19 February 2017

Laurie Swim interview: Artist to Watch

SAQA Juried Artist Laurie Swim, the doyenne of Canadian art quilting, has been interviewed numerous times over a career of more than 40 years. Rather than submit her to yet another artist interview as part of our SAQA Atlantic series, we are republishing an interview from issue #6 of the SAQA publication Art Quilt Collector. The interview with Laurie took place in October 2016.

In this feature article, Laurie reflects on how the first art quilt she showed in public launched her career as a serious textile artist, how her large scale historic and social action projects engage and contribute to community, and how her artwork has found its way into noteworthy public and private collections.
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Artists to Watch

Laurie Swim
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada

Laurie Swim’s community-based projects not only tell a story, they bring together volunteers whose combined efforts find healing in creativity. The stories are a testament, a public memorial.

Her latest collaborative work, Hope and Survival: The Halifax Explosion Memorial Project, builds on the experience Laurie has had with earlier projects. The quilt marks the path of tragedy and rebuilding in Halifax 100 years after the town experienced the largest manmade explosion prior to Hiroshima.


Collaboration matters

My original intention was to create a connection to a community by creating collaborative public art, but my interest grew over time as I researched subjects that revealed our ephemeral nature. Historical records and oral accounts begin the process of my understanding a situation outside my own experience; then they find their way into my work.

People join me on this journey and contribute their ideas, which enhance the work and enrich the final outcome. By sharing this creative experience with volunteers, and eventually the viewing public, I can produce visual art that becomes a powerful vehicle to convey a story and generate awareness for social change.


Breaking Ground, The Hogg’s Hollow Disaster, 1960 by Laurie Swim, 2000. w20' x h7' 

Through these art projects, one can understand the lasting consequences of a tragic incident. Breaking Ground, The Hogg’s Hollow Disaster, 1960 commemorates five men in Toronto, Ontario, who died digging a tunnel under dire circumstances. The accident led to improved safety regulations on construction sites throughout Canada. Family members and rescuers who had never met came forth after 40 years to be part of this work’s process. The same thing happened with Lost at Sea, 1961, created for the millennium in 2000. That piece commemorates 17 men who drowned in a horrific Atlantic storm, leaving behind 16 wives and 65 children in Lockeport, Nova Scotia, my hometown. I was 12 at the time, and many of the children who lost their fathers were my friends and neighbors. The men were the area’s most experienced fishermen; their loss triggered an economic decline.


Lost at Sea, 1961 by Laurie Swim, 2000. w10' x h10'


Catalyst for latest project

In the summer of 2000, I traveled by train from Nova Scotia to Toronto, where I was residing. For reading material on the two-day trip, I picked up Janet Kitz’s Shattered City, which began my immersion into the explosion that took place in Halifax on Dec. 6, 1917, when a Norwegian relief ship, the SS Imo, collided with a French munitions ship, the SS Mont Blanc, in Halifax Harbour. Almost 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 were injured, including 200 who were blinded. In the middle of winter, 25,000 souls were left destitute, half the population of Halifax at the time. Conveying this event through art was an irresistible challenge.

In the 14 years during which I researched and thought about the Halifax explosion, I took on two more projects, The Canadian Young Workers’ Memorial, commemorating 100 young workers killed on the job, and the Lunenburg Heritage Story.

Canadian Young Workers Memorial Quilt by Laurie Swim, 2003 w15' x h9'


When it came time to design Hope and Survival: The Halifax Explosion Memorial Project, I knew from the beginning that Braille would be a component. This decision began a collaborative effort with volunteers from around the province. The Scroll of Remembrance, the list of those who perished, was translated into Braille dots and printed on transfer paper. The names were heat transferred to 172 sheets of fabric, each 11 in. x 8.5 inches, stained to reference the shrouds that covered the victims. The sheets were distributed to volunteers to bead the Braille dots, with approximately 400 people participating. Often those who undertook the beading told me it was a meditative process that allowed them to honor and remember the victims.

Hope and Survival, under construction
Accompanying this scroll is the center piece, approximately 8 x 10 feet, that I’m creating in my studio in Lunenburg. This piece is primarily in indigo blue with sepia tones and accents of red. The indigo refers to the scars people were left with when a carbon-saturated black oily rain coated them after the blast. I used snow-dyed fabric to symbolize the horrendous snowstorm that followed the day after the explosion, deterring rescue efforts. I depicted scenes using my research, which included oral stories from descendants. I also wrote a story from a child’s perspective based on accounts of the explosion that will be published as a trade book. Some of the images I created for the center piece will also appear in this book.

