Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

How to Stitch a Song: A Kingston Symphony Orchestra project

Monday, September 10th, 2018

Last year, in 2017, I was invited by Evan Mitchell, the Musical Director of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, to create a suite of three wall hangings inspired by a special performance of classic music pieces, all of which incorporated birdsong. This project was so well received that Director Mitchell approached me once again this year with a new challenge: to use as inspiration four selected Strauss art songs.

Not one to resist an intriguing exercise, I accepted with pleasure! And thus began my six-month journey with Richard Strauss.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

A quick look at some of the links and information revealed that all four songs refer to death and renewal in some way, two of them composed at a time when the great artist was contemplating the end of his creative life.

I wondered about working with such a dark subject. Director Mitchell explained that “between the idea and imagery of renewal through the night and the optimism of tomorrow, there is a real cycle of evening through morning: a connection to the earth with our own progression of life. In the order they are to be performed, they go from openness, to existentially meditative, to intimately optimistic.”  What a beautiful way to approach life’s natural cycles! Because I’m working almost exclusively with the circular form lately, I was delighted that circles and spirals would suit the theme of death and renewal spectacularly well.

So… I listened (over and over), I read (different translations, history, conductors’ notes), poured myself a glass or two and began sketching. After some trial and error, I began to get a feel for the cadence of the music, the position of the voice within the piece, and the sounds of the instruments. From the best coloured sketches I developed small stitched trials. As I worked on them I noticed how well the rhythmic sound of the sewing machine and the repeated stitches matched the musical notes as they played. They looked good. The size and shape of the final versions practically chose themselves.

With these four pieces, the Great Strauss shares his graceful embrace of the progress of time, and his respect for life’s portentous passages. Working on the imagery drew me closer to the positive symbolism of the Circle: that in all of life, nature and art, there no such thing as a full stop. As with my previous project with the Orchestra, each piece took on its own unique imagery and style, enhancing my appreciation of the music.

These four framed textiles as well as other related works will be on display on the day of the Concert on October 21st at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, Ontario.

Here are the images! I’ve included the music for each, and the poem that inspired it. Enjoy!

An die Nacht (To the Night) – hear the SONG

To the Night 16×16″

The visuals for this piece were clear from the beginning: darkness dimming the bright colours of a passionate life. I accomplished this effect by using black sheer fabric arching over one side of the circle. I was surprised to note that the intensity of the dark side changes dramatically when viewed from different angles, very appropriate. On the dark side grow white spruces, and flowers on the light, as this might also read as the movement of the seasons. The leaf shapes mark the passage of time.

Out of the forest steps Night,
Out of the trees she softly steals,
Looks around her in a wide arc,
Now beware..

All the lights of this world,
All flowers, all colors
She extinguishes, and steals the sheaves
From the field.

She takes everything that is dear,
Takes the silver from the stream,
and from the Cathedral’s copper roof,
She takes the gold.

The bushes are left, stripped naked,
Come closer, soul to soul;
Oh, I fear that the night will also steal
You from me.
by Hermann von Gilm

 

Beim Schlafengehen (At Bedtime) – hear the SONG

Falling Asleep 16×16″

For this one, the concept of letting go, along with the idea of a soul returning to its home with the stars were the main inspirations. The beginning and the end come back to the same spot in the circle, flowing onward into eternity.

Now that day has exhausted me
I give myself over, a tired child,
to the night and to my old friends, the stars:
my watchful guardians, quiet and mild.

Hands – let everything go.
Head – stop thinking.
I am content to follow
where my senses are sinking.

Into the darkness, I swim out free:
Soul, released from all your defenses,
enter the magic, sidereal circle
where the gathering of souls commences.
by Hermann Hesse

 

Im Abendroth (Into Sunset)- hear the SONG

Sunset 16×16″

For this piece I couldn’t help but respond to the sentimentality of the words. Strauss refers to his beloved wife when he portrays an ageing couple at the end of their lives together. They admire a setting sun after traveling from busy, complex early years to the womb-like warmth of old age. The trill of larks can be heard in the instrumentation, marking their path.

We have passed through sorrow and joy,
walking hand in hand.

Now we need not seek the way:
we have settled in a peaceful land.

The dark comes early to our valley,
and the night mist rises.
Two dreamy larks sally
forth: our souls’ disguises.

We let their soaring flight delight
us, then, overcome by sleep
at close of day, we must alight
before we fly too far, or dive too deep.

The great peace here is wide and still
and rich with glowing sunsets:
If this is death, having had our fill
of getting lost, we find beauty, no regrets.
by Joseph von Eichendorff

 

Morgen (Tomorrow)- hear the SONG

Tomorrow 16×16″

In Director Mitchell’s own words, “Morgen (Tomorrow) has such an unbelievably explicit beauty that one can’t help but feel as though it isn’t an end but a new beginning.” The sweet harp/piano notes of this piece along with the imagery of beach and sky reminded me of quiet, dreamy steps along the shore in the morning. I decided to enhance this effect with repeated elements like circles and leaves, alternating with frothy surf against pale marine blue.

