20 May 2017

The 2017 Grand National Exhibition features three SAQA Atlantic Canada pieces

Congratulations go out to Deb Plestid (Tatamagouche NS), Kate Madeloso (Wolfville NS) and Kathy Tidswell (Burtts Corner NB) each of whom has a quilt in The Grand National. 

This year, the Committee of The Grand National challenged quilters: to create a work of quilt art that captures the essence of their part of Canada – its history, its geography, its cultural diversity, its traditions... reasons for celebrating 150 years of our glorious nation.

This prestigious juried quilt show will be on display until September at the historic Joseph Schneider Haus in Kitchener-Waterloo. 

Deb Plestid's Winter at Balmoral Mills takes Curator's Choice Award

Winter at Balmoral Mills by Deb Plestid, 58" x 37"

DP: Crisp, clear, cold, woefully underrated wonderful white winter. ‘Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver.’ (My country is not a country, it is winter.), Gilles Vigneault.

Curator Susan Burke wrote:

For me, Winter at Balmoral Mills perfectly captures the spirit of the theme Oh! Canada… much as the singer-songwriter Gilles Vigneault has done in his unofficial Quebec anthem, Mon Pays.

Yes, many people world-wide, when they think of Canada, they conjure up the image of a cold, clean, white, winter snowscape, much as quilter artist Deb Plestid has created here.  As the Inuit have many words in their language for snow, so too has Plestid called upon a full vocabulary of quilted shapes to render a pristine drift of snow otherwise unmarred but for the long shadows of a pair of impatient snow shoes.  The viewer is quickly transported into the scene and the imagination races in anticipation of the wintery adventures that lie ahead…Oh! Canada.

Kate Madeloso - Home is on the Sea Ice

Home is on the Sea Ice by Kate Madeloso, 24" x 21"
KM: To the indigenous people of Canada, the polar bear is known as Nanuk - wise, powerful and almost human. This iconic sea animal is a source for stories, art and identity, as well as food and clothing for northern communities.

Ringed and bearded seals are the polar bear's main diet. Bears can detect seals' breathing holes up to a kilometer away.

This 'rider of icebergs' depends on habitat quality for survival. The loss of sea ice is a red flag to the current climate trend on our planet.

See more of Kate Madeloso's work on her blog.

Kathy Tidswell - My Peaceful Oasis

My Peaceful Oasis by Kathy Tidswell, 27" x 21"

KT: Early each morning I walk on the Trans Canada trail, steps away from my home in rural New Brunswick. Breathing the fresh air, I see wildflowers, majestic pines and an unpolluted river, and may catch a glimpse of fox, deer, an eagle and perhaps a person or two.

While travelling last spring in London and Bruges, I felt overwhelmed by the crowds. Relieved to return to my peaceful oasis, thankfulness for my special part of Canada inspired this work featuring 5 hand painted and thread painted ovals depicting sites from my walk.

See more of Kathy Tidswell's work on her website.

09 May 2017

A great experience: the SAQA “Creation to Curation” conference in Lincoln, Nebraska

(Photo credits and some writing credits: Maggie Vanderweit)

Regina Marzlin, our SAQA-Atlantic Canada Representative has just returned from her first SAQA conference, this year held in Lincoln Nebraska. Here is her enthusiastic report:

RM: The conference was a great success by all accounts. Really great fun, learning and networking. The Canadians there: Bethany Garner, Judy Martin and Maggie Vanderweit (all from Ontario), Jaynie Himsl (from Saskatchewan), Paulette Cornish (British Columbia), our own Christine Nielsen (SAQA board member, Nova Scotia) took many opportunities to connect. Here we are at breakfast, with instructions to be “goofy" for the photo!

Back row: Maggie Vanderweit, Regina Marzlin, Chris Nielsen, Jaynie Himsl, Judy Martin.
Front row: Paulette Cornish and Bethany Garner.

Regional representatives enjoyed two days of pre-conference workshops and tours. Led by the warm and wonderful Desiree Vaughn, Candace Phelan and others, we shared ideas for strengthening regions by building strong “pods” or "local connections” within large regions. This would mean that members in a local area could develop their autonomous self-directed group and benefit from SAQA’s amazing support and resources. 

So, we are always looking out for and appreciative of your ideas and initiatives to further that mandate. SAQA is about building community for art quilters and this means supporting each other in regular local meetings where possible. It can also mean exhibitions, retreats and zoom conference calls to include more distant members. We also learned about inspiring leadership, regional exhibitions, and getting grants for regional endeavours. 

Regional representatives, hard at work during pre-conference meetings.

