Monday, 28 December 2015

Quotes: Michael Harris

"We need daydreaming and solitude –– both products of absence –– in order to arrive at truly original thinking." –– Michael Harris, Canadian author 
Author of The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection, 2014. Winner of the 2014 Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction

Source: Harris, Michael. 'The dangers of digital obesity.' The Globe and Mail, Saturday July 26, 2014, p. F3 via my book of commonplace.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Quotes: Environment Canada Ontario Christmas weather report!

I can't say that I've ever quoted Environment Canada before, but this one is worth sharing:
What a difference a year makes, or two for that matter.
Two years ago, a crippling ice storm, dubbed the Nightmare Before Christmas, was affecting millions of people across portions of Southern Ontario. Last winter, the words 'polar vortex' were on many people's lips. However, this December and holiday season have been extraordinarily mild and snow-free.
A deepening low pressure system over the American Midwest this evening will track roughly towards the North Pole on Christmas Eve. As a result, balmy unseasonal breezes will allow temperatures to rise well into the mid or even high teens in many areas later tonight into early Thursday morning. Temperature records for today and Christmas Eve are expected to tumble by the sleighful. And not only will it be mild, but abundant sunshine should grace many areas on Thursday as well. Cooler conditions will work their way in during the day on the wings of quite strong southwesterly winds. Wind warnings are in place in some regions east of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. Travel conditions should be very good for everyone, except for perhaps one special person and a herd of reindeer, who probably prefer a blanket of fresh snow.
A quiet, mild Christmas Day is in store for most areas with good travel conditions for one and all.
Happy holidays from the Ontario Storm Prediction Centre!

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a mindful New Year! See you in 2016.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Quotes: Arthur Boers

"I have learned that whenever I'm tempted to say, "I don't need this," I must pause and pay close attention because that may in fact be the very thing or person that I most need. It is when I engage criticism or unpleasantness within my relationships that I have the greatest potential for growth." –– Arthur Boers, Canadian author, speaker, pastor, and avid walker

Source: Boers, Arthur. Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distraction. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2012; p.117 via my book of commonplace

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Happy Feet

Chilewich mat; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Who needs sunshine when a colourful Chilewich mat graces your floor?

Monday, 14 December 2015

Quotes: Billy Collins via Austin Kleon

"What I don't like about the expression 'finding your voice' is that it's very mystifying in the minds of young people. It makes you feel ... that your voice is tied up with your authenticity, that your voice lies deep within you, at some root bottom of your soul, and that to find your voice, you need to fall into deep introspection ... you have to gaze deeply into yourself. The frustration and the anxiety is that maybe you won't find anything there. That you're on this terrible quest to nowhere.

Let me reassure you that it's not that mysterious. Your voice has an external source. It is not lying within you. It is lying in other people's poetry. It is lying on the shelves of the library. To find your voice, you need to read deeply. You need to look inside yourself, of course, for material, because poetry is something that honors subjectivity. It honors your interiority. It honors what's inside. But to find a way to express that, you have to look outside yourself.

Read widely. Read all the poetry that you can get your hands on. And in your reading, you're searching for something. Not so much your voice. Your searching for poets that make you jealous. Professors of writing call this "literary influence." It's jealousy. And it's with every art, whether you play the saxophone, or do charcoal drawings. You're looking to get influenced by people who make you furiously jealous.

Read widely. Find poets that make you envious. And copy them. Try to get like them.

You know, you read a great poem in a magazine somewhere, and you just can't stand the fact that you didn't write it. What do you do?  Well, you can't get whiteout, and blank out the poet's name and write yours in –– that's not fair. But you can say "Okay, I didn't write that poem, let me write a poem like that, that's sort of my version of that." And that's basically the way you grow...

After you find your voice, there's really only one person to imitate, and that's yourself. You do it by combining different influences. I think the first part of it is you do slavish imitations, which are almost like travesties, you know. But gradually you come under the right influences, picking and choosing, and being selective, and then maybe your voice is the combination of six or eight other voices that you have managed to blend in such a way that no one can recognize the sources. You can take intimacy from Whitman, you can learn the dash from Emily Dickinson ... you can pick a little bit from every writer and you combine them. This allows you to be authentic. That's one of the paradoxes of the writing life: that the way to originality is through imitation." –– Billy Collins (b. 1941), American poet, Poet Laureate of the United States 2001 to 2003.