Tomorrow again will shine the sun
And on my sunlit path of earth
Unite us again, as it has done,
And give our bliss another birth…
The spacious beach under wave-blue skies
We’ll reach by descending soft and slow,
And mutely gaze in each other’s eyes,
As over us rapture’s great hush will flow.
by John Henry MacKay

Our Jesuit Pear – A living Love Note from the past

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

I grew up on a cash crop farm in South Western Ontario, complete with a small orchard of peaches, cherries, plums and pears. Whenever I see a row of fruit trees, I feel a rush of nostalgia for my childhood.

Small Orchard #1   2016   10X30″ framed textile

My father would not contemplate life without them and now I know why – the urge to plant fruit trees may well be genetic. My French ancestors, who colonized the area which constitutes the Canadian/American border at Windsor and Detroit in the 1700’s, were the first settlers to plant fruit trees in Ontario, following earlier plantings by Samuel de Champlain at Annapolis Royal some time around 1610 (thank you for that, Heather!).

With them, they brought everything they needed, generously bestowed by the beloved French King Louis XV. This included equipment, seed, trees, and animals. Nothing but the best for the new colony! Jesuit missionaries, who were great travelers, planted fruit tree pips wherever they went. But the one defining tree was the Pear – every original French farm along the Detroit River had its share, as an epicurean connection to the home country. These trees were later called Jesuit or Mission Pears.

A couple of years ago I was invited back to my home town of Chatham as keynote speaker for the release of a video about local Heritage trees. At the event, I was surprised to learn that a few Jesuit Pears still survive in small pockets on both sides of the Detroit River. What?! Pear trees that are 250 years old? Impossible!

Enter childhood neighbour and passionate local historian, Dan Peltier, who offered to take me around and introduce me in person to three old timers on the Canadian side.

The famous Iler Road Pear, mother of hundreds!

We toured through the rich farmlands, sideroads and hidden driveways of Essex County to find these silent matriarchs. Never have I seen such big pear trees – in their present form they are diminished due to the vagaries of time but it’s easy to see that in their heyday, at over 60 ft in height, they might have given the local oaks and elms a run for their money. Jesuit Pears take 20 years to mature to fruit, so needless to say that, along with their discouraging height, they are not sought after in the modern orchard. However, the generous and reliable fruit, though small, is spicy and sweet, and the tree is resistant to pests. These characteristics make it a worthy addition to any breeding program. At the Harrow Research Station, 16 Jesuit pear clones are being preserved in the Gene Bank.

Martin Gadsby, Research Technician at the Harrow Research station in front of cloned Jesuit Pears.

In subsequent research, I learned something else: one early 19th Century farmer in Detroit planted an orchard of 12, which later became known as ‘The Twelve Apostles’. The tree designated as Judas was set a bit apart from the others. Scroll forward to Detroit in the 40’s: there was a ceremony to plant new cuttings from the last remaining tree, the St Peter Pear, only to find out a month later that it was actually the Judas Pear. Consternation ensued!

As a victim of further breeding in the motherland, this particular breed of pear can no longer be found in its original form in France. It suddenly struck me that the French language in our area parallels our Jesuit Pear history: many French words commonly spoken in Ontario decades ago are no longer used in France. Like these! I recall using some of these old words, or hearing them spoken by elders. No wonder the Jesuit Pear has been recognized as a living symbol of our region’s French speaking community.

Easy to see that the Jesuit Pear is the coolest Pear ever. What can I do to honour it? And so I begin with the idea of tree rings, which are visual markers of the passage of time. Below is a first trial which may lead to other larger versions.

Jesuit Pear   2018   8×8″   framed textile

Fascinated by the story of the Twelve Apostles Pear orchard, I wonder, if not for Judas’ betrayal, would Christianity have taken its present form? I consider the idea that darkness can bring light.  In the piece below, the 12th tree, the Judas pear, grows through to the centre – joining the outside to the heart. With this piece and with many others, I am exploring and embracing my attachment to my Roman Catholic roots… what it means to me now, as compared with my early training in doctrine.

The Twelfth Pear 2018 16×16″ framed textile

And another take on it…. this one a wall hanging.

Call of the Heart    2018    36″ fabric wall hanging

I intend to continue working on this series as fresh information and ideas come along. There is plenty to draw from its connection to my French heritage. And I’m imagining how its seeds and seedlings might have traveled to the New World in the pockets of the missionaries.

These cupped hands belong to the 80+ year widow owner of the Petroschuk farm from which the Harrow Station pears were cloned. (Photo by Tanya Wigle)

Who knew an old fruit tree could be so… fruitful. Her twisting branches reached out and drew me back to my roots, in spirit, language, history, and HOME.

By clicking on some of the images in this blog, you will be linked to the relevant research sites.

