Friday, 30 September 2011

Halifax Chalk Queen

The chalk queen of Halifax wishes you all a very happy Friday!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Halifax cat

When I was ten years old a calico cat adopted our family. I named her Princess. My dad had a truck repair garage that was infested with mice, so off Princess went to do her duty. Thinking that our calico was a male cat, the mechanics renamed her Murray. Obviously they secretly liked her/him. Princess/Murray's white coat was never the same--it took on a grey cast from all the grease that he/she got into. When dad moved his business to a different building Princess/Murray came back home. A few months later, the cat was becoming very round. One morning we went out into the garage to discover that I was right about Princess: she had given birth to a beautiful litter of kittens. After this, we renamed her Marie. Long before the internet, I've known that calico cats are female, and recently I heard a segment on CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks that confirmed this. 

I met this friendly calico beauty on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Doesn't she remind you of Charlie Chaplin?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Studio series: Forgiveness #6

Forgiveness #6 © Karen Thiessen, 1999; Photo credit: Julian Beveridge
Forgiveness #6 marks the passing of time. I dyed and stained the fabrics with rust, blood and onion skins over and over and over again. It has the feel of an old world map that is tattered and worn. When I exhibited it in my solo exhibition at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, two friends stood in front of it: one found it to be a happy, peaceful quilt and the other began to weep because she saw pain and suffering. I suppose it's a bit of both. Forgiveness #6 and #4 were in Fibreworks 2000, a national textile exhibition, and they won the top prize and were purchased by the Cambridge Galleries.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Postcards: Stacey-Lee Stevens

I picked up this postcard from Stacy-Lee Stevens' student exhibit Cakes at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax in 1998. Hmmm, interesting juxtaposition.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Quotes: Maslow + Aristotle

"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is ultimately to be at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be. – Abraham Maslow

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." – Aristotle

Friday, 23 September 2011

First day of Fall 2011

I'm a farm girl happily transplanted in the city. I love the city and all its amenities and have no desire to move back to the sticks, but when fall rolls around, a trip to an apple orchard is a must. Check out the hand-painted sign in the apple tree. Hubs and I visited Myers Apple Farm on Sunday in search of Cox Orange apples. Myers specialize in heritage apples and on a 2009 trip to London, UK I discovered Cox apples. They were the perfect flavour and size. Back in Ontario, I searched for them but learned that most apple farmers now only grow the (boring) best-selling apples. After a year of sleuthing, I found an apple-grower within a 40 minute drive from where I live. Cox apples aren't ready yet, so I see another trip to Myers in my near future.
This goat was very difficult to photograph. He was very friendly and curious and this was the best picture that wasn't blurry.
The best part of visiting a working farm is what you can't see. Note the arrow on the left of the horsey picture. No, the horse manure wasn't anything special to see, but the aroma reminded me of the country. I also walked by a machine shed and a tractor a few times just for their smells.
The hand-lettered signs were a treat. I like how all generations are involved in running this farm. The rabbit with the huge wobbly chin is Bella.

I wish you all a happy fall equinox 2011 (first day of fall)!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Change your hair, change your life

Our Canadian Spring was non-existent due to a longer Winter, followed by a few months of rain. As much as I have learned to love Winter, I was craving the logical next season, a Spring of warming temperatures, sunny skies, tulips, daffodils, and birds building nests interspersed with the occasional rainy day. Now, you are wondering what this has to do with hair. Everything! I was tempted to shave my head again, but my hair stylist Michelle is wonderful and brilliant and the salon is my community. Michelle totally understood my frustration with the weather and agreed that although "you can't change the weather, you can always change your hair." That was May. Fast forward to August, where the salon owner renovated the space and changed the windows, mirrors, chairs, and all the fittings. It looks great. I sat in the chair as Michelle did her magic and... I started to feel nauseous. No, I'm not pregnant, but the new mirrors are at a 70 degree angle from the wall and the visual distortion made me the equivalent of motion sickness. Who knew? I can read in all manner of moving vehicles with no issues, but sitting in front of an oddly angled mirror did me in. Earlier that day another client had the same experience. 

In early September I was scheduled to have my hair cut, but the thought of extreme queasiness changed my mind. So, my hubby helped me shave my head, and to my surprise it looks great. We used a few guards, so the look isn't harsh and my head doesn't feel cold. Tilt a mirror, change my life.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Studio Series: Light