Source: with thanks to Austin Kleon who transcribed this quote from a video of Billy Collins at a White House poetry workshop on May 11, 2011. The Billy Collins quote begins at the 31 minute mark.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Portland, Oregon: The Arthur

The Arthur Door; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
While walking around Portland, Oregon in August, this coral and striped door caught my eye. It's a first indication that the Arthur is a hip and happening place. Originally built as a hotel in 1912, the Arthur is now a modernized community-oriented apartment building featuring 50 micro-studios.
The Arthur; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Even the sign was given special treatment with its own font.

My tired mahogany front door needs a make-over and the punchy coral with stripes gives me ideas. I've taped paint chips to the door and have until spring to audition colours and view them in varying light conditions before it's warm enough to paint. My mail carrier is probably amused by the continuously changing constellation. I see a trip to the Benjamin Moore store in my near future: my door craves (hued) chips!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Mark Byk: Beware of Gods

Beware of Gods screen print by Mark Byk; Photo © Karen Thiessen
When I saw Mark Byk's Beware of Gods screen print at You Me Gallery a few months ago, it was love at first sight. After the show, I inquired about it, but I was told it wasn't available. That's probably because my beloved hubby had bought it for me as a surprise to mark a special occasion. Beware of Gods reminds me that some things, although good, can become a god. My mark-making practice is a case in point. I've sustained the daily practice since Lent 2014 and I now realize that missing the occasional day from my 640 day habit is healthy. I'm not ready to take breaks from my 1783 day-in-a-row Lent 2011 yoga practice yet.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Quotes: John Baldessari

"Every artist should have a cheap line. It keeps art ordinary." –– John Baldessari (b. 1931), American painter and conceptual artist

Friday, 4 December 2015

Studio: collage table

Collage table; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Good things are happening in the studio. Jane Hill's love of black-and-white has rubbed off on me. I've returned to using low tech techniques to design patterns and black-and-white is the way to go. I'm a pro at turning suboptimal situations into assets. Six months ago my beloved nine-year-old Adobe Creative Suite (a legal program that I paid for) locked me out. This has worked in my favour: making patterns by hand with glue stick and scissors is fun, deeply engaging, and has fuelled my imagination in ways that working digitally doesn't.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Studio play

Bunny © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Recently I discovered the work of Sabine Timm. My bunny is an homage to Sabine, a.k.a. virgin honey. This is what happens when one is overcoming resistance! 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Quotes: Dieter Rams

"Weniger aber besser." –– Dieter Rams (b. 1932), German Industrial Designer
Translation: "Less but better."

Friday, 27 November 2015

Studio Series: still life

Still life; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
While I was overcoming resistance, I channelled my inner Camilla Engman and played with photographing a few vignettes. Camilla makes it look so easy. It's not.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Studio: Patterns of work

Stacked studio trays; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
How to overcome resistance: do something that is parallel to the resisted activity. This strategy worked like a charm this week. I gessoed and stitched tags, took random photos, and finally I had enough courage/mojo to tackle the task at hand which was to design new patterns to screen print.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

5 year blogiversary

Today marks five years of blogging! It has been fun ... and a lot of work. I've been privileged to write about many of my art heroes, to share snippets of my own work, and to meet new folks both virtually and in real life. Thank you for joining me on this adventure.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Quotes: Joanne Harris

"I let it go. It's like swimming against the current. It exhausts you. After a while, whoever you are, you just have to let go, and the river brings you home." –– Joanne Harris (b. 1964), British author, quote from Five Quarters of the Orange, the third book in a food trilogy (Chocolat, Blackberry Wine and Five Quarters of the Orange).