(with thanks to my great friend Dan Peltier, who knows the most important things there are to know, and to Robert Holland who dedicates so much energy and effort to help preserve the Jesuit Pear, and who generously permitted me to share the image of the cupped hands from his website)

Thinking in Circles – The Root Language of Trees

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Greetings and Happy New Year!

In my last blog post, I described how my touring exhibition of round wall hangings, Woven Woods, came to be. This collection is now launched at its first venue at Art Gallery of Burlington and will be there until January 28, 2018. It will then move on to several other venues until 2021. You can imagine that after four years of dreaming and working toward this goal, it might be hard to let it go.

Woven Woods at Art Gallery of Burlington
Dec1 – Jan 28, 2018

Well, not surprisingly, it turns out that circles are simply irresistible. No sooner had I finished the last wall hanging for Woven Woods, an intriguing new direction presented itself. I was checking out images of cut tree trunks, when it occurred to me that tree rings have a great deal to say. They tell us about a tree’s history, about growth and aging, about endurance, about how their stories grow from the heart and mark them forever. Circles are symbols of eternity and commitment. I thought that these tree rings might help me better understand trees, from the inside out.

As I studied various types of cut tree stumps and their rings, it struck me how differently trees must experience their world from that of humans. As mobile bilateral beings, we humans interpret our surroundings from the centralized perspective of our brain. Trees however are radial beings, with no bundled nervous system, and live their entire lives in a fixed position. In spite of these limitations, we know now that they developed sophisticated ways to communicate with each other. Wouldn’t it then be natural to wonder if trees might share their consciousness with beings like us? Moreover, is it possible for us to reach out to them too?

Right around that time, the movie Arrival came out. The film is based on a short story in “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. In the story, an alien ship lands on earth, and the life forms on it, mobile radial beings, are desperately attempting to communicate. A specially trained linguist is hired to decipher their written language, which is comprised of intensely ornamented circles and spirals. By the end of the movie, we understand that these beings use a communication system that incorporates time – past, present and future – in each of their missives. Time for them is measured in a circular way. This new language is in fact their special gift to us – reminding us that we must always take into consideration the karmic effect of our thoughts and actions. This led to an exciting AHA! moment for me, in support of a fresh approach to relational experience.

Could not find the creator of this wonderful cartoon 🙁

Of course, in my online research I came across numerous techniques for approaching and communing with trees – some arising from ancient cultures, others that seemed, well, just made up. Here is one of the better examples, a very detailed series of steps of Chinese origin: How to befriend a Tree. As I’ve said before, I’m a doubting Thomas when it comes to most of this new age stuff. Still, my direct experience tells me there is a distinct field of energy that surrounds each tree, and the strength varies greatly from one to another. I can feel it. I wonder, does the tree also feel me?

Wind in the Willow #2
12×12″

Working with tree rings in fabric is a rare delight – there is an unlimited scope for play and ornament using the wealth of shapes and structures that nature provides. I layer circle upon circle of fabrics, stitch them down, and start the journey using free-motion embroidery on my sewing machine.  Each one is a fresh meditation, leading me along a slightly different path. As I make more, I discard some motifs while bringing in new ones. With these pieces I put myself into the heart of the tree and work outwards, letting the prints and colours guide the choices. They take a long long time to make.

Mother Oak
16×16″ 2017

Might tree rings help us understand the language of trees? Is it possible that a tree’s consciousness extends, aura-like, beyond the rough bark of its exterior, like radiating tree rings? Do trees embrace the full cycle of time as they witness the world around them? These are questions I continue to ask as I explore the imagery and possibilities. As I walk in the woods I try to stay open to the fresh perspectives my art has opened up for me.

Heartwood – Hawthorn
12×12″ 2017

You may well ask, is all this just a stretch? Maybe. But not long ago, inter-plant communication was also considered a stretch. Our scientists have now proven it true. The First Nations people honour and speak to trees. Perhaps in the near future, we will determine without doubt that they are indeed reaching out to us, and are only waiting for us to accept their gift.

Communion #2
8×16″ 2017

Woven Woods: A Journey through the Forest Floor

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

At long last I can tell you about a major collection I’ve been working on for nearly five years, that just began its cross country tour of Canada. This project has been on my brain since the initial idea found me, and naturally I’m excited, if only to be able to see it at last on gallery walls.

An exhibition is coming! An exhibition is coming!

If you’ve been following my posts, you will know I’ve been working with a number of natural concepts, centered mainly around trees and tree biology. The current research that interests me most is about tree communication, particularly the mechanics of how trees send and receive nutrients and messages through their roots with the help of forest fungi.

Here is a short description of this natural process, which I’ve described in greater detail in earlier posts (including this one):
In the top six inches of the forest floor lies a vast and flourishing communication system as old as photosynthesis itself: an exquisitely balanced symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and tree roots which provides a network of channels for resources and messages between individual trees. The resulting plant chatter is as complex and efficient as our own worldwide web. In recent research, biologists have also discovered the existence of Mother trees: larger, older specimens that, with the help of their fungi, serve as system hubs in life, and as nutrient pumps in death. This mycorrhizal network thus connects and stabilizes the forest, and by extension, our entire planet’s biosphere.

