28 May 2016

Hélène Blanchet interview: Folk art in big nature

Wee Cabin in The Woods by H. Blanchet, 2009, 11” x 11”.

Fibre artist Hélène Blanchet creates exuberant hand-made quilts from her home deep in the highlands of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. 

Surrounded by big nature, her folk art pieces tell stories inspired by her life and travels. Her husband’s work provided the family with many opportunities to see the world, all while home-schooling their three children. These travels nurtured Hélène’s love of traditional textiles. She draws inspiration from these traditions, the natural world, her family and the beauty of her home province.

Hélène took up fibre art full time in 2007 and has since shown her work in numerous juried shows; locally, nationally and internationally and in several galleries.

Tell us about your work.

I often describe my work as textile folk art. My hand-made pictures are based on very basic piecing, heavily embellished with tiny appliqued bits, quilting, embroidery, buttons, beads, miniature toys and many other items that I come across. My colours are bright and cheerful, the designs are simple and the perspective is sometimes a little off. Often, the picture continues, in paint, on a wooden frame. The pictures in my quilts tell a story that is revealed slowly upon viewing. 

Ladies in Yellow Dresses go to the Beach by H. Blanchet, 2011, w25” x h29”.

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

My love affair with textiles began when I was first introduced to embroidery in grade seven. As a teenager, I poured over books on traditional textiles and was particularly drawn to Medieval English story boxes done in thread and stumpwork, describing conquests or everyday life in the Middle Ages. The box featured in this video was particularly inspiring to me and really got me interested in story-telling with a needle.

Eventually, I began appliqueing bits of fabric onto a base layer to create little pictures. When my children were young I made little bed quilts from old clothing, by hand, without a pattern. When I saw my first quilt show in 2006, I was hooked and began making “proper” quilts, still without a pattern. Wanting some feedback on my work, I entered my first National Juried Show in 2007. To my surprise, one of my Amish-style quilts was accepted and won an honourable mention. 

With this encouraging news, I decided I wanted to become an artist. The following year I began deliberately making art quilts, developing new techniques and entering shows. Eventually I joined various quilt guilds and fibre arts groups and immersed myself in fibre arts of all kinds. But still, I just wanted to make my little pictures. The tranquility of the deep woods together with the camaraderie of other women helped build my self-confidence, but it was only last year that I (finally) found the confidence to call myself an artist.

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

My pictures are based on everyday life occurrences or moments that I find particularly funny or inspiring. Often, a title springs to mind first and won’t leave me until I’ve turned it into a picture. I make a rough sketch, build my background and applique the larger elements of the piece. I then heavily quilt it to create a sturdy base for my embellishments. During the slow process of hand-quilting, I think about the details of the piece and take many notes. As I applique tiny bits of detail, the story emerges and becomes more involved. I create more intricate details in thread, buttons, beads, miniature toys, etc. and the story becomes more refined, more complex.

Dirty Hoers (detail) by Hélène Blanchet, 2016.

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

I don’t currently have a studio. We live in a very small cabin, so finding a space to work is a problem. Last winter I rented a nearby cottage to use as a workspace. We have been converting a second cabin on our property into a studio space that will soon be ready. 

We live simply, off the grid and without plumbing, so I’m occasionally slowed by a shortage of water or electricity. Fortunately, my nearest neighbour is also a textile artist and generously allows me to use her space when necessary. 

The Dancing Goat by Hélène Blanchet, 2016, 11” x 11”.

What are you currently working on and why?

When we moved to downtown Calgary four years ago, I began documenting our stay in a series of pieces I’ve called Calgary Days. I have since made nine of an anticipated 15 to 20 pieces. I’ve also begun to make small pictures of Cape Breton to sell through local art galleries.

The Corner, by H. Blanchet, 2016, w16” x h36”.

What are your goals for the coming year?