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Studio Series: Slides collograph

 Slides collograph on Shoji paper © Karen Thiessen, 2015
My grandparents were avid photographers. Grandpa documented family gatherings and travels with their Airstream trailer. Grandma documented flowers... thousands of them. They died six months apart, in 2007, and once my uncle scanned Grandpa and Grandma's slides, they came to me. Over a few Christmases I had slide show marathons, viewing several thousand slides. I then set out to edit and organize the collection, only keeping the best. I tossed over 2000 slides (yes, I really did count the discards), many of them flower photos, over and under exposed images, duplicates, etc. The slides are from the 1950s to the 1990s and the oldest slides have beautiful cardboard mounts with nicely rounded corners. I kept these. One day I'll collage with them. I took a handful and glued them to an illustration board mount and created this collograph. It is beautiful in its simplicity. As a bonus, I only had success making this print. Could it have been grandparent karma?

Monday, 16 November 2015

Quotes: Glenn Gould

"The purpose of art is not the momentary ejection of adrenaline, but rather the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity." –– Glenn Gould (1932-1982), Canadian pianist, writer, composer, conductor, and broadcaster

Friday, 13 November 2015

Studio Series: Tea packet collograph

Tea packet collograph on Shoji paper © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Every day I drink a few mugs of tea. Two of the teas are packaged in sealed plastic-lined paper pouches. I save the torn tops in a bowl and they add up. I glued an assortment to illustration board, inked it up, and ran it through a press. My first several attempts were failures, so I had to make another plate. Thank goodness I have lots of tea packet tops on hand. This is my only successful print. Patience and persistence pay off!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Studio Series: Screenprint fragments

Screen print edges collage © Karen Thiessen, 2015
When I screen print small or fragile papers, I tape them to a larger piece of bristol and layers of prints accumulate along the edges. Here's a collage of those edges. I've been very busy!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Quotes: Ted Harrison

"Art has to be shared to be useful." –– Ted Harrison (1926-2015), British-born Canadian artist 
(Source: Tom Hawthorn. "Obituaries: Ted Harrison Painter, 88" The Globe and Mail, Saturday January 31, 2015, p. S12)

Friday, 6 November 2015

Studio Series: space to dream

Roll top desk; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
My parents are down-sizing and this roll top desk now calls my studio home. The desk is embedded with stories: it occupied an important place in each of the home offices in the three houses where we lived while I was growing up. My parents ran their businesses from this desk. I'm not sure where mom and dad found it. As it was in poor shape and old-fashioned, it was probably free. Mom painted it with an antiqued finish that was popular in the 1970s.
Roll top desk; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
As a nosy child, I would look through the various drawers. Three things captured my imagination: an old iron skeleton key; a black-and-white photograph that dad took of his dog Shakes laying on top of a reclined Bessy the cow; and a newspaper article highlighting that dad won an award for this picture. The drawers were empty when I received the desk. I've added some washi tape accents to make it my own.
Roll top desk; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Since the desk entered my home, I've worked at it almost daily. It's become a magical thinking space where I record ideas and reflections in my sketchbook. Now I just need to find an old iron skeleton key to tuck in one of the drawers and it will be complete.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Studio Series: natural dye pots

Copper boiler; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
My parents are down-sizing and my studio is the beneficiary of two of my mom's pots. I don't remember the copper boiler every being used when my parents had it, but now it holds five pounds of black walnuts, water, and fabric. It straddles two burners when I'm heating the dye liquor. The copper pot acts as a mordant. Note to self: unless it's empty, it's too heavy for me to lift on my own. But of course I lifted it anyway.
Iron pot; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
I have a vague recollection of mom buying the iron pot and a stand at an antique shop many moons ago. I think she planted red geraniums in it and it adorned our front lawn for a time. To my surprise, it's not as heavy as I previously believed. Like the copper boiler, it now holds five pounds of black walnuts, fabric, and water and the pot acts as a mordant. Apparently iron saddens and copper gladdens. A kind neighbour saved the black walnuts from her backyard tree and now I have about 40 pounds to play with. 

