookmarks. This month she shares her story with writer, Angela Reedman-Polinski, on how she came to live overlooking the majestic Glasshouse Mountains and the weaving trail of her journey into art.
by Angela Reedman-Polinski
Artist and children’s book author, Ruth Collett, was born and raised in Sydney as the eldest of seven children in the 1930s.
“I moved from Sydney to Brisbane in my thirties as a married woman and we had three sons, Peter, Chris and David.
“We managed service stations for income and I was happily involved in scouting as an Assistant Cub Mistress for 20 years with my children.”
Ruth also had a connection with the Sunshine Coast where she taught Adult Literacy classes at the Caloundra Library.
In the 1980s, she chose to focus on writing her children’s book, Cathie’s Special Tree, a short chapter book for 5-8 year olds.
“I re-drafted and edited the manuscript with assistance from Gondor Writer’s Group, in late 2017 and published the book in 2018.”
In 1993, Ruth moved to the Glasshouse area after looking at houses for over six months without finding the right one.
Then, she came across a four-acre property overlooking Mt. Tibrogargan, Mt. Coonowrin and Mt.Beerwah.
“I stood at the sink and looked out of the window and declared ‘this is the one’.”
Ruth moved in not knowing that the property had a thriving little secret. Established at the back of the property were many rows of fruit-bearing custard apple trees.
By a chance encounter with the right person, Ruth was able to have her fruit assessed and sign the papers to have her custard apples valued as export fruit.
“Our custard apples were sent to Harrods in London and various food outlets in Japan, Singapore and Canada.”
The four acres of fruit proved to provide plenty and the venture was a success.
“One Christmas, I made a particularly good batch of custard apple liqueur which was well loved by all the friends and family members that received it.”
In time, there were less hands available to help out with picking, processing and packing and not enough space to expand the number of trees required.
Ruth made the difficult choice to have them bulldozed rather than watch the fruit rot. “It was really hard to see that, I don’t like seeing trees removed even when they are danger but you do what you have to do.”
It is her art that has always brought her to a place of calmness and steady mindfulness, as she loses herself in to it ever since being a little child.
“I started out really enjoying painting at school and I have a funny memory of asking my mother for thick paint so I could put texture onto the picture of the dog painting I was working on.
“She said no unfortunately and so I used toothpaste on a toothbrush as a texturiser for the dogs fur and I won first prize!”
Ruth went on to enrol in Granville Tech for art classes. However, she accidentally stood in the wrong queue line and ended up in dressmaking classes.
“I stuck with the dressmaking classes as it was too much fuss to change it all and then over many years I also learned crocheting, knitting and beading skills.”
These skills kept her hands busy and created many gifts for family and friends and also a couple of members of British royalty.
The Queen Mother and the Queen have received birthday gifts of cross-stitching from Ruth and she has received official letters of thanks from them.
“I have sent the Queen Mother a cross-stitched lavender pillow and in 2016 I sent the Queen a framed cross-stitched letter E for her 90th birthday.”
“It was so lovely to receive those letters and interesting to read the backstory and details of the ladies-in-waiting who organise and send them.”
Ruth further developed her cross-stitch skills through an intricate process of photographing and grid mapping.
“I take a photograph of the image I would like to recreate and then grid map it to create a pattern. I then identify the colours of each grid block so I have a complete pattern to work with.
“This is how I created my Glasshouse Mountains pieces and then add my own colour schemes based on sky colourings in different stages of sunset, night time and storms.”
It is these cross-stitch artworks that Ruth has had turned into gift cards and bookmarks for sale at the local visitor centre. Visitors can take home a vision of the mountains displayed in a beautiful piece of artwork with vibrant seasonal backdrops.
Ruth and her cross-stitch artwork are also being included in a piece in the second edition of the book ‘The National Heritage Listed Glasshouse Mountains’ by Ivon Northage and Celebrate Glasshouse Country Inc.
“I created a gold commemorative version of the mountain scene to celebrate the national heritage listing of the Glasshouse Mountains and that is being shared in the second edition of the book.”
I ask Ruth about her next cross-stitch project and she answers with a broad grin.
“I want to send a cross-stitch gift to William and Kate. Next I will probably send one to Harry and Meaghan, I like the way her and the Queen seem to have a good laugh together, it’s good to see.”