It was during a summer holiday at her granny's cottage, age about 10, that Harriet learned the principle of making stuffed objects, by following the knitting patterns for little stuffed animals in her pile of Women's Weekly magazines.
Harriet (née Freedman) was educated at the Lycée Français de Londres, now called Lycée Charles de Gaulle, in South Kensington and also studied piano and ballet, which were her first loves. Her father was a white-faced musical clown and her mother had been a dancer and a Windmill girl, and, with her brother and sister, were going to be a family act, however, this never happened as Harriet wanted to study art.
She went to St Martins School of Art for a pre-diploma year and then Ealing School of Art to do Graphic Design. In her final year, a visit to the Claes Oldenberg exhibition inspired her to make soft sculptures. While still a student, she made a soft Jabberwok for Peter Blake's Alice exhibition at the Waddington Galleries, in 1970.
In 1972, art dealer David Talbot Rice gave her her own show at the Buckingham Gallery, in Old Bond Street which was called "Soft Living" and furnished the gallery entirely with soft sculptures. It was very popular and led to many articles in the Press, magazines, TV appearances and commissions. During the 1970's Harriet participated in many exhibitions in England as well as Paris and Helsinki. In 1977, she was a member of the team who made the huge inflatables for the Pink Floyd World Tour. For "The Animals" tour she helped make a further two pigs, as well as an exploding fridge of food, two and a quarter children, a fat woman on a settee and a big man with a cigar.
In 1979 she made a range of clothes using appliqué and embroidered trompe-l'oeil effects to convey the items associated with the theme. It was the velvet biker's jacket that prompted her, a year later, to make a full-size motorbike to go with it, called " SOFTUKI". It appeared on TV three times and was exhibited at the Fibre Art show at the Roundhouse.
In 1978 she married and became Harriet Hammel and had two children in 1981 and 1988. Soft sculpture had an enforced rest while she worked as a waitress in a wine bar and then taught French to adults and gave private piano lessons to make a living. Then her husband died suddenly of a heart attack, in December 1996.
Around 1999-2001 she spent 18 months, illustrating two philosophy books. She was given the scripts and she drew pages of cartoons with speech bubbles.
Harriet thought her soft sculpturing days were over until, in 2006 she took part in the
E17 Art Trail, which was in its second year. She filled the window of Penny Fielding's "Beautiful Interiors" shop with her motorbike and other work, old and new. The following year, she made a site-specific installation, entitled "KEBAB(ISH)" for the same shop window. It drew in the crowds. The same year, she was selected to be a member of the Society of Designer-Craftsmen and had a space in the "Shop Within the Show" at the Society's Mall Galleries exhibition in January 2008. However she did not renew her membership. Inspired by the recent smoking ban and the New Year's Resolutions season, Harriet took an almost nostalgic look at smoking, creating soft burning cigarettes on soft Ricard ashtrays to capture that French ambience without the fumes. The ladies of the Society, though, deemed the ashtray too un-pc to exhibit it on the desk!
Since 2009, Harriet has had her work in group shows at ink-d gallery, in Brighton. They keep a selection of her work there in the shop. See the ink_d Gallery website for further details.
This video interview was done while Harriet was installing KEBAB(ISH) at Images in Frames, Wood Street, for the E17 Art trail in September 2012