PART 1: HISTORY
This was built from a timeline I had created for an art workshop in 2008 in which we were asked to write down one or two important things that occurred in our lives each year (or most years). A very interesting premise and a nice history to develop (and continue) to share with my family. For this lesson I edited the content (it was even longer!) and updated it since 2008.
It's a lot to put out there in the world...
Omaha, Nebraska – 1952 For about ten years, we moved around a lot. My father was a test pilot (early jets) in the Air Force. We lived in Omaha, Hondo and San Antonio, Texas and Montgomery, Alabama. I have a brother – 5 years younger – a wonderful and slightly wild guy. In ’57 we moved to Germany where we lived for two years. I’m certain this is where I fell in love with textiles! We visited France, Switzerland and Belgium (World’s Fair) and many parts of Germany. Besides the exquisite tapestries and other textiles I saw in the Queen’s Bedroom at Versailles and other castles and galleries we visited, I recall picnicking in the Black Forest, delicious German gummy bears and wonderful sugared donut twists.
When we returned from Germany, my parents separated and we lived for part of the year in the country with my grandparents. I attended a 2-room school house. My grandmother made me a beautiful Cinderella ball gown out of an orange and white parachute. I wore it all the time, and swept her hearth continually. (I think the film Cinderella was made that year). We pick and eat strawberries from her garden overlooking the Missouri River. I draw and paint…. lots of horses. My grandmother was a china painter. I have drawings, paintings and china created by my grandmother, grandfather and by my great-grandfather. My mother was working in town.
Eventually, my mother remarried and we moved to a suburb of Chicago and a new life begins. Lots of new connections, a lovely extended family, but I’m also the “new girl” in school, with all that comes with that. Summers are spent at a quiet cottage in northern Wisconsin (and they still are.) Still drawing all the time.
I was given my first sewing machine when I was about 12 years old, and from that time I designed and made all my own clothes! I loved to draw and sketch – especially clothing/fashion designs. I was given my first guitar – a beautiful cherry classical guitar (I can still recall the sweet smell of cherries)– and began taking lessons. My teacher was a big, cigar smoking guy whose studio was up over a shop and resembled what you might think of as a private detective’s office in an film noir – old wood, pebbled glass panels in the doors.
The next few years were a collage of many things – art, friends, music, “the 60s”, etc. Blessings of blessings! My high school acquires an entire printmaking studio was from France (complete with etching and lithography presses, stones, etc.) Having taken art in my freshman year, I was invited, along with several other students, to enroll in the new printmaking classes. I stayed in some form of printmaking for the next 3 years. That got me through school. The Chicago Art Institute became a sort of second home – visiting as many weekends as possible. I begin working on large paintings. Music was everything and kept me sane. This entire period of the 60’s was tremendously influential - living in Chicago during the civil rights movement, the Democratic convention/ protests and riots, as well as tremendous freedom and societal change.
1970 – Initially I thought I would go into fashion design and applied to Parson’s School of Design in NYC. In the end I attended Kansas City Art Institute for one year. It was a singularly discouraging experience – hated the arbitrariness and the egos – I probably was home sick, but didn’t recognize it at the time. I look back on a few pieces I kept from that period, the work is quite good. Hendrix and Joplin died that year.
I spent the summer before college at the Art Institute at Bournemouth, England –costume and pattern design - loved the experience – but my bags, and hence all my work, were stolen during a final trip to Rome.
The next summer was spent in England backpacking and hitch-hiking (back when it was easy to do that as a single girl). It was solitary and inspiring - walking alone on the roads and seeking out beautiful vistas and wonderful architecture. Didn’t return to KCAI in the fall. Instead stayed in Chicago, got my own apartment, took a job in the city and bought a piano, and spent a year at Columbia College in the music program – loved it, but was still unfocused. Bought my wonderful Guild acoustic guitar, which I still have, though I play now less frequently.
A few years of adventures and detours in life, include the most influential decision I have made, which was to join the Baha’i Faith. Circumstances take me toToronto where I work for a few years. I make another attempt at a university degree (this time being more “practical” and studying economics, which it turns out I was pretty good at it), meet my husband and move to Martinique, where our children are born and where were stay for about 8 years.
Back in Canada with young children, I am happy to be able to attend Sheridan College in the Interior Design Program, balancing that with raising kids. Lots of work, but good work, and plenty of inspiration. I love studying! Eventually I develop my own interior design business and focus on that until about 15 years. Not much time to sew my own clothes anymore, but I work with textiles – fabric and carpets - all the time with my clients.