Fascinated by this current research, I applied for an Ontario Arts Council Grant to travel to the University of British Columbia and meet Dr Suzanne Simard who is a leader in this field. Together with her and some of her gracious Grad students, I toured her lab on campus and her field facilities through the mountains to Kamloops. It was an eye-opening experience.

Dr Suzanne Simard in her natural element, the forest.

I couldn’t wait to share my reverence for this ancient forest system, not only for its own sake but also because we have so much to learn from nature for our own survival on earth. After visiting Dr Simard I spent three years of sometimes excruciating trial and error, trying to nail down the best way to portray the process, without having it look like some kind of neo-artsy science project. You will not believe the crazy things I drew on paper, the weird thoughts I thought, and the strange clunky semi-formed beings that were born and died. And all the hours of sleep lost over flashes of brilliance, while awakening to yet another non-germinator.

What IS that thing?

But something finally clicked – I kept coming back to it with many of my earlier concepts and realized that the most logical way to show connection was with the CIRCLE. The circle is not only present everywhere in the natural world, including the shape of our planet, but it’s also symbolic of environmental cycles of all types from seasonal to reproductive to regenerative. Not to mention, the circle is inherently spiritual and beautiful.

From there, it was a matter of choosing technique, size, and cohesive elements. How many to make? Which materials? Is my 45-year old Bernina up to the task? Am I? I’d rarely worked with circular designs before – what might be the challenges?

While reading as many research articles I could find for inspiration, I drew and drew and drew dozens of coloured samples… trying out designs, layouts, colours, concepts.

One of many ideas in pencil and pen.

I decided to make quilted wall hangings rather than framed works, because I didn’t want to feel limited to any particular size or standard ‘look’. Each was to have an organic shape of its own, unencumbered by the rigid expectations of a square format. And thus began a new journey for me, working in a larger format and in the round. Once I’d made the first, I was hooked.

Ubuntu- Source 2014 47″
The very first one.

The resulting collection, entitled Woven Woods, is a series of twelve round quilted wall hangings, measuring 36 to 46″ in diameter, each depicting twelve trees of varying types, seasons and stages of growth, and portraying a different aspect of their connection with the mycorrhizal net. I chose the number twelve because in numerology it is the ‘number of completion’, and it is found almost ubiquitously in our measuring and mathematical systems, our measuring of time, and in several key spiritual and astronomical concepts. Each circle encloses the story of a thriving ecosystem, where all individual elements contribute to support the whole. The word Ubuntu, given as a prefix to each title, is an African word which means “I am, because you are.”

Ubuntu – Winter
2015 46″

For materials, I used fabrics of all kinds, mainly dyed and printed cottons, some silks, a variety of synthetics and sheers, and cotton batting. The surface technique is raw edge appliqué enhanced with machine embroidery. In a few of them I also used acrylic paint for shading effect. They are all machine quilted, and hang flat with the help of a ‘brilliant’ (ie, my own secret idea) structural framework on the back.

You can see them all HERE.  If you click on the photos you will see a description of the inspiration for each quilt and a relevant quote or poem.  Or you are so very welcome to see them in person wherever they may be. They really are better in the flesh.

Woven Woods at Art Gallery of Burlington
Dec1 – Jan 28, 2018

This collection was shown for the first time at the Art Gallery of Burlington, Ontario, from Dec 1, 2017 to Jan 28, 2018 as part of ‘Holding by a Thread’, with Line Dufour, Carole Baillargeon and Kelly Jane Bruton. It will tour until 2021 (or as long as I can find venues). My goal is to show them in every province in Canada, and, with some luck, abroad. Please see my Upcoming Events page for locations and dates. The pieces in this collection will be available for purchase at the end of their exhibit run.

Thank you thank you thank you, Ontario Arts Council!

 

Winter Apple

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

I’m looking out our back window as we speak. A drift of snow fell overnight and the world looks magical. Our old apple tree came with the property and we expect it’s as old as the house itself which was built in 1956, which makes it exactly my age. When we moved here the tree was in dire condition, with branches to the ground and a forest of suckers. It took a few years to get it back into shape and we now enjoy its beauty in all seasons. It even gives us a few delicious, crispy apples every now and then (not a given, given our ‘organic’ practices!).

Our old Apple Tree

I love the shape of this tree. Hawthorns and apples, and indeed many fruit trees, evolved to this wide low shape so that their spring blossoms are easily available to bees. Their graceful horizontal form is also restful to the eye, and I’ve created many pieces with this in mind. Each year provides a fresh take on it.

I will leave you with a bunch of images of my work, some quilts, some framed, in no particular order, relating to the apple and hawthorn, and wish you a beautiful, FRUITFUL New Year!

