A local girl who ran away from home and endured having no job, no home and no money is returning to Cambridge as a fully-fledged, successful artist. Carol Peace grew up in Shudy Camps and developed her interest in art while studying at Long Road Sixth Form College in the 1980s. Despite receiving encouragement from her teachers, the road to success proved far from smooth and, after finishing sixth form college, Carol entered a phase of rebellion, finally running away from her family and living rough in a Cambridge squat.
“There were lots of squats around Cambridge at that time so that’s where I ended up, hanging around with ‘undesirables’,” she recounts. “I was just being a horrible teenager. I was vile. I remember my sister coming to see me once and I must have been looking a bit bedraggled and she was quite shocked.
“I was getting by, but the point when it gets a bit frightening is when you get ill. I think I had a fever or something, and I didn’t know where to go. In those sorts of environments, the people you’re with are all good fun when things are going well but as soon as they’re not, you’re on your own.
“It was going to art college that sorted me out,” Carol continues. “I remember bumping into my old art teacher from Long Road who told me to apply for college. I think she then wrote a letter to help get me into college.”
Thanks to this letter of recommendation, Carol took up a place at the Winchester School of Art, earning a BA (Hons) in fine art sculpture. Today, Carol’s work is displayed in collections around the world and her Cambridge exhibition, entitled Travel and running 18 September to 26 October at Byard Art, contains some of her most recent work, mainly figures cast in bronze and iron.
Amongst these is Bird Bath in Bronze. She will be donating 20 per cent of its sale profits to the Big Issue Foundation.
“What’s interesting for me is that it can happen to anyone: it’s easy to fall into the wrong crowd or get into bad habits but then not get out of that cycle,” Carol reflects. “But because of Long Road and because of my parents I didn’t slip too far. I was lucky.”
This will be a poignant homecoming for Carol, who now lives in Bristol and has hardly visited her home town in the last 25 years. “I don’t get back to Cambridge much; my folks lived there for a while but they’ve now moved to Dorset, so it’ll be nice to finally return.
Carol will also give a talk at Long Road Sixth Form College as a thank you to her teachers and in hope of inspiring another generation of artists. “I thought, if you’re just starting out, it might be nice to see what other people have done later on.”
Asked about her favourite piece in the exhibition, Carol names the sculpture of the figure in the boat, inspired by a trip to Barcelona.
“A lot of pieces have stories behind them, and this one, which I’ve called Travel, sums up the exhibition and, in a way, my journey from aged 19 to aged 43. I think I’ve got it pretty sussed now; I just want to do more of the same! It’s not always easy being an artist, and you do spend a lot of time on your own, thinking. But I love it.”
Travel runs at Byard Art 18 September-26 October.