In 1990 my mom passed away. She was a loving mother, the ultimate hostess, a fabulous cook and loved to read and to stitch, especially needlepoint. This loss has had an enduring impact me. In the mid ‘90s, after some downsizing, we moved to rural Ontario (and a lovely Victorian house) so our kids could attend the newly opened arts-focused private school. With a smaller design market, I spend more time volunteering - working with youth and children, developing programs in spirituality, leadership, and the arts. Music becomes a central part of our lives again. Live music is played at home, we play in song circles, and are avid fans of U2. Their concerts are a wonderful application of inspiration, art and technology. I buy a red Gibson ES-135 electric guitar. Kids graduate and travel far and wide.
In 2005 our family made a pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre in Israel. Many things begin to change. During the trip, I was inspired to let go of the design business, and refocus on developing a 2nd career in the arts – not necessarily as a visual artist, but in cultural heritage. I feel that my previous work and studies helped set this direction, but knew it would require heading back to school. What follows is 4 years of studies beginning with a 4-month intensive program in Textile Surface Design at Haliburton School for the Arts, in Ontario. Surprise! This set me on a new path! I fell in love with textile history and rediscovering fibre art, and became so excited that I wanted to study more.
Next…5 semesters back-to-back, to complete the degree in Independent Studies with a Minor in Studio Art. I became reacquainted with printmaking, textile art (dyeing, printing, stitching) and studying traditional textiles from Africa, Japan and the Islamic world, concluding with a solo graduating exhibition in May of 2007. The exhibition was titled “one (more)” and is a series of 35 printed textile pieces inspired by my studies in sub-Saharan African textiles, Stephen Lewis’s Massey Lecture Series on AIDS in Africa, The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and U2’s “ONE” Campaign to eliminate AIDS and debt in Africa.
I continue in the Printmaking department at as a tech; create a studio in the attic of my house, work and apply to exhibitions. To complete my studies I spend another year and a half in a museum management program. It’s 4 hours away and for the second time my patient husband accommodates my absence – this time for 8 months.
In 2009 I’m in an internship at the Stratford Perth Museum – just a few minutes from home. Seven years later, and after a couple of years on contracts, I am now the fulltime Curator of the museum. For the past seven years I have taken care of the collection – nearly 20,00 artefacts - moved the entire collection to a new museum, and worked to develop about 20+ new exhibits. We have a tremendous quilt and textile collection – about 100 quilts and 1,000 other textiles… a joy indeed!
It’s the first time in many years that I have a 9-5 job. Less time for my own creative work, but I fit it in. in 2010 I was invited to work for 2 months as a consultant at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa. I take care of some important artefacts in the textile collection, making mounts for storage and display and doing other conservation and repair work, and moving and re-housing other objects in the collection. Haifa feels like home. I would love to go back.
2011 – 2016. I belonged to 3 local quilt guilds and clubs – each inspiring in their own way – and was program coordinator for two years for a large guild. This year (2016) I only belong to one of them - a small group that meets casually in my town. Work at the museum is intense, time consuming – mentally and physically taxing. At the same time, I am also trying to focus more on my artwork. I’m currently a member of SAQA, and the Ontario Crafts Council, and a past member The Textile Society of America (sometimes too much money to keep up all the memberships). And I have a blog, but haven’t been able to keep up with it much this year.
In 2015 I worked (on behalf of my museum) with SAQA to develop an art quilt exhibition called My Corner of the World. It features Canadian and International SAQA members and is currently touring in Canada and will go to the U.S. and Europe in 2017-18. I’ve collaborated on the development of 3 biennial fibre art exhibitions called Fibre Content, co-curating, and developing the graphic design materials – promotional materials, catalogues, etc.
In 2015 I was invited to join a fibre arts group – Connections Fibre Artists. A well-regarded group, they have established a reputation with galleries and exhibit as a group on a regular basis. This is a great motivation for me now - wonderful fellow artists, great comradery, and it spurs me on to create new work. Working isolation, as many artists ultimately do, gets lonely sometimes, and this has turned out to be a lovely group. The deadlines that come with exhibit commitments are sometimes a challenge, but they do have their benefits!
Recently I purchased a beautiful, used etching press. I’m only beginning to make use of it. The press itself has a lovely history. It belonged to Michael Robinson, a Canadian aboriginal artist. It is an honour to own it and work on it.
