Thursday, July 20, 2006

The art of quilting

By Tanya Foubert
Wednesday July 19, 2006

Barbara West stands in front of her quilt called Myths of our Time: Intelligent Design, which won the National Award of Excellence for innovative quilts from the Canadian Quilters Association.
Tanya Foubert
Canmore Leader — The story goes that a well-known scientist was giving a public lecture on astronomy. The talk went through the planets and how they orbit the sun and in turn the sun orbits our galaxy.

When the scientist, who some say was Bertrand Russell, finished, a little old lady says to him: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”

The professor surprised by such a remark wittily retorts: “What is the tortoise standing on?”

“You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” says the lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

Looking at a work of art created by Barbara West one sees this story, told in the beginning chapter of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, brought to life.

Eight colourful giant Galapagos island tortoises sit one on top of the other balanced by a cane on either side.

At the top the earth sits precariously balanced on the back of an orange-shelled turtle.

At almost seven feet tall the piece is not done in a traditional artistic medium; it is a quilt.

Called Myths of our Time: Intelligent Design, the quilt recently won West the National Award of Excellence for Innovative Quilts from the Canadian Quilters Association.

“I thought it would be kind of interesting to poke some fun at it,” West says of the intelligent design debate.

West’s creations are works of art that come out of her love for quilting. She says she thinks through what she is trying to say with each one and that part of her goes into them.

“When I put my art out there I have to let it speak for itself,” West says. “I feel that in some ways I am exposing some personal heart of myself through my art and it’s available in a way I usually wouldn’t speak about.”
The artistic quilt also won an award here in Canmore at the annual juried exhibition for the Canmore Artists and Artisans Guild.

It won second prize for the people’s choice award this spring.

“There were a lot of different media in that particular show,” says Terry Southwood with the guild. “I just thought it was very well done, very imaginative.

“The quilting group in Canmore does some very imaginative stuff. Not what you would traditionally think of as quilts.”

The Mountain Cabin Quilters Guild in the valley promotes the original aspects of quilt making West is so good at. This includes the annual Vision show, which is an exhibit of art quilts in Canmore. West was one of the founding members after she began quilting in the early ‘90s.

Needlework was something she says her mother taught her when she was young. She gave it up to pursue a career and thought that she could never be an artist. Then when she moved to the valley in 1989 she began searching for things to do.

A conference looking at women’s definitions of their roles in society today brought quilting to her attention.

She says that a woman had brought a healing quilt friends had made while she had breast cancer.

“I started thinking about the whole process of quilting. From there I never looked back,” West says.

After a short while traditional block quilting started to get boring for West who wanted to try something different and more creative.

What makes a quilt non-traditional, says West, can be how its put together or its colour or it can be something that is not quilting at all.

In 2003 West won the same award for innovative quilting for another quilt one would not expect to be a quilt.

“The first time I thought it was a fluke,” she modestly says. “They probably made a mistake or something but (the second) time I felt good.”

The first quilt to win is called Mandalas of Science: Thalassicolla Pelagica. It shows a form of plankton drawn by Ernst Haeckel in Radiolarien during 1862.

That quilt also went to the World Quilt Conference in Japan in 2004.

In the same year West won the prize for innovative small quilt for a piece she made for her daughter Robin before she was to move away to go to school.

During a family trip to France during her last year in high school Robin fell in love with the art of Picasso. The quilt became, after much thought and work, a cozy Picasso rendition.

West’s passion pushes her to continue to try different things all the time and to learn new techniques.
Right now she is taking a course from a textile art school in London England.

She says quilting is her passion and although the administration side of her success is a bit time consuming she has no plans to stop creating her art.


At 11:13 AM, Blogger Boo Friedmann said...

What a great blog! I loved this story and passed it to many of my friends. Beautiful!

boo friedmann



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