Categories: Arts & Culture

Crafts and war at art gallery

Art pieces created by the St. Albert paper making guild on display at Art Gallery of St. Albert.

A river runs through this month’s Guilded show on the lower level of the St. Albert Art Gallery and upstairs, in tribute to the memories of November, there is Blood, Toil, Tears.

St. Albert guild members have this month to show their wares, whether they be made of paper, flowers, fibre, clay or paint. The result is an eclectic mix of art, with lots to see. The exhibit features the members of the St. Albert Place Visual Arts Council, who for the most part toil away in the studios back behind the library. Now their art is on display.

Upstairs, the works are disturbingly honest representations of the artists’ emotions about war, and here too, the art is nontraditional with sculptures made from scraps of military collectibles, photos taken by a photographer who was embedded in Afghanistan and a quilt that is anything but cuddly.

With the theme A river runs through most of the works in the Guilded show pay at least a passing tribute to the Sturgeon River. It’s a tactile looking exhibit, because for the most part, these are works made by craftsmen, so though it’s prohibited, the urge to touch is strong.

The touchy feely urge is strongest at the sight of Rachelle LeBlanc’s wee sculpture, titled First Steps. The figure is the size of a one-year-old girl, complete with pigtails. She was made, like a three-dimensional tapestry rug, by hooking hand-dyed strips of wool. The woolen tot is eerily human-looking as she skips her way down a path, which perhaps is beside the river.

To make First Steps, LeBlanc unraveled every thread in order to punch it through the form she had made from a dressmaker’s pattern. Some 32 pieces went into making the baby.

“My goal was to make her so you couldn’t see any seams. The butterflies signify transformation as she steps out into the world,” LeBlanc said.

Memory quilt

Members of the quilters guild made a collaborative piece this year to remember Janet Anderson, who, in 1980, was one of the founders of the guild. The quilt features spiralling stitches that circle around the quilt with words such as “grandmother, friend, mother and auntie.”

“At Janet’s funeral, the minister talked about how everyone’s lives touch and our lives touch in circles. We wanted to show how her life as mother and nurse and friend touched us all and in turn how our lives touch others,” said guild member Dianne Betton.

There’s a similar circling, layering effect on Tom Steele’s acrylic painting Sturgeon River at Big Lake. Fire-engine-red paint may be seen as the river shoreline that swirls around the sunken waters of blue Big Lake. Like a surveyor’s map, it’s contoured, yet what does all that red mean? Is the painting that disturbing colour because Steele is alarmed at the state of the waters? Is it the red of a sunset? Or is it the colour of his warm love for the location? Most intriguing, if you took off the title of this painting, and put it in another gallery in another place, the abstract blood red colour could elicit stronger emotions that have nothing to do with the placid old Sturgeon River.

Circle on through the gallery and you come to the paper guild members’ huge depiction of the Sturgeon, made entirely from paper and twigs. The water is made from squares of blue/grey paper and the baskets hanging from the little trees are made from pulp.

“We wanted to showcase all our techniques. It’s made entirely of natural organic materials and we wanted to show the connection of paper to wood,” said guild member Deirdre Allen, as she explained that guild members attended a workshop on Japanese paper making techniques.

“The paper is made from the inner bark of Japanese trees, which have a really long fibre. The fibres are long and strong. We boiled the fibres in soda ash and that left us with a soft bark. Then we beat it to break down the fibre.”

The work, which stretches along one entire wall of the gallery, is a scene of sorts. It’s abstracted so that at one moment you see hints of aboriginal-styling that are somehow reminiscent of birch-bark baskets. Then as you look at it another way, it’s like a modern snapshot of the willow-edged shoreline of the Sturgeon River as it appears in the autumn of 2016.

War remembered

Imagine tucking down behind the enemy lines, perhaps in a trench, with a quilt like Barbara Todd’s Security Blanket, and you might feel uneasy.

Looking at this work on loan from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts you can see many references to history. There is the Lone-Star reference and then of course, there are the depictions of nuclear armaments that march their way around the quilted square.

“The Lone Star is a traditional commemorative quilting pattern so it references that part of history. It’s also made from men’s suits. But there is the irony of the armaments and national security,” said curator Jenny Wilson McGrath.

Guilded: A river runs through, runs until November 26. Blood, Toil, Tears runs until December 3.

The Art Gallery of St. Albert (780-460-4310) is located at 19 Perron Street.

Susan Jones: Susan Jones has been a freelance writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2009, following a 20-year career at the St. Albert Gazette. Susan writes about homes, gardens, community events and people.