In looking back, I have shown work in about 30 exhibitions since 2007, had one solo show, received juror’s choice awards, a few commissions and sales, and have work in the permanent collection of the Great Lakes Quilt Centre at Michigan State University Museum and at the University of Waterloo.
I haven’t written much about my family… My beautiful daughter – a talented and generous soul - has a degree in music, and is completing a second degree as a midwife ( music being an unreliable business at the best of times). She is a light in my life, and is herself happy, with a kind partner, many rescued cats, and is a committed community activist. My dear son, is a wandering, adventurous soul. He’s returning in just a few days, after working in China for the past 4 years. He’s a thoughtful and kind man whose strength is understanding and working with people. A month ago, he was trekking in Nepal, and scuba diving in Taiwan – things he wanted to do before leaving China. My husband is an intellectually brilliant, kind and patient man whose profession is working with people with disabilities. His avocation is as a spiritual teacher, who always works for the betterment of the people around him. He encourages and supports my creative work.
Behind the technique, know
that there is the spirit (ri)
It is dawning now;
open the screen,
and lo, the moonlight is
shining in. - Suzuki’s Zen and Japanese Culture.
“Art is a supplication, the highest expression of which is unity. “ – Otto Donald Rogers
“Great God! This sea had laid up lustrous pearls in store;
The wind hath raised a wave that casteth them ashore.
So put away thy robe and drown thyself therein,
And cease to boast of skill: it serveth thee no more!” - Baha'u'llah
PART 2: PROCESS
How do you work and what do you love to do?
Inspiration or ideas often come to me from a musical or written/poetic source, rather than another visual source. Even though the ideas most often come suddenly, the development and creation often takes a long time. I’m impatient and don’t often sketch or plan (though I have more since I began this program). I prefer to work intuitively, experimenting with layouts until I feel I have found a way to convey the concept (or at least be true to it).
Occasionally a concept or vision is clear…. it’s just a matter of “get it done”. These can be more challenging to complete, especially if they are large, because the element of surprise is missing. I already know what I’m planning to create and achieve, so there’s less mystery in such a piece… and I do love surprises.
I love to work late at night.
It seems that I work in opposites - either with very low contrast, subtle fabrics and threads, or in high contrast, busy complimentaries. Grids, repetition; interesting juxtapositions or gradations of colour, pattern or texture – sometimes abrupt and complex, sometimes nuanced. I try to create movement in what otherwise might be static. Silhouettes are often part of my compositions.
I dye fabric – some synthetic dyes, some natural – shibori, snow dyeing, dip-dyeing and bleeding, direct painting, etc. Of course, the surprise that comes with the unveiling is the best part. I love to work with scraps and leftovers. And piecing…. lots of piecing! Printing multiple but varied images on my etching press using collagraph plates is a lengthy but gratifying process. I love the physicality of printing, the sound of ink on rollers, or wiping ink off plates, running them through the press, revealing the final print.
Dense hand stitching which alters or moderates the underlying fabrics is something I am drawn to more and more often. Sometimes this is accomplished with machine stitching, but is less enjoyable. The quiet, meditative nature of hand stitching is important, even though it is much slower.
Previously I have worked large – or very large, but the more I do hand stitching, the more often I try to work small. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but I think will become increasingly enjoyable, and will, in fact, allow for new ideas and will certainly allow me to be more productive.
A unexpected revelation came in a recent workshop when I looked at a number of pieces in development. Even though the subject matter is quite varied, it all is, in some way or another, an expression of circles in a square. Some of these pieces are still at the stage where I don’t want to reveal too much about them, but the continuity of form was a surprise! Squid eyes, antique hot plates, the Vitruvian man, Jupiter, hay bales, Sami drums… more than that I can’t say yet… but they are all connected.
When I’m not working on “art” pieces, I enjoy making quilts with a vintage feel. I have a collection of 1930s unfinished quilt tops (mostly simple square-patch tops and rough utility quilts), and I enjoy having them around as visual stimulation. I love the stories that are told in the work and patterns of a utility quilt – frugality, necessity, an imagined history.
PART 3: CONTENT
What do you care about?
CONNECTION: History, material culture, ancestry, family, human rights, oneness/contrasts (ie: the complex nature of the diversity of humanity which is, at the same time, one family); the expression – struggle and celebration - of this complex diversity through craft from around the world – especially textiles; the concept of light eliminating the dark; connections of the soul – between souls, to the spirit world, across time.