Huon Valley News

Sitting pretty: Debbie Ruddick’s decoupage treasures

On exhibition at the Huon Valley Hub throughout March is an exhibition of beautiful decoupaged chairs by Huon artist Debbie Ruddick.

Exhibition: My Upcycled Chairs
Location: ARTBOX and the Huon Valley Hub (23 Main St, Huonville)
Dates: 1 March 2024 – 31 March 2024

Artist talk with Debbie
Date: Saturday 16 March
Time: 2.00-4.00pm
Location: Huon Valley Hub (23 Main Street, Huonville)
Register: Online at Eventbrite, or contact Council.

When Queen Elizabeth was a little girl, she struggled to say her own name and called herself Lilibet. Little did she know that when she died, a woman called Debbie, who lives all the way in Tasmania, decorated a chair in her honour. She covered it in pretty blues, like the queen herself, and named it Lilibet.

Debbie tells stories through chairs. She collects forgotten chairs, paints them, and then covers them with tiny paper cutouts.

The art of decoupage

Decoupage is the art of cutting out shapes,” Debbie said, “and it takes a long, long time to decorate a chair.”

The art of decoupage has always intrigued Debbie. All the individual tiny cutouts put together tell a story about people in Debbie’s life, and the things they hold dear. Her sister has a rocking chair covered in flowers and butterflies. Her grandson has his own little rocking chair. Debbie covered it in 1950s superheroes, and he loves it.

For the love of chairs

When asked why chairs, Debbie said she loves chairs because they bring people together around the table.

“I think a lot of families have forgotten this,” Debbie said.

Debbie grew up in an English family and remembered they would always sit around the table and talk; this is how they connected as a family and learned about each other’s day.

“Even if we had a cup of tea, we’d sit around the table. Now it’s second nature, really. I think it’s lovely. And that’s where my fascination with chairs comes from.” — Debbie Ruddick

When Debbie lived in Darwin, she had trouble finding old pieces of furniture. But when she moved back to her home state of Tasmania, she found herself surrounded by treasures.

“There just were all these beautiful old chairs everywhere. And I thought, there has to be more than just having them as is. The first few I just painted and decorated but then I thought no, I can do a bit more than that. That’s when I started to decoupage.” — Debbie Ruddick

Before decoupaging a chair, Debbie will paint it. Debbie uses a paint called Annie Sloan paint, which you can get at Songbird in Margate. It’s an English paint which you can use without having to sand back the chairs.

Chairs: art or function?

All of Debbie’s chairs have names. I see you is the name of the chair she brought in for our catchup. It is a beautifully decorated chair and shows the skill and creativity Debbie brings.

“A lot of the time, people stand around touching a chair and they say, wow, we would never think of doing that,” Debbie said.

“They say it’s so pretty, and, how did you do that? It’s just so lovely to hear them appreciate the chairs. They get people thinking.”

Debbie still believes that her chairs need to be functional, which is why she covers them in lots of coats of varnish.

“It’s funny because I have a few [chairs] around my table and my friends come and say, oh, we don’t want to sit on them. And I say, please. That’s because I never made them as art pieces. I’ve only ever made them because I enjoy doing it.” — Debbie Ruddick

“I want people to enjoy using the chairs, to sit on them and have them in their homes,” Debbie said.

“But they are not just a piece of furniture; they all have their own story.”

She shuddered at the idea of people putting them in the corner to just look at.

“Imagine if an old chair like that could talk; the stories it would have heard, or all the stories behind it. I want my chairs to make people happy. A lot of your soul goes into making them.” — Debbie Ruddick

From art to ARTBOX

It was Debbie’s daughter, Amalia, who asked her mum to have her chairs in an ARTBOX exhibition.

“I was initially a bit nervous about having them on display, but now I think it’s ok,” Debbie said.

You can see Debbie’s exhibition, My upcycled chairs, in ARTBOX and the Hub from 1 March onwards.

Article by Miranda Wageman. ARTBOX and Creative Huon are an initiative of Huon Valley Council.