Monday, 2 November 2015

Quotes: Leza Lowitz

For the lovely Claudia (Proper Tension):

You keep waiting for something to happen,
the thing that lifts you out of yourself,

catapults you into doing all the things you've put off
the great things you're meant to do in your life,

but somehow never quite get to.
You keep waiting for the planets to shift

the new moon to bring news,
the universe to align, something to give.

Meanwhile, the pile of papers, the laundry, the dishes the job --
it all stacks up while you keep hoping

for some miracle to blast down upon you,
scattering the piles to the winds.

Sometimes you lie in bed, terrified of your life.
Sometimes you laugh at the privilege of waking.

But all the while, life goes on in its messy way.
And then you turn forty. Or fifty. Or sixty...

and some part of you realizes you are not alone
and you find signs of this in the animal kingdom --

when a snake sheds its skin its eyes glaze over,
it slinks under a rock, not wanting to be touched,

and when caterpillar turns to butterfly
if the pupa is brushed, it will die --

and when the bird taps its beak hungrily against the egg
it's because the thing is too small, too small,

and it needs to break out.
And midlife walks you into that wisdom

that this is what transformation looks like --
the mess of it, the tapping at the walls of your life,

the yearning and writhing and pushing,
until one day, one day

you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn

and the dusk of the body,
glistening, beautiful

just as you are.
-- from Poems of Awakening: An International Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Betsy Small

Friday, 30 October 2015

Studio Series: work in progress

Mennonite material culture series in progress © Karen Thiessen, 2015
While I've been moving my Poetic Memory series forward (well over 200 tags are complete!), another series has been almost making itself. Yup, Mennonite elves toil away in the studio when I'm not looking. Well, it seems that way. 

Each body of work that I make has its own rhythm and personality. Some are neat and tidy and emerge on schedule, like a small miracle. One was stubborn and had its own sense of time (the Shadow series). I started playing with making a Mennonite series about fifteen years ago. It wasn't ready. While I was working long hours for my 2013 solo show Unit(y), naturally the Menno series started elbowing its way into my awareness. It's a sneaky beast. 

Above is a random selection of 41 of the Mennonite material culture tags that I've made so far. They aren't optimally arranged or installed. The series needs a better title and I need to triple the amount of work before I have a sense of what it wants to be and where it wants to go. With this series it seems that as long as I'm working on something else, it gets made. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Quotes: William Van Dusen Wishard

"Vision is seeing beyond the immediacy of the day. It is understanding the temper of the times, the outlines of the future, and how to move from one to the other.

Vision is seeing where life is headed, and how to make the transition from here to there most effectively.

Vision is seeing what life could be like while dealing with life as it is. Vision is having some sense of the inner impulse of the Age.

It is sensing what is felt, yet unarticulated, in the public soul and then giving it voice. Vision is seeing the potential purpose that's hidden in the chaos of the moment, yet which could bring to birth new possibilities for a people." –– William Van Dusen Wishard, American author (Source: via an old inspiration file)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


I've been a bit quiet here in blogland. Real life has been rather busy with studio work, my printmaking class, a visiting artist talk and critique of student work at McMaster University School of the Arts, and more. My parents are in the process of down-sizing, so I now have an old copper boiler and a iron pot that I am dyeing fabrics in and with (pot as mordant). An ancient roll-top desk has taken up residence in my studio. The desk is a magical space that ignites my imagination. My mom also passed on some old family textiles and other family keepsakes (like my great-grandparents' notebooks and passports!!).

Monday, 19 October 2015

Quotes: Peter James Field and Daniel Kluge

Quotes via Richard Brereton's Sketchbooks: The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators, and Creatives, 2009.