Apple Seeds 2001 27×31″ Quilted wall hanging

Blue Moon #4 2014 12×24″ framed textile

Faith 2010 30×40″ framed textile

Hawthorn – Red Sky 2003 27×31″ quilted wall hanging

 

Hawthorn 2014 8×16″ framed textile

Hawthorn with blue memory 2000 14×24 quilted wall hanging

Lifeline #1 2013 10×30″ framed textile

 

Little Apple #4 2016 6×12″ framed textlle

 

Little Green 2011 6×6″ framed textile

 

Mystic Apple 2014 12×24″ framed textile

 

Small Orchard #1 2016 10×30″ framed textile

 

Tenacity 2010 16×22″ framed textile

Triumph 2011 30×40″ framed textile

 

Tree House #3 2016 18×36″ framed textile

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On a Wing and a Prayer

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Earlier this year in mid-May, I received an invitation from Evan Mitchell, the Musical Director of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, to create a small suite of works inspired by a special performance of classical music compositions, all of which incorporate birdsong. The three pieces to be performed are: Jennifer Butler’s “And Birds do Sing”, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’.

The concert hall is the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, and the lobby is large, beautiful, open, and enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking Lake Ontario. The performance is scheduled for March 5, 2017.

Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ lobby

Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ lobby

I know NOTHING about classical music (picture inner struggle here), but YES struck me as the more interesting option in this case… a new experience! So much to gain, so little to lose! I love birds! So I said YES.

And the invitation gave me plenty of time – an eternity, it seemed! The director provided links to the music, and programme notes to explain the composers’ creative inspiration for each piece. I listened to them while working on other projects, read the back stories, and then hoped something magical would happen.

Time passed…… and passed…

 

When all else fails, I think the greatest motivation possible is a deadline. Having lots of time to do something doesn’t necessarily make the result any better – in fact, it can have quite the opposite effect. So, eager to quit procrastinating, I gave myself a two week time window in November 2016 and trusted I would get there somehow.

leap

Leap of faith

 

How to begin? Obviously, listening (with intent) felt like the best first step. I recorded my main impressions as they progressed: which colours came to mind? how did the music fit the background story? How did I feel along the way? what might all those instrument sounds LOOK like?

I started thinking about the physical form of the pieces. How on earth to capture the various movements and the passage of time? After all, music moves through time but visual imagery needs to encompass everything in one shot. What about this: because a musical piece builds on itself while it plays, and previous sounds lodge in our memory even as we hear the new ones, perhaps the pieces should be tall and vertical, and read from the bottom up!

It didn’t feel right to use representational imagery alone – I wanted to show the feeling and colour of the sounds and didn’t want to limit my visualization. Abstracts they must be! As I began the drawings, I also realized they must be quilted wall panels, as the designs resisted being hemmed in by frames. And technique? It felt most logical to plan for a loose (might we say, imperfect?) form of fabric collage that would allow plenty of freedom of shape and background changes.

It takes hundreds of small decisions like this just to get to first base with any new project. Sometimes I think this is why we tend to procrastinate – it’s hard work and it’s scary! At times, the answers are easy and obvious, but other times we must make a leap of faith, hoping experience and wisdom will serve well.

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17

I decided to begin with the Mozart which was the most accessible to me: a rich melodic piano piece. It had a charming story to match: Mozart tried to teach the theme to his starling, but the bird couldn’t get it quite right. Mozart was so tickled he wrote the bird’s mistake into his journal.

img_2193

Click on the starling to hear the Concerto

In the design of this wall panel, the starling became the central motif, with the three movements of the concerto settling around him in swirls and swoops of colour.

the-mozart-2016-42x20s

The Mozart 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Jennifer Butler “And Birds do Sing”
https://soundcloud.com/jaebutler/and-birds-do-sing-2010

The second, by Canadian composer Jennifer Butler, is a modern piece written in 2010, and is the most abstract of the three compositions. The sounds begin with drums in cool waves, dark and tumbling and pierced with high flutes, eventually resolving into a lullaby composed for the composer’s daughter. What does a drum sound look like? Maybe circles… oblong circles? And flutes…. might rise up in long strands? The overall feel of the piece was cool and spring-like, hence I stayed with blues and cooler tones. The panel begins at the base with the rhythm of the drums, then another layer, upon layer until the clear notes of birdsong and lullaby surface.

the-jen-butler-2016-42x20s

The Jen Butler 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQGm0H9l9I4

The Beethoven piece was the most complex. Although I incorporated elements of the movements, like a walk by a stream, a storm, birds, and a reference to folk art to represent a peasant dance, I was more interested in the smoother cadence and feeling of the performance, the melodic swings and eddies. The sounds were less emotional than the previous two pieces, so I used a more sophisticated colour palette.

the-beethoven-2016-45x21s

The Beethoven 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Each of these pieces grew and evolved completely differently. In focusing on and working with them, I learned something intriguing about classical music: that, just like visual art, it begins with a personal story – now I will listen for it. And perhaps when the music lovers at the concert see my interpretations, they might learn something about abstract visual art. My fondest hope is that the music provides an entry point for understanding the abstract imagery, and in return the visual art enriches the appreciation of the music. As with many other occasions when I took the leap, I enjoyed every single minute, and the effects will last a life time!

