Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Sandra Brownlee: Art Hero

Thirteen years ago a woven cord "introduced" me to a woman who became a good friend. Sal is willowy and with a mass of impossible curls she appears to be 5'12", as they say in her family. I only noticed these traits later. What caught my eye was the colourful woven cord that she wore as a necklace. As Sal told me about the aunt who wove this cord, the gears in my brain started whirring. This aunt sounded oddly familiar.

In 1995, two years before I moved to Halifax and met Sal, I saw an exhibit called Weaving Out Loud at the Textile Museum of Canada that captured my imagination and instantly thrust the artist, Sandra Brownlee, to the top of my list of art heroes. The show was a fifteen year retrospective of her fine black-and-white woven images. In a small alcove in the gallery were two of Sandra's sketchbooks that viewers could look through, and with pleasure I did. The sketchbooks were a riot of colour, invention, drawings, and inspiration. They were a beauty to behold and they remained firmly stuck in my memory. During an artist talk about the exhibit Sandra seduced us with her storytelling about her BFA studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, her studio in an old church just outside of Halifax, her MFA studies at Cranbrook, and her years teaching and weaving in Toronto and Philadelphia.

Like her aunt Sandra, Sal is a gifted storyteller and it was her description of the church studio on the Bedford Highway that helped me connect the dots. Later I learned that the cord was woven in the 1970s, possibly in the church studio, and until Sal appropriated it for a necklace Sal's mom used it as a curtain tieback. It's funny how Sandra unknowingly introduced me to a good friend through a 95 inch woven cord, and then Sal introduced me to my art hero, Sandra Brownlee.

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