Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Sandra Brownlee: 3. The Present 2005-2011

* Part three of three
Artwork by Sandra Brownlee; Photography by Keith McLeod
Artwork by Sandra Brownlee; Photography by Keith McLeod
Artwork by Sandra Brownlee; Photography by Keith McLeod
In 2005 Sandra Brownlee returned to her beloved Nova Scotia and bought a bijou house in a mature neighbourhood just outside of Halifax. Her home is cosy, warm, and inviting and it exudes Brownlee's charm and creativity. Her studio occupies two window-lined rooms that once functioned as sun rooms and overlooks lush front and side yards. Her creativity extends outside where, together with a few NSCAD students, she constructed a twig lattice structure that wraps above and around her porch. In time vines will fill the structure to create a living green bower. Around her herb, vegetable, and perennial gardens, Brownlee has constructed short wattle fences. Her home and garden delight and inspire.

A decade of expanded studio focus and teaching children rejuvenated Brownlee and led her back to her weaving practice and to teaching at the university level. The old parameters of scale, weave structure, and materials remain the same but much of the new imagery is calm, spare, and meditative. Brownlee admits that returning to the loom is hard work. She has come full circle and is teaching at NSCAD once again. Each semester she teaches one or two courses to enthusiastic students. Now Brownlee finds teaching college students refreshing. She loves their spirit, hunger, receptivity, desire to express themselves, and their appreciation for her input. She continues to teach young children: this time they are the children of her Halifax-based nieces.

The fruits of ten years of intensive notebook work led Brownlee to develop a workshop called Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word with Anne West, a professor at RISDUntil a few years ago, they taught the workshop together, but now Brownlee teaches it solo. 

As I wrote in this post, Brownlee had a solo show, Departures and Returns, of recent work at the Mary Black Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia in fall 2009. There  she exhibited excisions from her autobiographical bookworks, new finely woven black-and-white imagery, and a few hand-embroidered textiles. Accompanying this exhibition was a video that film-maker Andrea Dorfman shot of Sandra in her studio. A gorgeous catalogue rounded out her offerings.

When I asked her during a telephone interview if she intends to combine her weaving, stitching, notebook and collecting practices into one form, Brownlee replied that "weaving is a pure form, not material-oriented, and very graphic" and thus she intends to keep these practices separate. Well, sort of. On a visit to her studio last August she showed me one of her new projects: paper spinning. She has started to spin photocopies of her notebook pages into thread that she intends to weave with. Brownlee now has a desire to work more coarsely: notebook plus handwriting plus weaving in a more direct, stream-of-conscious way. I can't wait to see the results.


Thea Haines said...

Hi Karen, I hope you don't mind, but I shared your blogpost about Sandra Brownlee on The Contemporary Textile Studio Co-op's facebook page. I am hoping to promote the talk Sandra is giving at the Textile Musueum next week. I hear you are also taking the workshop, so I will see you there! Looking forward to it very, thea.

Karen said...

Thanks Thea, I'm looking forward to it!