Eye Snatcher by L. Swim, 2014
w16" x h24"

I would like Hope and Survival to tour Canada and the New England states before being permanently installed in the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia sends a huge Christmas tree to Boston every year, and Boston was the first non-Canadian responder to the disaster, readying a train full of medical supplies, doctors, and nurses within a day. It would be wonderful to share this memorial as a reminder of the human kindness that was shown to Nova Scotia by Boston 100 years ago.



A lifetime as an artist

As I grow older, I find I work more slowly but more accurately. I give myself permission to develop the work organically, letting it evolve at its own pace. In working with textiles, I am always discovering innovative new ways to realize a subject.

I also have found that good things come to those who wait — if you work persistently while waiting. Longevity in the field contributes to my success with being noticed by collectors. Getting your work in front of the public and consistently building a reputation for yourself as a professional is important.

As a full-time artist for more than 40 years, I have found that financial rewards can be feast or famine. I’ve come to realize that no one has complete stability in wealth or health. What I have is work I like to do. There is no retirement age for me. As long as I have my health and aspirations, I will have something rewarding to do.

Fortunately, early in my career, my quilt Eve’s Apple was awarded Best in Show in the 1976 Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council Show. The juror was the renowned Canadian artist, Alex Colville, whom I had long admired as a painter of high realism. Recognition by such an artist gave me the confidence to proceed with the quilt as a fine art form. Eve’s Apple, acquired by the NSDCC Permanent Collection, was my first work shown in public.

Moving to Toronto in 1978, I hoped to pursue a career creating large-scale quilted works for corporate spaces. My first opportunity was a 64 x 4-foot commissioned piece, Equinox, for a new bank. Equinox and two other works became part of the Scotiabank Corporate Art Collection. This success gave my work great exposure, and throughout the 1980s I supported myself with commissions while continuing my own personal work. 

In 1980 I met my future husband Larry Goldstein, who worked in book publishing. During our courtship, he suggested creating a book of my work. The Joy of Quilting was published by Viking Canada in 1984. It was the first book showcasing the work of an individual quilt artist published in Canada. The book established my career as a professional artist. Since then, I have written Quilting, published in 1991, and Rags to Riches, released in 2007.

In 2002, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York invited me to contribute a piece to its Six Continents of Quilts exhibition. Emma’s Delight is part of MAD’s collection and is included in a catalog produced for the exhibit.


The artist today

Since moving back to Nova Scotia in 2004, I have concentrated on the rugged landscape with references to the culture and its heritage as inspiration. There have been more private collectors interested in recent years. Del Mano Gallery in Los Angeles represented my work from 2007 to 2015. Attending the solo show of my work at Del Mano, Lloyd E. Cotsen, former CEO of Neutrogena, commissioned It’s No Fish Ye’re Buying for his collection, Textile Traces.


It’s No Fish Ye’re Buying by L. Swim, 2007
w14" x h14"
The Nova Scotia Art Bank acquired a work in 2007. We also made a decision to donate two works to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia a few years back. They were appraised as part of the process. We have been able to use those appraisals as a basis to price my work. I have received numerous awards and grants throughout my career that add credibility to the work I do. In 2013, I received Nova Scotia’s highest art award, the Portia White Prize for culture and artistic excellence. 

My husband and I set up our gallery featuring my originals and photographic prints of my images in 2005. Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site and brings in many visitors from around the world during the summer and fall months.


The future

My challenge is to keep working, probably on a smaller scale as I get older. I want to do more drawing and painting, as well. I started out as a painter in art school, so to come full circle in my art career would be satisfying. Just the same, I don’t foresee ever giving up working in textiles. All that texture is just too delicious.

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Read more about Laurie Swim or drop by the Art Quilt Gallery of the Atlantic next time you're visiting Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  

17 February 2017

Kathy Tidswell's work in Contemporary Art Quilts

Congratulations to SAQA Atlantic member Kathy Tidswell, from Burtt's Corner, NB, who recently learned that two of her pieces were juried into the multimedia art quilt exhibition, Contemporary Canadian Art Quilts: From Fine Craft to Fine Art

The exhibition, curated by Joan Hug-Valeriote, includes a selection of actual quilts and a video collage of over 100 contemporary Canadian art quilts displayed continuously over a 5-foot square array of 20 screens. 