"I was using drawing to digest and give meaning to the outside world. ... Sometimes I feel that in keeping sketchbooks I'm documenting the world as I see it, like a kind of archivist, often using my sketches to search for connections in the small things that would otherwise be lost and forgotten." –– Peter James Field, U.K. artist and illustrator, p. 108

"A sketchbook is like a valve, a pressure release system. Instead of weighing things up in my head, I give them a place in my sketchbook. ... [My] sketchbook is a reflection of my inner world, without complaints, worries or private problems." –– Daniel Kluge, German graphic designer, p. 178.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Quotes: Agnes de Mille

"Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark." –– Agnes de Mille (1905-1993), American dancer and choreographer

Friday, 9 October 2015

Studio Series: Chortitza Oak Leaves prints

Chortitza Oak leaves prints © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Happy days are here again: my printmaking class has resumed for the fall! I'm screen printing as usual, and I'm printing with found materials. My personal leaves of significance project continues in new ways. This summer I visited several Chortitza oak descendants (Quercus robur) here in Southern Ontario and gathered leaves: some to take rubbings from and some to print. To preserve the leaves, I soaked them in a glycerin, water, and surfactant concoction (1 part glycerin to two parts water, plus 3 to 4 drops of castile soap to act as a surfactant) for a week. Once the leaves were preserved, I inked some up with a brayer with black Akua ink and then ran them through a press. In the above photo, you'll see prints on abaca (a.k.a. tea bags), Japanese kozo paper, and old German book pages. My thanks to Christine Mauersberger for the idea to preserve the leaves and then print with them! In the near future, I plan to print with preserved mulberry leaves and birch leaves from the tree that shelters my late-brother's grave, although I'm certain that the birch leaves will be too fine to print with. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Judy Martin: Mended World @ Homer Watson House & Gallery 3

Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Judy Martin's Mended World: an exhibition of the Manitoulin Community Circle Project at Homer Watson House and Gallery in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada has come and gone but its memory still burns bright. I've followed Martin's documentation of the Circle project on her blog for several years. One textile that I especially wanted to see in person was Layers of Time
Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
When I saw this central panel of dense eyelet stitches (a.k.a. buttonhole wheels, according to The Embroidery Stitch Bible) I gasped audibly. Just this section alone is a considerable investment of time and care. In our world of instantaneity and diminished attention spans, the lavish stitching in Layers of Time defies modern logic.
Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Do you see what I mean? I wonder how long each eyelet took to make. There appear to be several hundred. Layers of Time is the last of the four liturgical panels that were made by Martin with assistance from the volunteers with the Manitoulin Circle Project.
Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
I was intrigued to see layers of lace doilies repurposed. Their colouration is as they were donated: yellowed with time and not over-dyed. Here is an element of "anonymous time": the women who crocheted the donated doilies, many likely long dead, unknowingly contributed to this quilt too. The quilt is mostly monochromatic, with the exception of a hint of blue outlining the inner circle. 
Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Background squares of wool blanket contrast with the central circle motifs.

The five liturgical panels in the Mended World exhibition are prominently displayed in the sanctuary of the Little Current United Church when they are not travelling. At this point, the final exhibition of the liturgical panels is set for June 2016 in North Bay, Ontario. This month they head to a Newfoundland fibre conference for a meditation panel workshop that Martin is teaching. 

Judy Martin Layers of Time: vintage wool blankets & lace doilies, recycled linen damask, silk, beads, cotton threads, hand pieced, layered, embroidered, and quilted, made with community assistance. 92" X 92" (228.6 X 228.6 cm) Collection of Little Current United Church, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada.

Judy Martin Mended World: an exhibition of the Manitoulin Community Circle Project 
at Homer Watson House and Gallery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada 
May 9 to June 14, 2015

All photographs were taken with permission from the artist.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Quotes: Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham

"Hope is a tease designed to prevent us from accepting reality." –– character Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (actress Maggie Smith)
Source: Downton Abbey, episode 5.4

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Judy Martin: Mended World @ Homer Watson House & Gallery 2