Then, at the actual conference, we enjoyed 20 quick Lightning Talks on a huge variety of subjects. We had break-out sessions, panel discussions with Midwest artists and students from the local Textile and Fashion Department. I attended two workshops. One, presented by staff of the International Quilt Study Center, looked at the information we can gain from looking closely at both historical and contemporary quilts. In the second workshop, Candace Phelan helped us hone our presentation skills and "elevator talk”.

The executive and board shared great ideas and expressed their gratitude for our growing community. The hotel had a huge open indoor lobby where we all met for some meals and happy hour.

 Here’s a view of the hotel lobby from the 7th floor.

We had the chance to see all the new trunk show pieces in our SAQA Hospitality room during the conference.

2017 SAQA Trunk Show pieces on display in the hospitality room

We visited the Deeply Rooted show and the nearby Sheldon Museum Gallery- both wonderful. We also spent a whole day at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, a must see venue for anyone. We enjoyed their great archives as well as the current shows: Luke Haynes' log cabins (pictured below), Linda Colsh’s “Like Breath on Glass", a Japanese collection and SAQA’s “Layered Voices” exhibition.

Luke Haynes' log cabin quilts at the IQSCM

Michael James' department tour
Visiting the UNL’s textile/fashion building where Michael James is head of department was such a treat too. Having him give tours and talk about his work there was pretty special.

Michael James was also our keynote speaker. He shared his journey as a ground breaking art quilter. His latest exhibition “Ambiguity and Enigma” draws from his experiences as primary caregiver for his wife, as she moved through the stages of early onset Alzheimers. It was incredibly moving. He also included some amazing quotes in his talk.

The silent auction this year raised over $13,000. Thank you so much to all of you who contributed your fabulous work!

Conference delegates bidding on the 2017 Spotlight Auction

SO HERE IS THE HUGE NEWS: the SAQA board, staff and executive director have chosen TORONTO as the 2020 venue for the first conference to be held outside the USA. This is a huge honour and vote of confidence for Canada. SAQA-Central Canada representative Maggie Vanderweit will chair the local organizing committee. I'm confident that she will do a great job, and we hope that all Canadian members will work together to create an event to remember and make us all prouder than ever to be Canadian art quilters!

Next year's SAQA conference will be in San Antonio, Texas, April 3-8 2018 and the 2019 conference will be in San Jose California - both fabulous destinations. I hope many of you will consider attending one of these. SAQA conferences are a unique opportunity to meet your favourite art quilt rock stars, make friends and celebrate being an art quilter.

I would like to acknowledge Arts Nova Scotia's financial support in awarding me a professional development grant to go to the conference.

28 April 2017

Laurie Swim creates Time Goes By

You'll enjoy this timelapse video, by Teresa MacInnes and Kent Nason, of Lunenburg artist Laurie Swim creating "Time Goes By”. A nine-months process condensed into a 4-minute video!

Time Goes By from Teresa MacInnes on Vimeo.

See more of Laurie Swim's work on her website

13 April 2017

Linda Finley interview: Illustrator and storyteller

String Theory by Linda Finley (2008) 36"x42"
Textile/mixed media artist Linda Finley creates magnificently detailed art quilts from her home in Bear Cove, a small community looking onto the approaches to Halifax Harbour.

Linda’s eclectic body of artwork evolves in response to social and environmental concerns and her ever changing interests. Her work is focussed on textiles, with print, paint, and occasional sculptural elements sometimes interjecting. Whichever the medium, Linda’s work demonstrates her passion for line, colour, and above all, story. 

Her academic background—in biology, mathematics and theatre—is also sometimes evident. Over the years, Linda has made quilts that tell stories of such complex issues as HIV/AIDS in Africa and the desertification of the Aral Sea, without becoming sombre.

In this interview, Linda Finley talks about her journey into textile art and shares her process for creating award-winning artwork.

How would you describe your work?

I think of myself as an illustrator and storyteller. I occasionally create pieces just for fun, but more often my pieces explore important issues. In spite of the sometimes unpleasant stories they tell, I aim to make them visually appealing.

I generally use appliqué to illustrate the stories, most often fused and applied with a hand stitch called the Armenian edge stitch. This technique allows me to create more detailed images. The backgrounds are usually densely hand quilted, providing a feel and texture that I just can’t achieve with machine stitch.

We Are All African by Linda Finley (2010) 48”x 62”

What was your journey towards becoming an artist working with textiles?

I seem to have been born with a pencil in hand and an uncanny ability to use it. I drew and painted intuitively at a very young age. Even so, neither my parents nor the school system encouraged my desire to become an artist, so at age 17 I headed off to university to study theatre, later transferring to biology and mathematics, eventually acquiring a PhD in biology.