Raining Cats and Dogs  by K. Tidswell
w18" x h14"

Kathy's piece, Raining Cats and Dogs was accepted in the actual category and will hang in the venue. Her second piece, Majestica, will be part of the virtual show. 

Majestica by K. Tidswell, w38" x h30"


Kitchener City Hall, in the Berlin Tower Artspace,
200 King St. W. Kitchener, Ontario
April 8th to May 30th, 2017

Visit Kathy Tidswell's website to learn more about her work.

07 February 2017

Remembering Susan Tilsley Manley (1965-2016)

Artist, mother, friend and SAQA-Atlantic member Susan Tilsley Manley left this world last November. Debra Plestid, of Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, shares her reflections about the loss of her friend and colleague.

Tom with Crow, by Susan Tilsley Manley

At 5:30 pm on November 19th, 2016, I lit a candle for Susan, for all those whose hearts have been broken. I sat in disbelief, hardly able to grasp the fact that Susan has left this life. I feel a flood of sadness and rage. 

There is a crow in the pig’s trough this morning. She’s feeding on small bits of vegetable scraps the pigs have left for her. Black, stately, an opportunist. I see her mate in the gnarly apple tree; watching, waiting. Crows - messengers, watchers, wise, witty, tricksters - crows have also come to mean having loved your father and needing to keep him animate in your work, in your life. I notice crows because of Susan. 

I appreciated many things about Susan.

Susan was a magical sprite. She welcomed and delighted in wonder. In July, Susan had difficulty finding language but there was no difficulty finding ways to be joyful. We sat together, we chatted when she could, were often in silence, were bathed in the warm sun and enveloped in a burble of iridescent soap bubbles. Because if you can be no where but here on a fine summer day, you might as well turn on the bubble machine and allow alchemy to surround you. Halloween, make-believe, fantasy were made alive in Susan. Who but Susan would glue a large ruby in the centre of the steering wheel of her red PT Cruiser? And giggle with excitement? I can bask in enchantment because of Susan. 

Susan had a huge spark in her, and she saw the spark in others. She encouraged, supported, complimented, revelled in other people’s skills and talents. She presumed it to be true that we all fit in together, that we all have a place, that more is more, and that it makes for a better world if we are all included.  

Susan was astute, sharp… she said she grew a ‘victory’ garden, making a statement about the direct negative impact of Harper government decisions on her family. She named bullying when she saw it, she was proactive, caring and unapologetic in creating positive change. She knew her mind. She spoke about having learned how to argue and she was absolute in her determination to be fair, reasonable, acknowledge differences, make space for one another and to listen with an open heart. I saw her deep love, affection and appreciation of her husband and her children, even and maybe especially at those times when her needs were so great. When I’m feeling unsure, I think of Susan and go inward to know my mind. 

Susan was playful and inventive, precise and insightful, proud and intuitive, positive and inspiring in loving and guiding her family, in her work, even in the face of a fatal diagnosis. 

Name the medium - she’s done it - paint, fibre, altered books, books, silkscreen, stamps, batik, paper, canvas, dyeing fabric, complex cloth. She was exacting and her work exuded confident expression. She’s excelled at it all. She was a master. 

When I hear the word yummy, know that I’m remembering Susan. 

She said yes. She asked what if? Rust - Susan played around with cotton, vinegar and rusty things. She identified immediate potential, it was never in the abstract, she went to work. What if I adjusted the curing time for the rusty bits on the cotton? She discovered that she could create intricate sepia tone images, what if I could show that all is not as it seems. She was an original, she was genius.  

Susan shone. If the world were a different, better place, she would have been bestowed all and every recognition she deserved. She would never have had to suspend work in her studio for paid work elsewhere. Like rainwater falling onto dry earth, like sunshine on a growing leaf, creativity moved through Susan, was absorbed by Susan. Her positive persistence in creating knew no bounds. When she was feeling down early in her disease, it was the act of creating that brought her back to herself. She changed how she worked. She was tired and in that place she made decisions about what work she would do when she had the energy to work. She set her priorities. And work she did. She chronicled her experiences in her work - from her pregnancy books to her last art journal. In these works I will remember Susan, rediscover her essence and revel in having known her. 