Judy Martin, Mended World, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
My photo of the Mended World liturgical panel does not do the textile justice. Along with TrinityMended World is of the quieter of the five large liturgical panels: all circles within squares. Mended World is one of the four textiles that Judy Martin designed and then made with assistance from over 100 volunteers, all part of the Manitoulin Circle Project (hereafter MCP). The MCP ran from 2009 to 2013. Every Thursday, Martin and a random assortment of community members, usually a dozen or so, would gather at the Little Current United Church from 10 am to 6 pm. The volunteers came with a range of sewing experience. They gathered even when Martin was away due to travel commitments or otherwise.
Judy Martin, Mended World, 2012 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
What happens when community members work together toward a common goal for four years? The MCP participants were a circle of people meeting in what was most likely a square or rectangular building and they made liturgical textiles of circles within squares: the gatherings mirrored the textile designs. While working together on textiles, heads are down and hands are busy, allowing conversation interspersed with moments of silence; this is a great way for introverts and extroverts to work together.
Judy Martin, Mended World, 2012 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Had a sociologist been present during the four years of the MCP, he/she may have witnessed the gradual building of deeper social cohesion, especially among community members who would not normally connect. Did the Manitoulin Circle Project bind the community together and create an open and fluid circle of belonging and welcome?

Mended World is strip-pieced. Note the flecks of blue within the central circle and the shimmer of the repurposed table linens. It is a quiet, elegant liturgical panel.

Mended World completed in 2012 was hand and machine stitched, and made of recycled linen and cotton damask, and silk. The size is 243.8 X 243.8 cm.
Judy Martin, Precious Water, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Precious Water is a double circle with a horizon line bisecting the textile. The design and colours echo Earth Ark. It is hand-stitched and made with recycled linen and cotton damask, silk, and linen. The dimensions are 218.4 X 218.4 cm. I'm gobsmacked that the entire liturgical textile was pieced without the assistance of a sewing machine. The double-circle reads as a protective zone surrounding an island and its sky.
Judy Martin, Precious Water, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
The lower section of the textile is composed of circles within squares, reinforcing the theme. The ruched blue section was made with a special backing fabric that shrinks when exposed to heat. Once the grid of blues and off-whites were stitched to the backing, a heat gun shrunk the backing fabric. The colours are harmonious, but I am not convinced by the ruched texture. It feels gimmicky in relation to the rest of the liturgical panel.
Judy Martin, Precious Water 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
The dots were expertly formed using the satin stitch.
Judy Martin, Precious Water 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
The circles within squares of the lower section were created with reverse appliqué, a time-consuming process that requires skill and practice. Martin and the Manitoulin Circle Project volunteers poured a high level of care, detail, and time into Precious Water

Judy Martin Mended World: an exhibition of the Manitoulin Community Circle Project 
at Homer Watson House and Gallery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada 
May 9 to June 14, 2015

All photographs were taken with permission from the artist.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Quotes: Frances Hesselbein

"It's not hard work that wears you out but the repression of your true personality." –– Frances Hesselbein, American author and leader
Source: via

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Judy Martin: Mended World @ Homer Watson House & Gallery 1

Judy Martin, Trinity, 2011; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Mended World is comprised of five large panels, all circles within squares. Four of these panels were part of The Manitoulin Circle Project (2009-2013). One of Martin's daily "journal" textiles, Cloud of Time (2013) was exhibited as well, but the installation was less than ideal and detracted from the strength of it. It's not an easy piece to install in a small space. 

Trinity is the precursor to the Manitoulin Circle Project. Martin made Trinity between 2009 and 2011 for a Liturgical Embroidery course that she took during her embroidery degree studies with Middlesex University in the United Kingdom (2012). It's a subtle textile embedded with a lot of symbolism. In Christianity, the trinity represents God, God's son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The circle symbolizes "eternity and perfection", and to extrapolate, heaven. "The square is the emblem of the earth or earthly existence. ... Its four sides signify the four elements, the four corners of the heavens, the four directions (Reimer, 8)." In Christianity, blue represents the sky, and thus heaven. According to religion, blue may symbolize truth. Trinity, when not travelling, is installed as a pulpit antependium in the sanctuary of the Little Current United Church on Manitoulin Island where Martin attends.
Judy Martin, Trinity detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Martin consulted with Reverend Faye Stevens, the minister of Little Current United Church, about her making of Trinity and, as I noted, this was the genesis of the larger Manitoulin Circle Project. A year prior to this, Stevens had approached Martin to be a volunteer artist-in-residence in the church, but the timing wasn't right. Martin designed the four panels that were made with The Manitoulin Circle Project as part of her degree studies. The making of the panels was completely independent of Martin's degree program: they were commissioned by Little Current United Church, facilitated by Martin as part of her volunteer residency, and made by Martin and more than 100 volunteers over a four-year period. 