I took up quilting as a creative outlet while raising three young children in a small Toronto flat, to avoid polluting their environment with oil, paints and mediums. Textiles were just beginning to be recognized as a valid artistic medium and I very quickly saw their potential to contribute an immediacy and emotional impact not usually achieved with paint.

Hour Glass Figure by Linda Finley (2012) 30”x31”

When we moved back to Halifax and I had more work space, I tried
making pictorial quilts for my children. One of these was accepted into Quilt Canada. Buoyed by this success, I made an appliqué piece comparing the artwork of the Celts with that of the North west coast indigenous peoples, having noticed that the artwork of the two cultures is astonishingly similar. The finished piece, Ash and Cedar, was also accepted into Quilt Canada, travelled as part of that exhibition to Japan, and was later accepted into the AQS show in Paducah Kentucky.

And so I had found my medium!

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 initial inspiration can come from the news, travel, dreams; almost anywhere. It’s often just an inkling of an idea, and that’s when the work really starts. I do a lot of research, reading widely to improve my understanding of the subject matter and for visual cues. I make sketches, twisting the idea inside and out. And so the initial idea evolves, acquiring substance and a  strong visual reality. This research stage can be fairly quick or can take several months or even years. Much as I would like to, I can’t rush it. When I eventually get the "aha" moment, I feel an almost physical relief. I can then make a cartoon of the piece and begin to audition fabrics, which may be commercial, repurposed, or increasingly, cloth I’ve dyed or screen-printed myself.

I next create the applique images and let the piece sit for a time on the design wall, moving the images around on the background, or changing them up. Once satisfied, I stitch the piece together with dense hand quilting. Paint, print work, embellishments or text might be added at any stage in the process.

Carnaval des animaux (work in progress)

Carnaval des animaux (work in progress)

Carnaval des animaux (based on the work of Camille Saint Saens)
 by Linda Finley (2014) 30”x30

What are you currently working on and why?

Ships of the Desert by Linda Finley 30”x48" 
I’m about to tackle an unfinished piece about the desecration of the once abundant herds of white rhino in Africa. This very challenging piece has been sitting on my wall for nearly two years. I have a strong commitment to finishing it because I care deeply about the subject matter and because I owe its resolution to a loved and absent friend. It will, I hope, become the second in a series called Vanished, the first of which was Ships of the Desert, a piece about the desertification of the Aral Sea.

What are your goals for the coming year?

I hope to create several pieces for upcoming shows and to prepare a solo show for 2018.

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

I have always enjoyed art history. There are very few artists that don't offer me pleasure, inspiration and an understanding of the value of art in defining what it is to be human.

Canadian indigenous art is my very favourite. Kenojuak Ashevak and Daphne Odjig have an almost heart stopping effect on me.

I am a huge fan of Freidenrich Hundertwasser. My first encounter with his powerful work literally took my breath away.

Surrealist Remedios Varo, one of the original inner circle of Surrealism, has long been a favourite. Printmaker Karen Kunc continually astonishes me. I am also deeply touched by the powerful prints and drawings of Kathe Kollwitz. 

What fibre artists are you interested in, and why?

I especially admire the work of Betty Goodwin and Louise Bourgeois, who have unapologetically demonstrated the value and beauty of domestic textiles. I also adore the touching simplicity of Janet Bolton's little fibre masterpieces.

Dorothy Caldwell continues to astonish me with her mark making masterpieces, as do Junko Oki, Jude Hill, and the wonderful Peruvian tapestry maker, Maximo Laura.

Dollmaker Kate Church’s characters enchanted me at first sight. They make my heart sing. My list could go on and on.

The Habituation of Mr. Morris by Linda Finley (2012) 38" x 47"

Do you treat art like a job, going to the studio each day at a particular time?

I don’t arrive in my studio at 9:00 a.m. every day, but I do put in the
hours and turn up most days whether or not I feel motivated. I find that work inspires art. Sometimes just having the fabric, sketch book or crayons in my hands will push me in the right direction. The most difficult thing has been acknowledging that the time for thinking, reading and planning is not time wasted.

How do you show and sell your quilts? Where can your work be seen?

I enter group shows when the opportunity presents and have sold work as a result. I am learning, through SAQA, to be more of a promoter and business person. My web site is a work in progress. I am also learning (after much resistance) the value of social media.

I recently took up a challenge to post my work on Facebook for six consecutive days. It turned out to be a most positive experience! I was surprised by the pleasure I experienced at having an audience for my work and overwhelmed by the support I received.