For purchasing information, please click HERE. All the photography of my work is done by my very talented and dedicated husband, Janusz Wrobel.

starling-1

European starling from frasersbirdingblog.blogspot.co.uk

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Heart on my sleeve

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

I spent a good part of my youth and young adulthood in constant inner and outer turmoil. Great leaps of faith and trust routinely led to an array of unfortunate experiences. But, being young and having the energy for it, I pulled it all together, time after time, and somehow, with great luck and support, came out stronger and better. Though I am grateful for those rash decisions because they led to where I am now, experience showed me that my life is connected to many others, and there is no such thing as a solo jump into the abyss. Everyone comes along for the ride. A sobering thought for this mature, yet still adventurous, spirit.

It’s not this:

SYLVAN SPIRIT #11  2005 16x15"

SYLVAN SPIRIT #11 2005 16×15″  Just me.

It’s more like this:

BURNING BUSH #11 2009 30X10" A dangerous solo leap.

BURNING BUSH #11 2009 30X10″
A dangerous solo leap, don’t know where to.

Enter ART….

And this is how I can officially say: I have not said goodbye to adventure each and every day, and I still wear my heart on my sleeve. Every morning, I get a chance to leap before I think, with the only negative consequence my own disappointment, and perhaps the odd *sometimes* relevant zinger from an itinerant critic. Just last week, I took apart an entire large abstract piece THREE TIMES, frustrated and crying, dumped it all, began again.

LIGHT RAIL 2015 12X36"

LIGHT RAIL 2015 12X36″   Okay, so this is the piece I took apart three times.

No one was hurt, and I didn’t end up on the street! Yet if and when the effort leads to success, there is learning, there is growth, there is enormous satisfaction and pleasure, and there is the chance to share what is in my heart. ART is the WAY. Therefore, on this day devoted to LOVE, I share with you a range of works I made over the years, which were either leaps of faith, or that speak of love in various forms.

I love what I do, I love where it has taken me, and I love sharing it with you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Below are trees with their seeds, and tree seeds: Seeds are the product of tree love, yes?

RED HUCKLEBERRY 2012 16X8"

RED HUCKLEBERRY and SEED and LEAVES 2012 16X8″

CASUARINA SEED 2008 24X12" From my Seed and Earth series

CASUARINA SEEDS 2008 24X12″ From my Seed and Earth series

CASUARINA DETAIL

CASUARINA DETAIL – Machine embroidery

Who says a heart must be red? Trees see it all so differently.

VERDANT HEART 2013 12X6"

VERDANT HEART 2013 12X6″

Love bridges divides,

SECRET HEART #5 2014 8X8"

SECRET HEART #5 2014 8X8″

… and occasionally goes into dormancy

SECRET HEART #3 2013 6X6"

SECRET HEART #3 2013 6X6″

It’s intensely biological

Ovulation Series #1 2007

Ovulation Series #1 2007

The result of opposing, but complementary forces

COUNTERPOINT DIPTYCH #9 2003  Quilted wall piece

COUNTERPOINT DIPTYCH #9 2003
Quilted wall piece

No container can hold it…. well, maybe this one can?

People always asked me, So what are these for??? Sigh.

Box #6   6x10x6″ People always asked me, So what are these for??? Sigh.

It can be somewhat undecipherable….

LOVE LETTER 2000 43X24" Quilted wall hanging

LOVE LETTER 2000 43X24″ Quilted wall hanging

Or delicate and ephemeral….

BOUQUET #9 2004 37X18"

BOUQUET #9 2004 37X18″

Or very very risky. I made the wall piece below as a gift for a couple who married in a beautiful quarry. I wish I could say that it safeguarded them both as they took their leap, but it did not. Art can’t do everything.

WEDDING IN THE QUARRY 2008 Quilted wall piece, commissioned.

WEDDING IN THE QUARRY 2008 Quilted wall piece

But there is safety in numbers

FISSURE #4 2011 15X30"

FISSURE #4 2011 15X30″

And the solace of a box of bonbons, no matter how things turn out.

BONBONS 1 2008 28X28" Who doesn't love a boxful of bonbons?

BONBONS 1 2008 28X28″
Who doesn’t love a boxful of bonbons?

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Heart of Cold: Ten reasons to embrace winter without Irony

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

I was born in what is lovingly nicknamed the Banana Belt of Ontario. This flat, intensely agricultural area is nestled in by three lakes: Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake St Clair. Despite the relatively warm climate, serious snowfalls were common, and I grew up loving the endless white expanses and tall accumulations against our farm buildings in winter. It was childhood heaven.

FENCEROW 1 2014 24X24  A country drive in winter

FENCEROW 1 2014 24X24: Collage
A country drive in winter

Each year I reconnect and fall in love again with winter’s stark beauty. Today I share ten good reasons, none of them cliché, to embrace winter’s cold cold heart. Here goes:

1. Contrast – what is life without it? We would never appreciate light if we didn’t know darkness. Or heat, without frozen fingers. I love black and white compositions.