Trinity, 2011 recycled linen damask, new silk, Procion dye, hand-stitched; 60.9 X 86.4 cm
Judy Martin, Earth Ark, 2011; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Earth Ark is the first liturgical panel completed by The Manitoulin Circle Project. It is made from recycled linen damask (old table linens), silk, and women's handkerchiefs and was hand and machine-stitched. Its dimensions are 228.6 X 228.6 cm. The leaf stitched to the panel is replaced each time the panel travels and I imagine that once the panel is installed in its final destination (Little Current United Church), the leaf will be refreshed as necessary. 

Whereas Trinity is light and ethereal and resembles a rolling triple Russian wedding band ring (three separate interlocking rolling rings that symbolize faith, hope, and love), Earth Ark has a visual weight. The title and visual elements hint at the Bible story of Noah and the ark, the rainbow as a sign of hope, and the dove going out and bringing back an olive branch. To me, the brown half-circle registers as an island. Earth Ark has a pleasing asymmetry with the ark/island off to the right.
Judy Martin, Earth Ark detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
If you take a close look at the above image, you see the sheen of damask table linens. The image below reveals old lace handkerchiefs. In the old days, a lady would tuck a clean lace handkerchief in her purse on Sunday morning, ready to hold a morsel of communion bread. Once all eligible congregants were served their bread, they would all eat together: "the body of Christ broken for you."
Judy Martin, Earth Ark detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
This is the first of three posts. Spending time with the liturgical textiles has been a treat. They are a fine example of non-representational Christian art made in collaboration.

Judy Martin Mended World: an exhibition of the Manitoulin Community Circle Project 
at Homer Watson House and Gallery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada 
May 9 to June 14, 2015

All photographs were taken with permission from the artist.

End Notes: 
Margaret Loewen Reimer, "Signs and Symbols." Canadian Mennonite, January 24, 2000 Volume 4, Number 2, page 8.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Quotes: Elizabeth Styring Nutt

"Art is not hand and eye training, but mind training." – Elizabeth Styring Nutt, principal of the Victoria School of Art and Design (now known as NSCAD University) from 1919-1943. An English landscape painter, Nutt was hand-picked by her predecessor Arthur Lismer to head the school and in 1925, she renamed it the Nova Scotia College of Art in 1925.

Source: NSCAD University Annual Report 2011-2012, pages 23-24

Friday, 18 September 2015

Amanda McCavour @ Fibreworks 2014

Amanda McCavour, Black Cloud, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Black Cloud is a radical departure from Amanda McCavour's machine-embroidered installations. It's very sexy in a playful S&M-meets-Kindergarten-art-class way.
Amanda McCavour, Black Cloud, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
At the opening, Amanda told me that she made this work while she was doing her MFA at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. She told me that at the beginning of her degree, her instructors would not permit her to use the sewing machine. They wanted her to recapture the mystery of making objects by hand quickly and directly. Her exquisite free-motion embroidered installations require a lot of designing and planning which can take the mystery out of the making process. They encouraged Amanda to experiment with basic materials and basically re-embrace the kinds of artistic activities that she did when she was in Kindergarten. Black Cloud has elements of construction-paper lanterns and crayon scribbles but her use of black removes all trace of childhood innocence. If she were to make this same piece in bright colours, it would read very differently.
Amanda McCavour, Black Cloud, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Although Black Cloud is installation-based, like her much-lauded free-motion embroidery (FME) work, it is different in every other way. It is visually heavy and playfully ominous –– a contradiction. It is also opaque, whereas the FME work is light and transparent. I wonder if and how the essence of Black Cloud will be absorbed with her pre-MFA FME work. McCavour has built a reputation with her FME installations. Will she risk this by shifting the direction and tone of her work?
Amanda McCavour, Black Cloud, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
I love how the matte black materials reflect the light. 