Creating meaning, creating inspiration. She saw beauty in the world and she made the world more beautiful. I’m not writing anything that Susan’s family and friends don’t already know in their bones.  

The candle I lit for Susan on Saturday burned steadily. It was flickering still at 7 am on Sunday morning… symbolically keeping Susan present, she was already front of mind. It burned long - through all of Sunday, into the night. At 5:30 am on Monday morning it was out.

Damn. 

I wanted a magical recovery for Susan. 
I’m angry to have to say goodbye to Susan. 

Damn, damn. 

I loved her.  She was a gift to me.  I will miss her. 

Debra Plestid
November 2016
Candle with Hair by Susan Tilsley Manley

03 February 2017

Introducing…. Kristi Farrier

Me - Before and After (detail) by Kristi Farrier 
Up and coming artist Kristi Farrier is new to SAQA-Atlantic. Kristi is currently in transition, from her long-time home and professional career in Almonte, Ontario to a new life in an old farmhouse in Middle River, Cape Breton (NS), where she can focus more of her time exploring and producing textile art.

We were delighted to meet Kristi and see a few of her wonderful textile pieces at the SAQA Atlantic retreat in Debert, NS last fall. 

She recently agreed to tell us more about her life and artwork.


How would you describe your work?

My pieces are visual interpretations of life events, experiences and emotions. Most often abstract, the pieces feature graphic, geometric shapes and grids in which color and line play strongly. I often work with the underlying notion of structured elements contrasting with organic or representational elements from nature – striving for balance or reflecting the tension between the tame and the wild, order and chaos, straight versus curved.

Although textiles – both commercial and hand dyed – are my primary medium, paint, ink and found objects often make their way into my work. I favour raw edges, celebrating imperfection and providing freedom of process.


Epicentres (detail) by Kristi Farrier

Describe your journey towards becoming an artist who works with textiles. 

I’ve always been surrounded by creative people. My mother, grandmother and aunts were accomplished sewers and quilters. My grandmother was a painter and my aunt also draws and paints. Her thread paintings were quite possibly the first art quilts I encountered. 

As a child I spent hours playing with buttons, cutting, and stitching while watching my mother and grandmother sew. I learned to make clothing as a teenager and, while in university, made my first quilt. I continued to sew and quilt while raising two sons and pursuing a career.  

It wasn’t until I saw a photo of Anna Hergert’s artwork that my interest turned to art quilting. I eagerly signed up for her weekend workshop and made my first art quilt. Several years later, with more time in my life, I reconnected with Anna and have since participated in annual sessions with her. Under her guidance, my confidence as an artist has grown and I’m beginning to build a body of work that reflects my visual voice. Artist Elaine Quehl has also been influential in my shift to art quilts. 

Because I don’t have formal art training, I make a concerted effort to learn in other ways and to engage with artists, both textile artists and others. My efforts to become more familiar with the formal art world, local art communities and other artists, combined with a little serendipity now and then, have made it easier to get comfortable in my ‘textile artist’ shoes. Although still very much at the beginning of this journey, I’m excited to see how my work will evolve as I continue.


I'm Fine Thanks. How are You? by Kristi Farrier, h33"x w31"

Tell us about your process for creating. Where do you find your inspiration and how do you get from that to a final product?

I find inspiration in everyday life. Nature also draws me, so I take lots of photographs to capture inspiring moments for later contemplation. I keep several books full of sketches and notes. Rarely does a project begin with a complete idea of the end result. Often, it begins with a rough sketch, just a very general sense of where it might go. Then, I like to play with the techniques I’m considering, both as a warm-up exercise and to be sure of the effect. Once I’ve begun in earnest, my ideas evolve as I work. Often, I need to leave a piece for a while before I know what comes next for it, so I usually have several pieces on the go at once. 


What Happens If? by Kristi Farrier, h16" x w25"

Do you have a studio, or do you work wherever you can find a spot?  

I’m very fortunate to have bright studio spaces in both my Ontario and Cape Breton homes. But I also work in other places. The more technical aspects of my work, like the planning, machine sewing or surface design stages, are done in the studio. On the other hand, the idea generation and handwork most often happen in more social settings or out in nature.
Epicentres by Kristi Farrier, h53"x w25"


What are you currently working on and why?

