Jim Webster’s best photograph: ‘My own work seems to have greater confidence’

In July 1937, I was born in Fitzwilliam, Massachusetts. The bulk of my life has been spent in Baltimore. My English grandmother was a big influence on me and she lived next door to our family. There, we attended public school. The hardest part of that year was summer classes, with our classmates.

In the fall, I grew up, went off to college, and was accepted into the Fulbright Programme. I spent three years in Kansas City and three years in Chicago. It was a gift of a career for me. I did that until September of 1958. I came back to Baltimore as a salesman for the department store and recently retired from there.

I made an impression on a lot of people back then. I gave a television interview and someone who called in said I looked like a million bucks. I didn’t watch that that much back then, but I know that I did. I started doing art things, trying to draw paintings.

My mum – she was born in America – would talk about images she saw out of the corner of her eye. I always didn’t question her views. She gave me a lot of common sense and it was helpful to me for a long time.

At the end of my career, I went to the dedication of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I was the first person to deliver the sculptural and decorative arts from the museums and they had never displayed them on one big ribbon before. It was just so spectacular, more amazing than anything I’d ever seen. My spirit soared.

Every fibre of my being has been dedicated to what I do for the last 30 years. Now it’s only about my own work. In a certain sense, having such a personal connection, your work seems to have greater confidence.

My wife is my project manager in my studio. She can take a gift for my craft and translate it into gold for me.

If I go on the grounds of the Museum of American Design, I’ll find myself looking at projects that I’ve given the names of little animals. But that’s the whole thing about my studio: it’s a place of wonder, relaxation and solitude.

This one, it’s inside an urn. I had to borrow it from the Smithsonian [in Washington DC].

Tell me how you do it, dear.

Listen. This is a piece of really great sound.

Enjoy my creations. Your enjoyment of a good piece of art is a miracle – something I never anticipated and I can never quite understand. I’m here to do my work and the rest of my life.

The lesson I’ve learned is patience, kindness and focus. You’re the boss and you have to be so much closer to others. The craft and self-respect we got from the art school is not one to lose. I am in awe of craftsmanship and I’m in love with the skills of all artists.

This is my favourite artwork. It’s done with a 200mm sewing machine on a table. It’s a day I never forget.

The Shoe Must Go On is at St John’s College, Cambridge, from 23 July to 11 August

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