One of my main focuses for this year, in addition to the Calgary series, is the administrative part of being a professional artist: developing an online presence and finding venues for my first solo show. My work was recently juried into the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design and I am now busy writing proposals for shows, my own and several group exhibits. My solo show, Calgary Days, will launch in the fall of 2017. I am then hoping to have it tour this region for a year, continuing for a second year around Alberta. I also want to stay relevant by creating pieces for regional and national exhibits. 

Do you engage in other artistic or creative endeavors?

I’m an avid gardener. I see my garden as a giant living canvas, which I’m designing with “no straight lines“, à la Hundertwasser. I’m having a grand time sorting out how to do this on a small budget. Resourcefulness, hard work and luck seem to be the key, as they are in my textile work.

On Oyster Pond (detail) by Hélène Blanchet 2012.

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

I love the work of Paul Klee: his compositions, lines and how he painted music. Matisse and Gaugin gave me the confidence to use colour as I want to, without understanding why. Alfred Pellan inspired my use of beads and thread to create textures in buildings and skies. Norval Morrisseau taught me that no matter what life throws your way, you can’t let it break your spirit.

Paul’s Magnificent Treehouse by Hélène Blanchet, 2009, w29” x h39”

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

I’ve admired Pamela Allen’s work for a long time now. I love her free compositions, sense of humour and stories. Anna Hergert has become somewhat of a mentor to me, I admire the way her creative mind works, her generosity of spirit and her contemporary approach to using very traditional techniques from various ethnic groups. I follow Maria Shell’s blog and love her energy and the strong graphic quality of her work. Mathilde René creates simple embroideries from her daily watercolour sketches. They always bring a smile to my face, reminding me of simple everyday pleasures.

Where can readers see your work this year?

Currently, my work is available in three Nova Scotia galleries:
The Sunset Folk Art Gallery, Chéticamp 
The Inverness County Centre for the Arts, Inverness 
The Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, Sydney. 

To learn more about Hélène and her artwork, please visit her gallery page  on the Fibre Art Network.

Susan Lilley's work in Threadworks 2016

Congratulations to Susan Lilley, from Bridgewater, NS, who recently learned that two of her pieces were among 45 that were juried in to Threadworks 2016.

Threadworks is a juried exhibition of exceptional creative needlework stitched by artists from across Canada. The exhibit opened at the Wellington County Museum & Archives, in Fergus Ontario and will tour for two years. The theme for the exhibit was Flashback.

Beckoning by Susan Lilley, 2015, h 29" x w27 "

Beckoning is a reference to Nova Scotia’s historic lighthouses, which have protected seafaring people for centuries and are now at risk of disappearing. The piece was made by repeated hand dyeing, using traditional Japanese itajime shibori method, then cut, pieced, machine quilted and hand embellished.

Modern Music by Susan Lilley, 2015, h 27" x w 22"

Modern Music celebrates recorded music over the past half-century, using motifs suggestive of CDs, 45s and tapes, with colours and pattern reminiscent of the 1960s. It is made from an antique cotton bedsheet repeatedly hand dyed using Japanese itajime shibori method, then cut, pieced, discharged and machine quilted 

Posted by Chris Nielsen.

25 May 2016

Peace by Piece: WWI Commemorative Quilt Project

Peace by Piece, an exhibit of quilts commemorating the First World War, held its grand opening May 14th and 15th in Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The project, honouring the men and women involved in the Great War, was the brainchild of Elsa Flack, president of the Cabot Quilters Guild and SAQA member. 

Nearly two years ago, Elsa and the Guild invited quilters from around the province to create quilt blocks commemorating the province's role in the First World War.

And so they did. Close to 250 quilt blocks were contributed, from all parts of the province and beyond, telling the stories of soldiers, communities and families in 17 magnificent quilted wall hangings.

The project and resulting quilts have been documented in a book published by Boulder Publications, entitled Peace-by-Piece: Quilted Memories of Newfoundland During The Great War. The book contains images of every quilt block, telling it's story as well as the story about the maker's discovery of her own family history connected to the war.