Black Cloud, 2014, cut paper, toothpicks, thread, straws

Amanda McCavour artist statement: "This piece is a collection of lines, a drawing in space where materials become the mark. I am interested in a line's duality – its subtle quality versus its accumulative presence. This project came out of an exercise where I made a different work in my studio each day for ten days. I chose simple, readily available materials so that I could experiment more freely and openly. Paper, straws and toothpicks were among my many choices. Black Cloud is the result of gradually paring down, combining, altering, and then expanding the elements of my daily experiments within my studio. Within this work, I play with line, shape and surface."

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Amanda McCavour: Embroidered Spaces @ Homer Watson House & Gallery

Amanda McCavour, Floating Garden; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
I first saw Floating Garden at the 2012 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and the setting was less than ideal. It was, in fact, a liability to the work. In the Homer Watson House and Gallery, Floating Garden sings. 
Amanda McCavour, Floating Garden; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Amanda McCavour is a master of free-motion embroidery (hereafter FME) and installation work. Each flower module is machine-stitched with thread onto water-soluble fabric. When finished, she immerses the unit into water and the background fabric dissolves. She can opt to not thoroughly wash the module so that some stiffness remains.
Amanda McCavour, Floating Garden; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
I took multiple photos of Floating Garden and it was difficult to share only three. It's an engaging piece in many ways: the flowers move with the air currents and the mass of threads from which the flowers are suspended are beautiful in their own way.
Amanda McCavour, Stand-In for Home; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Stand-In for Home worked well installed next to the old fireplace. It's like a ghostly apparition of what once furnished the space.
Amanda McCavour, Stand-In for Home; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
McCavour's three dimensional FME drawings cast exquisite shadows. Note the yellow roses wallpaper and the electrical outlet.
Amanda McCavour, Stand-In for Home; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Amanda McCavour's Embroidered Spaces at Homer Watson House & Gallery ran from May 9th to June 14, 2015.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Quotes: Cliff Eyland

"It's not hard to make art if you have a steady work ethic –– if you work every day. ... I've always thought that my kind of art is about [the] incremental making of things every day rather than [to] make a giant painting and get exhausted." –– Cliff Eyland (b. 1954), Canadian painter, curator, and writer
* Source: Nora Young interview with Cliff Eyland, Spark, CBC Radio, Sunday December 21, 2014

Friday, 11 September 2015

Cliff Eyland @ Halifax Central Library

Cliff Eyland, Library Cards, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Summer isn't complete without a visit to Halifax where my husband and I reconnect with good friends and spent time in a city that we love. One highlight of our visit was spending time in the new Halifax Central Library. We've been watching its progress for many years. Cliff Eyland's installation of 5000 "tiny paintings" graced a long wall on the main floor and an upper wall on the top floor. A few months ago I stumbled across his work when I was looking for information about Aganetha Dyck and I wrote about him here.
Cliff Eyland, Library Cards, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Have I mentioned that I am obsessed with modules?
Cliff Eyland, Library Cards detail, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Eyland (pronounced eeland) has worked in the 3" X 5" index/recipe/library card format since 1981. I wonder if he ever deviates from this format. Thirty-four years is a significant commitment to one size. It's like a good marriage.
Cliff Eyland, Library Cards detail, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Before the advent of computers, one had to search for library books at a cabinet containing multiple drawers filled with cards. Unless the cards were typed with information, they looked a bit like the card in the above image, sans the Letraset dot inclusion.
Cliff Eyland, Library Cards, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
In December 2014, Nora Young interviewed Eyland for her Spark program on CBC Radio.
Cliff Eyland, Library Cards, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
This group of modules was on the upper wall of the upper floor of the library. The space had the feel of a classy living room with leather club chairs and sofas. The three directional view was spectacular regardless of the weather. When the fog rolled in, it felt like you were floating in a cloud. 

On a practical level, I'm curious to see how these Cliff Eyland modules will age when exposed to so much light. I'm also curious to see how the library maintains them: next summer will I see them encrusted with dust and cobwebs?

If you visit Halifax, Nova Scotia, do explore the Halifax Central Library. How often are libraries tourist attractions?