Watch for more of Linda Finley’s work on social media. A complete portfolio can be found on her blog, Kite Borne-Threads

07 April 2017

Monoprinting Workshop with Holly McLean in Port Elgin, NB on May 13th, 2017

SAQA Atlantic Canada member Holly McLean, from Bathurst NB, is a regular contributor to Quilting Arts Magazine. She describes her upcoming workshop: 

HM: Monoprinting, or making one-of-a-kind prints on fabric or paper, has been around for centuries. In this one-day workshop we will use a pre-made gelatin mold (recipe will be supplied) as our printing surface. We will roll the paint onto the mold, add textures, and then print onto white cotton. 

Many things can be used to make interesting textures: pressed leaves and flowers, bubble wrap, lace, empty spools, grids from berry containers, craft foam, etc.

Participants will select one monoprint to work with, adding batting, hand stitching and embellishment. This sample can later (at home) be incorporated into a small project such as a sewing kit, as featured in Quilting Arts Magazine, October/November 2016.

The class fee of $60 will include paints and foam to make stamps.

For further information or to reserve your space please e-mail me at hollymclean5(AT)gmail.com

Looking forward to seeing you in Port Elgin on May 13th!

05 April 2017

Call for entry for third SAQA Atlantic regional show: Transitions

SAQA Atlantic Canada is excited to announce our third regional juried show, curated by Heather Loney. The theme for the show, Transitions, can be interpreted in a wide range of styles and techniques, from abstract to pictorial, from monochromatic to colourful, perhaps showing a metamorphosis, a passage in time, alteration or evolution through surface design and stitching.

Deadline for entry:  December 31, 2017

Linda Finley's Ships of the Desert (w30” by h48") was awarded Best of Show
in SAQA Atlantic's last regional show, Structures.

Premiere Location: 

  • Craig Gallery, Alderney Landing, Dartmouth NS, April 2018

Additional venues to date (more to come):

  •  Inverness Centre for the Arts, NS, October 2018
  •  Art Centre Saint John NB, January / February 2019 

Elizabeth Whalley is a Canadian artist living and working in Quebec, Nova Scotia and New York. She has exhibited widely and created many projects in New York including work for the TD Bank’s Art for Trees, Flux Factory, and Galapagos Artspace. She was awarded a Canada Council travel grant, a McNair Scholars research grant, and a Pratt faculty grant. She received her MFA and an Advanced Certificate (PIMA) from Brooklyn College after studies at Concordia University, Montreal. She has taught at Adelphi University, Haverford College, Pratt Institute, Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art, and Brooklyn College. She is currently Director of the Inverness County Centre for the Arts, Inverness, NS.

Read all the details in the online entry form and guidelines.

Please note that this call for entry is for SAQA Atlantic members exclusively. Not a member? You can join SAQA here!

31 March 2017

Deb Plestid's Fiddleheads welcome spring!

Congratulations to Deb Plestid, of Tatamagouche, NS, whose quilt Fiddleheads graced the inside cover of the latest SAQA Journal.

Fiddleheads by Deb Plestid w26" x h39"

DP: A blueprint for spring, a green delicacy found on riverbanks, needing only the sun's warmth to expose a structure of immense complexity hidden in the fiddlehead, each compact spiral unfurls to become a fern of intricate design.

27 March 2017

Fibre Arts Retreat, Annapolis Royal: September 29th to October 1st, 2017

Looking for a wonderful fibre-filled weekend get-away in the birthplace of Canada? The Society of Fibre Artists of the Annapolis River (SOFAAR) is offering just such an event this fall from September 29th to October 1st.

Queen Anne Inn, Annapolis Royal

Come spend a luxurious weekend at the Queen Anne Inn in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. Work on your own project, visit the Historic Gardens and farmer’s market and explore the historic region. 

Included in the weekend is a private guided tour of the Fort Anne tapestry, a reception and viewing of the SOFAAR O Canada exhibit, and a catered dinner at the Queen Anne Inn.

Prices and other details are available on the SOFAAR website.

23 March 2017

Spotlight on Christine Nielsen

Moving On by Christine Nielsen, Head of St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia

Have a look at Moving On, another contribution to the 2017 SAQA Spotlight AuctionCreation to Curation 

Moving On by Chris Nielsen

CN: I am on a journey from the woods to the fields. All is well that ends well.

Read more about Chris Nielsen and her many interests on her blog, A Galloping Cat.