The Guild hopes the exhibition will travel around the province and be seen by many Newfoundlanders. Plans are also underway to see at least some of the quilts travel to France and Ottawa. 

Flack and the Guild are still seeking a final home for the project. If none is found, the quilts will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to a charity supporting veterans.

23 May 2016

What If? by Regina Marzlin, Antigonish, NS

Incoming SAQA Atlantic regional representative Regina Marzlin contributed a lively piece called What If? to the SAQA Benefit Auction.  

What If? by Regina Marzlin, 2016, 12' x 12".

Building on her very successful Spotlight Auction contribution, A Balancing Act, What If? consists of mono-printed and painted fabric combined with hand dyed and commercial cottons, finished with free motion and hand stitching. Regina tells us that she always asks What if? when she works, trying to experiment and push her limits.

Visit Regina Marzlin's website to learn more about her work.

21 May 2016

Only Ten Days Left!

The final deadline for contributing quilts to the SAQA Benefit Auction is June 1st. There may still be time to submit your miniature work of art. 

Outgoing regional representative Christine Nielsen submitted her piece weeks ago. Inspired by CFT, #1 is the first in a series of pieces inspired by a painting by C. Fayette Taylor, scientist and artist.

Inspired by CFT, #1 by Christine Nielsen, 2016, 12" x 12".

Chris Nielsen: I own a painting by C. Fayette Taylor which had been in my parents’ home and now hangs in my bedroom. It's the first thing I see every morning. A while ago, I realized the painting had influenced a lot of my doodling and a couple of my art quilts, so I decided to explore the imagery with a series. This is the first in that series. It was pieced using commercial and hand-dyed cotton fabric, incorporating wool felt and yarn, cotton and rayon threads.

This series has now taken a left turn. My recent explorations are a much less literal interpretation of the painting.

Thanks and best wishes

We are extremely grateful for all Chris has accomplished on our behalf as our Atlantic Canada representative and wish her the best in her new role on the SAQA Board.

Join in the fun!

The Benefit Auction, SAQA’s signature fundraising event, begins September 16! This is your chance to own beautiful, unique art quilts by some of the world’s finest fibre artists. Plus, your purchases help increase the recognition for art quilts and the artists who make them while supporting SAQA’s exhibitions, publications, and education outreach.

Have a look at how the auction works and start viewing the quilts!

06 May 2016

SAQA's 25th Anniversary Trunk Show at Fibrefest 2016, Amherst NS

Water Tower #4 by Heather Dubreuil, Hudson, QC

One of eight collections in the SAQA 25th Anniversary Trunk Show is touring Atlantic Canada, with stops at many guilds and communities throughout 2016. This remarkable collection of 51 small art quilts will be on display at the 2016 Fibre Arts Festival in Amherst NS, October 11 - 15th.

The trunk show was designed to showcase SAQA’s diversity of talent and its mission to “promote the art quilt through education, exhibitions, professional development, documentation, and publications.” 

Each quilt is 10" x 7", mounted on a black 12" x 9" backing, and sealed inside a clear envelope. The artist's location, artwork title, statement and information about techniques and materials are on the back.  

Where: Four Fathers Memorial Library Public Library
             21 Acadia St, Amherst, NS

Oct 11-13 (Tue,Wed,Thurs) 11am-2pm
Oct 14 (Fri) 10am- 5pm
Oct 15 (Sat)10am - 3pm

04 May 2016

Canadian Young Workers Memorial Quilt at Halifax Central Library, May 4th-5th

Laurie Swim’s community-built artwork, Canadian Young Workers Memorial Quilt (LifeQuilt) will be on display at the Halifax Central Library on May 4th and 5th, marking North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) week.

LifeQuilt by Laurie Swim, 2013, h 9' x w 18'.

The 9' x 18' (2.75m x 5.5m) quilted wall hanging contains the stories and photos of 100 young workers, 15-24 years old, killed on the job. It was created during a three-year project involving dozens of volunteers from all over Canada and completed in 2003.

