Fabulous in Fibre

Three Peace Area Artists
By Wendy StefanssonGeorge Henn, Where Hope Meets Help, tapestry

George Henn

George Henn became interested in weaving while on a trip to the American southwest. There he saw Navajo people using their simple, portable looms to create traditional blankets. When he returned home, he went out into the bush near his Beaverlodge home, cut down some dried trees, and built his own Navajo-style loom. Since that time, he has taught himself to weave increasingly complex works.

George makes textiles, but primarily he makes tapestries. Tapestries were originally a medium for telling stories, George says; like a comic strip today. They were a sequence of pictures depicting a religious or historical event. People in less literate “Weaving mostly communicates a message.”

George’s Where Hope Meets Help tapestry is a case in point. Handicapped people occupy the foreground beneath the peaked-roof logo of the Family and Community Support Services, for whom the piece was made. Above that are two swans in flight, representing the City of Grande Prairie; and a cluster of buildings representing the idea of a prairie community, a grain elevator, a church, and a log home. Higher still is a tilled prairie landscape backed by mountains and sky. George says the whole piece represents the idea that communities used to do for their members what the FCSS does now.

George admits that “weaving is a solitary pursuit,” but it’s clear that he likes this aspect of it. And although he works alone, through his craft he is participating in a larger conversation. Like the tapestries of old, George’s tapestries tell stories.

Susan Loland, Radiant Christmas, quilting/hand-painted

Susan Loland

Susan Loland feels that her whole life has been leading up to this moment. When Susan first got into quilting about 12 years ago, she did traditional piecework quilts, then moved on to appliqué techniques. Some of her best-loved works in this medium feature a “stained glass” style, with bold outlines and simple, organic shapes. Because these quilts were so popular, Susan taught herself to use design and quilting software to reproduce and share her patterns. Most recently, she learned to paint her own fabrics, giving her latest quilts a delicate, painterly quality. They have the washy look of watercolours, rather than the collaged look of quilts made with found fabrics.

Susan also loves teaching quilting. She sees teaching as an opportunity to support and encourage women in their struggles in life. She shares with them not only her successes, but also her false starts and her challenges, which are all a part of the process. She encourages them to keep working through the difficulties to reach their goals.

“I know that’s what God has for me to do,” she says; “to encourage women and support them through whatever they’re going through. And I get to use all the extra goodies He gave me to do it.”

Susan teaches out of the Patchwork Cottage in Grande Prairie, as well as in several locations in the Okanagan Valley. Her designs and her teaching schedules can be found on her website at www.blackeyedsusandesigns.com.

Sarah Alford, Millefiori Tapestry, hot glue

Sarah Alford

Sarah Alford’s work is not what you typically think of as fibre art. Her background is in jewellery-making; her materials are various. Her techniques include drawing, wrapping, leafing, and papering. Her context is often the landscape outside her home.

When she first arrived in the Peace Country, Sarah was amazed by all the miles of barbed-wire fences. She felt that, like a wedding ring, a fence says “I belong to somebody.” It’s a “promise to tend and nurture.” Sarah wrapped gold wire around sections of fence to give visible form to this idea.

Later, likening the white picket fence around her house in Demmitt to “a dress for the yard,” Sarah took reproduction William Morris wallpaper, and began papering it. The paper, with its repeating floral motif, was like a textile or a tapestry. It was Morris’ attempt to bring natural shapes and subjects into the home, but Sarah has reintroduced it to the outdoors. The place where the handmade and the natural meet, is a place of creative tension and possibility for Sarah.

In another recent work, Millefiori Tapestry, Sarah recreated the repeating patterns of lace, drawing them with hot glue. Piecing together many panels of this glue work, she created a 16 foot long “fabric,” which she took outside and installed along an existing barbed-wire fence. She photographed the piece in all seasons and conditions: embellished by spiders’ webs in the summer, and hoar frost in the fall. Like a lace curtain hung out on the line to dry and never taken in, it became a part of Sarah’s landscape. “It made me think about how people use craft and art and lacemaking, and it was sort of the beginning of the idea of making ourselves at home in the world.” Sarah sees us taking a wilderness that is so foreign and projecting ourselves into it. “We turn it into all these human stories, into a place where we recognize everything.” Sarah is currently working on her Master of Arts in Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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