Once in a while I'll have a textile that refuses to resolve itself in a timely manner, so I'll let it incubate while it makes up its mind of what it wants to be when it grows up. Light had a fear of commitment, so I had to give it space for a while. This was a fun piece to work with since I hand-stitched it from both front and back to alter the character of the stitches. I was inspired by looking at the backs of my quilts and wishing that I could display both sides simultaneously. Light remained pinned to my studio wall for a few years until I had one of those forehead-slapping Eureka moments. The solution came via a collage class that I was taking and a workshop that I taught. In the workshop, a student generously gave me a piece of tarlatan, a cotton open-weave fabric used for stiffening garments. From my collage class, I appropriated fellow student Kathy Renwald's philosophy: "if a piece is not working, slap something big on it." So I did and it worked well enough that it was included in the 2006 Fibreworks exhibition at the Cambridge Gallery in Cambridge, Ontario.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Postcards: Sandra Smirle

Sandra Smirle, Detail No place like it, mixed media on panel, 2006, 20" X 24"
Sandra Smirle has a thing for maps and X-acto knives. Is she a patient person, or did she utter a few colourful words as she painstakingly cut each strip and reassembled them onto a panel? This postcard was from the 2007 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. When I look at this collage long enough, it reminds me of the aerial views of a landscape viewed from an airplane window. Do you see a river and hills, or do you see a hydro corridor surrounded by suburban cul-de-sacs? Either way, the No Place Like It series is impressive.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Quotes: Picasso

"A picture used to be the sum of additions. In my case it is the sum of destructions. I do a picture – then I destroy it. In the end though, nothing is lost, the red I took away from one place turns up somewhere else." – Pablo Picasso

Friday, 16 September 2011

Leslie Kaye: Black Magic and more

Byndan III Winged Presence 1975-6 © Leslie Kaye
Detail Byndan III Winged Presence 1975-6 © Leslie Kaye 
Every once in a while I'll encounter an image that is so powerful that words fail me. Writing about Hannelore Baron and Judith Scott was difficult because their work filled me with such wonder that words were superfluous. Leslie Kaye's textile Byndan III Winged Presence has the same effect. Byndan III is made of 28 pounds of wrapped wool that is stitched together and its dimensions (86" X 44" X 8") and irregular shape command attention. Made early in her art career, it is reminiscent of the forms and female subject matter from Magdalena Abakanowicz's Abakan series.

Leslie Kaye was an artist, designer, social activist, wife, mother, and more. A year ago, cancer cut short her vibrant life. Black Magic and more is a retrospective exhibit of textiles from her early career right up to a year ago, just before she died. Her work is on view at First Unitarian Church of Hamilton, located at 170 Dundurn Street South until September 25. An opening reception will be held tonight from 7 pm to 11 pm.
fragment #6: jacob's ladder 2002 © Leslie Kaye
Detail fragment #6: jacob's ladder 2002 © Leslie Kaye 
Leslie's mom taught her how to sew and her dad taught her how to knit. Other than parental instruction and a quilting class called Five Easy Pieces, she was self-taught. It was during the class that she realized her deep appreciation for black, so she made her first quilt in five shades of black and went forward from there. Leslie had a knack for integrating unlikely materials and techniques into her quilts, like fibreglass screening, felt, satin, and lace knitting, and making it work brilliantly. Fibreglass screening softens the high contrast of the black quilts against stark white walls, so that the wall becomes part of the quilts. The quiet, elegant quilts with a tease of colour engage the viewer. You can read about the exhibit here and can listen to an interview with Leslie Kaye and Lorraine Roy here.
fragment #3: through a glass darkly 2002 © Leslie Kaye
Detail  fragment #3: through a glass darkly 2002 © Leslie Kaye

Thursday, 15 September 2011


My summer was busy with home and garden projects, family picnics, day trips, and a trip to Halifax. I managed to finish a long list of tasks like waxing and oiling a carved wood sampler that my grandpa gave me five years ago, plus old Coke crates that I've made into a foot stool and a rolling end table. All that accomplishment feels great, but naturally the frenetic pace of summer overloaded this introvert, so by Labour Day my mind looked like this picture. I'm pleased to be back in my regular work routine and my mental fuzz has dissipated.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Studio Series: Red: Fire

Red:Fire, © Karen Thiessen 2001, image by Julian Beveridge
Until I saw Red:Fire hung on my art dealer's tomato red walls, I didn't like it and I thought it was a dud. My studio walls are white and the stark contrast between the red and the wall were a turn off. Sometimes even an artist isn't a good judge of the work and it takes seeing it in a different context with proper lighting to appreciate what you've made. This was definitely the case for Fire. Thankfully my dealer could see what I could not and included it in Rich the Treasure, a three person show. Collectors from England had the same idea as my dealer and Fire now hangs across the pond.