I’ve been working on a series of pieces inspired by the notion of compartmentalizing time and recording life. It comes out of my interest in the way a particular experience can influence our interpretation and understanding of past and future experiences. For example, Epicentres (right), reflects three significant events in a specific period of time in my life, with grid pattern representing a six-month calendar. The radiating circles imply the ripple effect of events on future decisions and simultaneously, the impact on how previous events are remembered or interpreted/reinterpreted.  

I’m also finishing up a few “one-off” pieces, using them to try new techniques or just improve existing skills.


Do you engage in other artistic or creative endeavors?

I enjoy many creative pursuits, including photography, pottery, drawing and a little painting. Music is also an important part of my life: I play the flute, noodle around with the guitar and enjoy singing. I also write poetry and practice henna body art.


Apparently there's Room to Grow by Kristi Farrier, h14" x w10"

What (non-fibre) artists, either historic or contemporary, have inspired you and why?

Years ago, while studying at the University of Lethbridge, I was captivated by a painting that hung in the library and I’ve never forgotten it. I recently discovered that the painting was Bird Cloud by Lyonel Feininger. The geometric nature and sense of movement and refracted light, in contrast to the soft, hazy amorphous effect, is what I appreciate in many of his works.

The combination of color and graphic, geometric design in the works of Wassily Kandinsky and Sonia Delauney also inspire my textile work. 

I appreciate the geometric and organic textural surface design in the work of ceramic artist Ute Naue-Mueller (nee Grossman). I thank painter Rosemary Leach’s work and teaching for helping me better understand color. I love her vibrant use of colour and celebration of the ordinary.


What fibre artists are you currently interested in, and why?

I love Deidre Adams’ appreciation for the beauty of imperfection as well as her use of line, line, line. I’m also drawn to her use of printed paper and the raw, rough, and free feel of much of her work.

The colour and movement in the work of Sue Benner also draws me in. I just want to keep looking and looking. 


What are your goals for the coming year?

My primary goals are to produce more and show my work more. To this end I strive to get into the studio for several hours every day and to develop a more structured approach to working in series. I’m also aiming to introduce new surface design techniques and both natural and found elements into my work, such as natural dyes or natural and non-traditional textiles and materials. 


Spring Storm by Kristi Farrier, h18" x w25"
Learn more about Kristi Farrier on her blog, Mirth365, and Instagram account.

17 January 2017

New Commissioned Work by Kathy Tidswell

Kathy Tidswell, of Burtts Corner, NB, recently completed two commissioned pieces.


Untitled piece by Kathy Tidswell, w14" x h14"


This untitled cow quilt was commissioned as a gift for a graduate of veterinary college.


The Homestead by Kathy Tidswell, w20" x h15"

The Homestead, also a gift, is a companion piece to the 50th Anniversary Quilt she created a year earlier. 


Kathy’s website features more of her work. 

27 December 2016

Colour Alchemy exhibition, Susan Lilley, Bridgewater NS


Colour Alchemy

Art quilts by Susan Lilley

January 3-31, 2017

Margaret Hennigar Library
Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre
135 North Park Street
Bridgewater NS

Hours
Mon/Fri/Sat 10am-5pm
Tues/Wed/Thurs 10am-9pm
Sun 12pm-4pm


If you're in the Bridgewater area, please drop in!

19 December 2016

SAQA 2017 Trunk Show preview #13

Hold Near and Dear by Laurie Swim, Lunenburg NS

Hold Near and Dear by Laurie Swim

Laurie Swim's SAQA 2017 trunk show piece is one in a series of ten small (10" x 7") works associated with her ongoing project: Hope and Survival, the Halifax Explosion Memorial. 

LS: These small pieces are offered as the reward for a $1000 contribution to our Indiegogo fund-raising campaign in support of Hope and Survival, the Halifax Explosion Memorial.

The image of the two children is created individually for each of the ten pieces. Each is finished differently from one another. The image is drawn with an Inktense pencil in indigo and then painted with a wet brush and heat set with an iron. The piece is free motion machine quilted and hand beaded.

A larger version of the same image is also part of the 8' x 12' (2.5m x 3.7m) centrepiece and will appear in the children's book I have written about the explosion. The smaller version shown here is heavily beaded on the top and the sides. Flotsam and debris and a carbon-saturated black rain falls around the children while they seek shelter in a doorway.

For information about contributing to Hope and Survival, visit the Indiegogo site here.