20 March 2017

Spotlight on Sandra Betts

Ice Fishing Shacks on the River by Sandra Betts of Saint John New Brunswick

Ice Fishing Shacks on the River is Sandra Betts' contribution to Creation to Curation, the 2017 SAQA Spotlight Auction.

Ice Fishing Shacks on the River by Sandra Betts

Read more about Sandra and her artwork in our 2016 interview: Art as Catharsis and Therapy.

17 March 2017

Anne Morrell Robinson and Diane Borsato collaborate for exhibit at Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery

Self-titled, by Anne Morrell Robinson and Diane Borsato, 2017. w6 'x h4'

AMR: This quilt is a third collaborative piece I've made with Toronto-based contemporary artist Diane Borsato. It features the title of her upcoming one-night installation at Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery, a quote by Ikebana Sogetsu founder Teshigahara Sofu, in which he imagines making arrangements in another, very different world. 

Diane developed the concept and chose the fabric. I turned it into a quilt. The piece uses Asian fabrics, traditional piecing and appliqué techniques and hand quilting.

Borsato will work with members of the Japanese flower arranging (Ikebana) community in Vancouver to develop The Moon Is Often Referred To As a Dead, Barren World, But I Think This Is Not Necessarily The Case. The event takes place 6-9pm, Saturday, March 25, 2017.

Read more about Anne Morrell Robinson on her website, Kingross Quilts

15 March 2017

Laurie Swim's 2017 workshop schedule is out!

Two-day workshop: Picture it in Fabric

$230 + tax
Dates: July 15-16
This workshop is an introduction to creating a painterly representation in fabric. Participants will create a Cape-style house and a landscape to set it in, exploring a range of techniques and possibilities in fibre and thread. Demonstrations of techniques, discussions of approaches to solutions, and suggestions on how to finish and mount fabric art will also be covered.
Level: Intermediate to advanced

One-day workshop: Blossom Time

$125 + tax
Date: July 22

What better way to celebrate the seasons than with creating an apple tree or a maple tree in fabric in all their glory to enjoy year round? I have designed a pattern that will do just that and also includes learning a few innovative sewing techniques along the way. Spring or autumn scene? You choose. Level: Introductory to intermediate

One-day workshop: Tips and Tricks for Art Quilts   

$125 + tax
Date: August 20
This workshop explores techniques for achieving different effects for sewing creative landscapes. This includes free-motion machine embroidery and several methods of appliqué. Participants should complete a charming and attractive booklet of 7–8 sample pieces (7”x 7”) for future reference by the end of the day.
Level: All levels

Five-day workshop: From Start to Finish 

$575 + tax.
Dates: September 11-15
In this workshop, the participant will start by learning a number of techniques to design and create an original artwork referencing their own personal photos or drawings. Throughout the week, individual instruction and guidance in class will provide enough knowledge to finish the project on your own if need be. Finishing and mounting your fabric art will also be covered.
Level: Intermediate to advanced

All workshops will be held in Lunenburg, NS. Included in each workshop will be a talk in my gallery about the works on display.
Class size limited to 6–8 students.

Three sewing machines are available for rent if needed. If you would like one, please reserve at time of registration.

To register, please call Larry at 1-877-272-2220 or email: swim@ican.net

14 March 2017

Spotlight on Kristi Farrier

Testing the Water #1 by Kristi Farrier of Middle River, Cape Breton (NS)

Testing the Water #1 by Kristi Farrier
Here's what Kristi has to say about her contribution to the 2017 SAQA Spotlight Auction:

KF: The piece speaks to the river of creativity that is unleashed when we shake off perceived limitations.

Read more about Kristi Farrier on her recent artist interview, or check out her blog, Mirth365, and Instagram account. 

23 February 2017

SAQA Spotlight Auction 2017 - Hélène Blanchet

The Creation to Curation Spotlight Auction is an opportunity for all SAQA members to have their work showcased at the 2017 SAQA Conference in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Members are encouraged to donate small art quilts (6"x8"), which will be sold through a silent auction at the conference banquet. All proceeds will be used to benefit SAQA's exhibition programs.

The deadline for filling in the online artist participation form has been extended to March 15, 2017. It's not too late to get involved.

Hélène Blanchet's piece is our first featured entry from Atlantic Canada.

The Cabin No 2, by Hélène Blanchet of Margaree Valley, NS

The Cabin No 2 by Hélène Blanchet, w6" x h8"

HB: This is a little picture of where we live, in the spring.This view of our home is sort of my muse, like Cezanne's Mount Ste Victoire. I have another small piece showing the same view in autumn. 

Read more about Hélène Blanchet and her artwork in a recent SAQA Atlantic artist interview.

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.

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.


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.


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