Winter Woods #1 I made this sketch right after that walk – I used big markers because that’s all I could see

Winter Woods #1
I made this sketch right after a local hike, using big markers to keep from getting too fussy.

2. Nature has fun with it – brilliant splashes of colour are more intense against a snowy backdrop.

Red Maple 2008 28X32 Wall mounted quilt

Red Maple    2008   28X32″  Net collage, machine embroidery, appliqué and quilting.

3. Native plants go to bed until spring – they need rest. Good example for all of us.

DARK WOODS 10 2005 28X15

Dark Woods #10   2005   28X15″  Phototransfer of a tree, net collage and machine embroidery.

4.  There’s more going on than the eye can see – stuff is happening under there.

FISSURE 3 2011 16X20

Fissure #3   2011   16X20″  Seeds, fungal spores, insects and other soil organisms burrow down, some die, some hibernate. Roots keep working.

5. You can see farther, especially if you are already short.

DEEP SNOW 5 2004 19X19

Deep Snow #5   2004   19X19″   Phototransfer of treetops, net collage and machine embroidery.

6. You don’t have to worry about deer eating your apples before you do.

The view out my back window after an early snow.

The view out my back window after an early snow.

7. Conifers are still working. They are at the helm!

WINTER MOON #1 2010 12X9"

WINTER MOON #1  2010  12X9″ Conifer leaves are resistant to cold and moisture loss. On cold dry days, their needles curve in to reduce their exposed surface. They continue to photosynthesize, only more slowly, as long as they get enough water.

8. Night skies are enchanting.

TREES I HAVE SEEN 1 2009 2 24X24

Trees I have Seen    2009   24X24″   Net collage, appliqué, machine embroidery.

9. Whether you love pruning or not, there’s no need to do it in February. You can, but you don’t have to.

DARK WOODS 7 2004 28X17

Old Apples #7   2004   28X17″ Phototransfer of trees, net collage, machine embroidery.

10. And we all know: spring will follow in due course ……

To the Light #2  Stitchery on photographic print

To the Light #2  8×4″
Machine stitchery on photographic print, watercolour, fabric collage

 

Small is beautiful

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

(This post is the third installment of a creative journey inspired by research on tree root communication. For a bit more background, go to Going Somewhere? Start with a map, and The Mother Tree.)

Trees can’t chase their food, so they must count on resources harvested from their immediate area. Through the process of photosynthesis, they can feed themselves directly from the atmosphere using sunlight and carbon dioxide. But this chemical process also requires plenty of water … and for many trees, a consistent source is not always a given.

Cedar Grove by Janusz Wrobel

Cedar Grove by Janusz Wrobel

From the fungal point of view, water is not a problem. Fungi have the ability to draw water from the most grudging of sources, even from the air itself. They also break down molecules into simpler nutrients that can be absorbed by tree roots. But they are not capable of creating their own food because they do not photosynthesize. Trees and fungi are meant for each other!

Secret Heart #7  6x6"

Secret Heart #7 6×6″

It’s a lovely, romantic idea. But how exactly do these two very different species get together? How does the two-way transfer of water and nutrients work?

In my last post, we saw that a fresh seed root soon introduces itself to the massive fungal network in the top layer of the forest floor. The root tip exudes a natural hormone that awakens fungal spores or strands nearby. In a process called colonization, the alerted fungal strands pierce their way through the epidermis (skin) of the roots. (If this sounds like a terrifying Body Snatcher situation, remember that our own bodies are walking zoos: we have at least ten times as many bacteria, not including yeasts and fungi, as we have human cells.)

Once inside, the fungal strands colonize the root in one of two ways, depending on the species:

Cross section of root tip showing two different types of mycorrhizal colonization. Photo courtesy of the Botany Department at West Virginia University

Cross section of root tip showing two different types of mycorrhizal colonization.
Photo courtesy of the Botany Department at West Virginia University

1) Arbuscular fungi start growing INSIDE root cells along the central core of the root. They are called Arbuscular because once inside the cells, they form tiny tree-like structures: trees inside trees! The large surface area created by their dense canopies is an efficient way to transfer water and nutrients.

2) Ectomycorrhizal fungi spread their strands AROUND root cells, forming a 3-D spongy structure called the Hartig net. The tip of the root becomes enveloped with a pale mantle, easily seen with the naked eye.

Some fungi are specific to particular trees – for example, Arbutus and Maple trees have their own favourite fungal species. But many fungi are non-specific and will colonize trees, grasses and many other plant species. Also, one tree may host several types of fungi at once. The established fungi maintain the flow of water and nutrients through fungal strands that connect their specialized inner root structures with the outer soil network, visible to us in the form of mushrooms and truffles.

