Portrait of Gwen Moffat by Sophie Jacobs
“We hear a lot about the romantic notion of dirtbag climbers—guys who live out of their vans, putting up big routes all over the country. But the first iteration of dirtbag was no dude: Gwen Moffat, the first female British mountain guide, made her living climbing in the 1940s and 50s, long before the Stone Monkeys of Camp 4 arrived on the Yosemite scene. Her autobiography, Space Below My Feet, details the many odd jobs she took for the sake of climbing.”
It’s surprisingly common for artists to be drawn to the outdoors and to the freedom of climbing. Sophie Jacobs, tells us about her interest in drawing, climbing and Gwen Moffatt.
I wouldn’t really call myself an artist because I haven’t had a chance to really enjoy the process of doing it. I have only ever done it for school so it is always under time constants. The end results are celebrated as the first painting I did for intermediate 2 in 2014 is now hanging up in the central hall of school. I started for my Int 2 art and design. We’ve always had arts and crafts stuff around the house. I liked making things but had not tried drawing properly.
So you’re a rock climber?
When we were really young, we used to go indoor climbing, but only started to go again aged 13. I did a course at Glenmore Lodge and made some good friends while learning to be a confident second and trying out leading trad. I like figuring out the climb. It’s so different from any other sport. It’s all up to you what you do, I find it calming and rewarding. I think the stories of adventures/adventurous life style that comes with climbing is another reason it really appeals to me. My family are regulars to the Dundee Mountain Film Festival for as long as I can remember and it’s always been filled with incredible adventures, stories, places and people.
And how does your artwork come together with your love of the outdoors/ climbing?
This academic year I’ve linked it as much as I can. In my earlier classes I just did studies of my face and this got really boring. This time I decided I wanted the artwork to mean something to me. The title of my art became ‘Rock Faces’, as I started off wanting to draw climber faces and hands because they often have weathered and rough skin that can be combined well with the rocks they climb. This proved to be more difficult than I thought, because I don’t really know that many older climbers who would have real character in their face. I decided to change it slightly to mountaineers and rocks allowing for a larger pool of primary sources. This combined well with me volunteering for the 2015 Dundee Mountain Film Festival. I was allowed to be the designated photographer, making it easy for me to ask people in the break for a portrait picture for my art. This also led to some wonderful conversations and laughter. It was a great event. It all helped to motivate me to keep trying new ideas too.
You’ve recently drawn Gwen Moffat as part of your studies – how did that come about?
I heard about her for the first time at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival. Jen Randal had shown her most recent film called “Operation Moffat”; a really great film exploring the way Gwen Moffat lived her life and what we can learn from her. I haven’t read her book ‘Space Below My Feet’ yet but it is on my list! She is an inspiration to me as I believe it’s important to do the things you love and that’s exactly what she did. I was able to contact her thanks to you, Women Climb. I emailed Gwen Moffat to ask for pictures and permission to draw her. She replied with great enthusiasm and sent me photos in the post!!
What are your plans for the future?
I have planned a great adventure this summer. I’m going to the great roof of the world, Nepal! This starts with a group of 11 girls from school. We’re going with World Challenge for 3 weeks giving us the opportunity to learn to organise ourself locally, lead the group and trek up Poon Hill with a view of the Annapurna range, (though we may not see it because it’s monsoon season). As well as getting involved in a community project, mostly helping to rebuild a school. I’m very proud to say that I managed to fundraise all the £3,650 required to go!
When the school group leaves I will stay for another 2 months and volunteer for the charity TEWA and Nagarik Aawaz. These are incredible organisations lead by women with great vision for the future of Nepal, the movement aims to change people’s views on equality, peace and justice. At the end of this incredible time I hope to go trekking with a local company and experience the mountains the way they do.
After that I have got an offer to study Geography in university in 2017 after a gap year. Who knows what I will do after uni.
In your life, who has been most influential in your development?
I’d have to say my parents.They have always strived to do the best for me and to make me believe in myself. Helping me with my work from a young age for hours, not letting the dyslexia get the better of me so that my interest never died. They have taught me to push myself when and where it matters and to learn to let go and have a good time. There have been a couple of other inspiring people in my life so far that have made a difference to me in little ways but definitely none as influential as my parents.
Who inspires you?
I’m not very good with names but here’s a bit of everything that inspires me. I’ve heard some incredible talks in my life and I wish I could remember names but there are many climbers with stories of them beating the odds, a guy who worked with GreenPeace. A few teachers who’s enthusiasm and drive have stayed with me are; my old teacher Mr Page without whom history would have bored me and I would have been too shy to do any drama performance. Mrs Hutton, a science teacher so enthusiastic and caring. Mr Farmer, who used to be our head teacher who genuinely cared about each student and was so genuine that each word he spoke felt like it was filled with wisdom and belief. My aunt and uncle, Marleen and Han who’s travels have brought them all kinds of stories and fascinating groups of people.
The book Into the wild is an wonderful story with beautiful quotes and thought, one of the best written books in my opinion. 7 Years In Tibet is another incredible story of climbers overcoming many obstacles with wit and skill, then make a home in Tibet with such an amazing culture and the inspiring young Dali lama. Musicians such as Don McLean, Hozier, Bob Marley. Artists great and small who’s work I can see in my head but wouldn’t be able to recall them by name. Movies such as Forest Gump, Catch Me If You Can and the Jungle Book.
What quote do you live by?
Love life and don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to.
Thanks to Sophie for sharing her talents, thoughts and experiences.