As for fire, I really did use it to sculpt the edges of the textile. The piece is 46 cm X 130 cm (18.5" X 52") and that was a lot of edge to burn. The fabric is painted with screen-printing ink and I rust-stained, then painted, the longest strip of fabric to the left. The burning was especially stinky because of the inks, and thankfully I had the good sense to do it outside. Oh, there's more... I burned the edges after the piece was completely finished-- hand-stitching, appliqué, reverse appliqué, beading, hanging devices, label and all. One wrong move with the candle, and Fire would have been toast.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Postcards: Susie Brandt

Detail of Blur that Susie Brandt worked on from 1992 to 1996 
Susie Brandt is brilliant, funny, and thinks so far outside the box that she's in another galaxy. In 2004, I took a workshop with her at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto and was charmed by her humour and left-of-centre thinking. This is an artist who cut out polka dots from fabric with pinking shears and then sewed them back together with free-motion embroidery. I first saw her textiles in a four-person show called Fancy at the Textile Museum of Canada in 1996, so rubbing shoulders with Susie for a weekend was a real honour.

One of the things that stayed with me from the workshop was from a slide talk that Susie gave about her work and the work of artists who inspire her. At one point, she talked about artists such as herself who use "materials at hand." She showed a slide of an artist, Paul Villinski who makes art from used work gloves that he finds on New York City streets. The image of his glove wings along with her quilts constructed from shoulder pads, Barbie doll dresses, doilies, and pantyhose have stayed with me all these years. Materials need not be precious and can be found anywhere -- from city sidewalks to your underwear drawer.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Quotes: Voltaire + Owens

"No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking." – Voltaire

"My darling girl, when are you going to understand that 'normal' is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage!" – Stockard Channing as Frances Owens in Practical Magic

Friday, 9 September 2011

Halifax: Calgary Art Bomber

While walking along Gottingen Street in Halifax two weeks ago, I spotted this lonely yarn bomb that was nicely labelled. One side of the label is a tree trunk encircled with a yarn bomb. 
The other side of the label reads "courtesy the Calgary Artbomber" and you can read about her here. For more info about Yarn Bombing, check out this site. Now that the weather is finally cooling off, I can think about teaching myself to crochet a zigzag afghan or scarf. Or maybe I'll just knit colourful stripey scarves and afghans. Hmmm.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Halifax wonder

One of my favourite places in Halifax is the Public Gardens. One evening, while walking back to our friends' place after a nice meal, we wandered through the gardens and came upon this orb. It looks like it could be giant piece of coral and I love how the lines look like a maze for ants. I may play around with the top image in Photoshop to see what happens.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Studio series: Forgiveness #3

Forgiveness #3 © Karen Thiessen, 1999; Photo credit: Julian Beveridge
This is one of the sparest quilts that I've ever made. It is simple and calm. I dyed the golden fabrics with onion skins and various mordants and I painted the centre blue rectangle with silk-screening ink. This quiet little quilt is in the collection of a Gemini award-winning sound person and her multimedia husband. How cool is that?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Postcards: Ellen Dijkstra

The image of this resin purse captured my imagination the moment that I set eyes on it nearly 10 years ago. Ellen Dijkstra exhibited a purse like this in a 2002 Harbourfront Centre show and it's still tucked away in my mind. The Harbourfront purse may have had a gun embedded in it, but that may be a figment of my imagination. Purses are mysterious spaces-- women carry lipstick, facial tissues, money, feminine hygiene products, all manner of credit and identification cards, keys, sunglasses, reading glasses, hand cream, breath mints, cell phones, pens, and more. Some women even carry guns in their purses. Some women are minimalists, carrying only the bare essentials. Others are prepared for anything and everything. What do you carry in your purse?

Monday, 5 September 2011

Quotes: Jack Layton

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." -- Jack Layton*

*Jack Layton (1950-2011) wrote this love letter to Canadians in the final days of his life and it was published on August 22, 2011, the day of his death. He was the leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Official Opposition in our federal Canadian government. This was the first time in history that the NDP held this role. Jack Layton was much loved by Canadians from all political persuasions and he is missed. Given that today is Labour Day here in Canada, I thought it would be appropriate to share this quote from a leader who fought for the rights of workers.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Halifax colour

One thing I miss about living in Halifax is the colourful houses. Just look at the pea green house sandwiched between blue and yellow-- it's like an artist's palette or a section of rainbow. It wasn't until I moved from Ontario to Singapore to Nova Scotia within a span of 13 months that I understood or even noticed light quality. Light in Ontario changes with the seasons; it is crispest on a cold winter day. The light in Singapore is consistently brash and the shop-houses are painted bold yellows, pinks, and blues-- and it works brilliantly. Halifax light is occasionally crisp, but usually ranges from light grey to very grey. This is where colourful houses brighten the landscape and the spirit. The house colours that work the best with the light quality are cheerful but not bold like the Black-eyed Susans in the boulevard garden. Now I'm living in Ontario where people rarely paint their homes such happy colours. Sigh.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


My beloved and I just returned from a week in Halifax where we visited friends, explored our favourite Canadian city, and inhaled ocean air. Ten years ago, when we lived in Halifax, Theodore Tugboat was a regular in the harbour. The Silva (top photo) is a new addition to the waterscape.