A pale swollen mantle is a sure sign of ectomycorrhizal activity on tree roots. From “Relationships between Plants and Fungi”

A pale swollen mantle is a sure sign of ectomycorrhizal activity on tree roots.
From “Relationships between Plants and Fungi”

But the best view of all is under the microscope. When tree rootlets are thinly sliced, treated with special dyes and magnified, it becomes possible to see exactly where and how the two species, tree and fungus, meet and mate.  Electron microscope photographs are bizarre and beautiful, and these are no exception: a gold mine of ideas and eye candy. Below is one of many that drew my attention.

Arbuscular colonization

Electron microscopic image. Arbuscular mycorrhizae are in fuschia. See how they’ve expanded like blobs inside the root cells? Photo by Marc Perkins.

And the quilted panel that it inspired:

ROOT XS 1 2014 22X22S

Root XS #1 2014 22×22″ Quilted wall panel

In this piece my intention was to stay true to the photo so I could learn to manipulate line and shape, but while working on it I began to see great potential for design and content. More adventures ahead in future posts!

ROOT XS 1 2014 DET copy

Detail from my quilted wall panel inspired by a cross section from a tree root with arbuscular mycorrrhizal fungi. I used many kinds of materials, and the technique is machine collage, embroidery and quilting. Note the little trees!

The Mother Tree

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

In my many years of tree studies, I’ve accumulated a vast and varied assortment of reasons to love trees. I present you here with yet another great excuse: larger trees in a forest actually protect and nurture seedlings and young saplings.

It all begins with a complex system that involves specially evolved intermediaries called mycorrhizal fungi. Their fungal strands form an intimate bond with the tips of tree roots, and help the tree absorb water and nutrients. In return, the tree supplies the fungi with sugars. This network forms a dense mat in the top six inches of the entire forest floor, connecting all the trees in that location. Biologists have known about this root/fungus relationship for a very long time, but new research reveals even more fascinating material: the existence of Mother or Hub trees.

Niagara Escarpment Woods #8 by Janusz Wrobel

Niagara Escarpment Woods #8 by Janusz Wrobel

In a dense forest, the germination and establishment of fresh trees is a challenge: larger trees take up most of the nutrients, and the canopy prevents penetration of light to the forest floor. Ground-level surfaces tend to be inhospitable, and soil quality is poor. What is a seedling to do? What else: it calls on its Mother. In effect, once a seed begins to germinate, it awakens components of the fungal mat that quickly colonize its roots. The seedling thus becomes linked with a large pool of nutrients that connects it to larger, older specimens that have access to light. The more shaded the area, the more resources a seedling can access.

Saplings form strong fungal connections with large, mature trees.

Saplings form strong fungal connections with large, mature trees. Image by Prof Suzanne Simard.

When a mature tree declines and begins to die, she sends her resources back into the network, and it is time for the younger trees to begin nurturing their own young charges.

Fallen by Janusz Wrobel Shows a mature tree, fallen and being absorbed back into the network

Fallen by Janusz Wrobel
Shows a mature tree, fallen and being absorbed back into the network

In even more recent studies, biologists are discovering that a mother tree actually favours her own offspring. At one of the research sites I visited in BC, Amanda Asay, PhD (Does kin selection play a facilitative role in regeneration of forests under climate stress?) was monitoring the survival rate of related and unrelated seedlings. How was this done? Several mature trees were harvested of their seeds. Around each tree was embedded a series of marked mesh bags filled with local soil, into which were planted either the tree’s own seeds, or those of others. Over the next few months, if bears and other wildlife hadn’t harvested them first, a tally of survivors was taken.

Here are a couple of those bags. They are 8x5" in size and allow water and roots to pass through.

Here are a couple of those mesh bags. They are 8×5″ in size and allow fungi and roots to pass through.

At the site, I had the opportunity to see how scientific research really happens. In the muddy trenches of boreal forest, after months of exposure to climate, pests, weed growth and just plain attrition, those little mesh bags were a challenge to find. But yes! I found one! Then another, not too far away!… soon we were expert at detecting the minutest bit of white mesh buried in forest scruff. This and other adventures renewed my deep respect for biologists working in the field.

Here we are visiting Amanda's research site, looking for tiny mesh bags of seedlings. Amanda is wearing the red jacket.

Here we are visiting Amanda’s research site, looking for tiny mesh bags of seedlings. Amanda is wearing the red jacket.

Of course, I love the idea that trees might be altruistic: it certainly captures the imagination. However, biologists are quick to share the truth: the evolution of the mycorrhizal relationship has much more to do with the health and survival of species and communities, than what we humans identify as true altruism. The chemistry behind these processes is well documented. Never mind! Scientific explanations are much richer and more engaging than any romantic notion I can come up with – eventually it all connects and makes its own wild beauty. Science is the real magic: as long as we have inquiring minds, our knowledge and appreciation of the world will continue to grow, and so will our sources of inspiration.

LifeLines  2015  30x10" Saplings thriving with the support of a mature tree in the forest. The fungal connections are just visible at the roots.

LifeLines 2015 30×10″  Lorraine Roy
Saplings thriving with the support of a mature tree in the forest. The fungal connections are just visible at the roots.

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