Where: Halifax Central Library
             5440 Spring Garden Road
             Halifax , NS
When:  Wednesday, May 4 to Thursday, May 5, 2016 9am-5pm

Laurie Swim is an award-winning artist living in Lunenburg NS. She has been working with fibre for more that 40 years. 

To read more about Laurie Swim and learn about her current community art project, Hope and Survival, visit her website at www.laurieswim.com

02 May 2016

View both My Corner of the World slideshows, online now

You've Got Mail! by Susan Tilsley Manley, Westville, NS

The two My Corner of the World exhibits -- Canada and All SAQA -- will debut at the Stratford Perth Museum in Stratford, Ontario on May 21st. The show was juried by Micaela Fitzsimmons, Manager of Collections and Exhibits at the museum. Over 80 pieces of artwork, including eight from Atlantic Canada, will be on display. 

If you aren't able to attend, please enjoy online slideshows of the artwork in the two exhibitions:

My Corner of the World (Canada) 
My Corner of the World(All SAQA) 

01 May 2016

Linda Strowbridge's New Chicago in SAQA show

New Chicago (detail) by Linda Strowbridge

SAQA Atlantic Canada member Linda Strowbridge recently got news that her artwork, New Chicago, was juried into the SAQA exhibition Concrete and Grassland. The call for entry asked artists to submit works that explore either the soft lines of nature or the hard lines of urban structures—or a combination of both. The focus was to be on the contrasts of both color and line, and the ways in which the natural world has been altered.

We asked Linda to tell us about her piece.

Moving from tranquil Nova Scotia to the heart of Chicago a few years ago, I felt like I had been catapulted into another world. There were crowds and grit and noise. But there was also architecture – captivating, diverse, boundless architecture. I walked the city, soaking up the features of historic buildings, modern structures, industrial sites, homes with character, and even properties that were falling into rack and ruin. Many of the architectural features I adored were embodied in the city’s bridge tender houses – those tiny structures that contain the mechanisms that operate the lift bridges along the Chicago River. Ornate, historic, modern, decaying and fundamentally industrial, they succinctly depicted this new world that I loved.

New Chicago by Linda Strowbridge, 2015, w 31" x h 48"

What prompted you to enter Concrete and Grassland?

Concrete and Grassland was the the first all-SAQA show that I entered. In fact, Structures was the only SAQA show I had entered previously. When SAQA announced the theme, I was equally delighted (because most of my artwork focuses on the built environment) and terrified (how could I possibly create a worthy entry?). I set out to make entry pieces and, over the next year, wrestled with the full range of excuses of why I shouldn’t enter:

  • the designs weren’t sophisticated
  • the pieces weren’t cohesive 
  • a critique of one, half-constructed, piece drew negative comments, and, finally, 
  • the photography was done in a rush and with all the wrong equipment. (Although that photo session made me a fan of Methuselah lamps – the wildly adjustable lamps with multiple lights on goose necks.)

I quashed each excuse in part because a very close artist friend had asked me if I was entering the show – and asked in that tone of voice which indicated ‘yes’ was the only acceptable answer. I couldn’t imagine telling her I wimped out, so I submitted the entry, figuring at least my entry fee would be a small donation to the work of SAQA.

I was both shocked and totally delighted to receive an acceptance e-mail!

What have you learned from this experience?

The whole experience prompted me to embrace a few new art rules for myself:

  • Don’t just do the work, finish it! At one point, I abandoned New Chicago because I felt it was too flawed to spend time finishing. Digging it back out, deciphering the problems, dismantling and remaking sections taught me a lot.
  • If you have completed, relevant pieces, enter the show! My experience of entering SAQA and non-SAQA shows has proven that I am incapable of predicting jurors’ decisions. So if you have work, take the shot.
  • Pushy art friends who nudge – even catapult – you out of your comfort zone are incredibly valuable people.

To learn more about Linda Strowbridge, visit her website at lindastrowbridgequilts.raystrow.net/