A photo of Janet smiling next to some artwork

Janet MacDougall

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Janet's Story

University wasn’t for girls and marriage should be my ambition...

I’m currently in my third year of study in the University’s School of Art and it’s taken me 60 years to get to where I always wanted to be – I am incredibly proud of this achievement - for someone who was told that going to University wasn’t for girls and that marriage should be my ambition.

I really wanted to be part of the student art community.  I was a creative girl but going to university wasn’t an option back then – my parents told me that girls only get married and that studying for a creative degree wouldn’t get me a job. I reluctantly went to work at Boots Chemist on the counter at first and then became a window dresser. I later got pregnant and because it was the early 60s, there was a real stigma around not being married and having a child out of wedlock. Opportunities were limited for women at that time and I was forced to find someone to marry.

Janet holding a piece of her artwork

The first man I met, I married, because that’s what I thought I had to do. There were no other options back then and my choices were really limited.  It was unheard of to have children and not be married.

The relationship was a struggle – my ex-husband was an alcoholic and also violent.  We bought a run-down Edwardian House for £2,500 which needed a lot of work and very soon after moving in, my ex-husband left me.  I was 29 years old and struggled with the bank and the courts to try to keep the house – it was unheard of for women to own their own property in those days – and I rented my rooms out to all manner of people to pay the mortgage.  By this time, I had three children. But I worked hard to renovate the property and by the time I was 38 I had paid off the mortgage.

I eventually met my now-husband and fell in love with him when I was 44 – he was 20 years younger than me.  By then, times had changed a bit in the 80s, and I had already broken some of the archaic rules that were made for women in terms of what they were ‘supposed’ to do, so I married the 24-year-old I had met and we are still together now and have been happily together for 32 years and married for 17 years.

There was something in me that had always wanted to be creative.

It was only when my daughter, Molly, died of throat cancer that I started to think about finding my creativity again and perhaps living those dreams I had when I was a girl. Molly was such a creative girl, very arty and musical and that inspired me to pick up with my learning again.  Yes, it was something to take my mind off the grief, but also, there was something in me that had always wanted to be creative.

I’d always wanted to be a part of the student art community.  I used to walk past the former School of Art and wish that I could be part of that crowd, part of the student community.  It was always a dream of mine, but one which I didn’t think would ever be realised.  It just wasn’t the same for women back then.  We had no choice but to get married and have children.

I had previously attended life drawing classes, and I was interested in making crafts and sewing and also went to art class for four years, painting with watercolours - It was a life-saver for me, a friend of mine dragged me along to one of the University’s Open Days and before I knew it, I was enrolled on a course studying Textiles and Surface Pattern because one of the academics I met thought that would be a perfect outlet for my talent.

Janet MacDougall in the Wolverhampton School of Art

I’ll be nearly 80 when I finish the course and I’m hoping that I will be able to sell pieces and designs.

I once ran a vintage and antique stall on Wolverhampton Market and I focused on the Art Deco period in my work, looking at the aftermath of the First World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic and how people responded. My work is based on the theme of Music, Song and Dance and I create wall hangings, scarves and kimonos, using Art Deco patterns to reflect an era of enjoyment and hedonism that followed the dark days of the 20s.

I love the tutors at the University and creating the work, drawing, screen printing. Although I’m not great with computers, I really love the creative side.  I secured a student loan to pay for the course and have been supported with the digital side.

I like learning, it gives you something to think about. I really have realised a childhood dream. I didn’t want a degree particularly but I wanted the experience. I’ll be nearly 80 when I finish the course and I’m hoping that I will be able to sell pieces and designs - even if it’s just one, I will have achieved something.

Janet MacDougall in front of a wall of artwork

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