Featured Artist - July 2015 Laurie Swim
During the forty years I have worked in the textile/fibre medium, along with my studio practice, I have conceived seven projects that engaged communities in their creation. Through sharing my knowledge and sewing skills with volunteers, large-scale quilted works were created that spoke to historical record, or ocial activism, or both. Communal creation of the work always informed the art, and, at their heart, honoured the human story.
One of these community art works, Breaking Ground, The Hogg’s Hollow Disaster 1960, 7'x20', is housed in a floor to ceiling glass case at the York Mills subway station in Toronto.
A millennium project in my home town of Lockeport, Nova Scotia, during the summer in 2000, memorializes the lives of 17 fishermen lost in one horrific storm in 1961. The Lost at Sea Memorial Quilt, 10’x 10’, hangs at the Crescent Beach Centre in Lockeport, accompanied by an oral account.
Other projects include Pulling Together, The Builders of the Rideau Canal, 1828-32 (9'x15', 1995); The York Heritage Story Quilt (5'x6', 1998); The Young Workers Memorial Quilt (9'x18', 2003) The 250th Founding of Lunenburg Heritage Quilt (8'x9', 2003) and The Birchtown Black Heritage Quilt (5'x5', 2008). In addition to my research, each of these projects benefited from the process of gathering information by hearing individuals' stories that added depth and insight to the building of the piece.
The centenary of the Halifax Explosion is taking place in 2017. On December 6, 1917, during World War I, there was a collision in Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia between the Mont Blanc, a ship carrying munitions and the Imo, a Belgium Relief vessel. The man-made explosion that followed is the largest to have occurred before Hiroshima. The destruction, catastrophic to the north end of Halifax, killed just under 2000 people, about 4% of the popualtion, maimed and left thousands homeless. The following day a horrific snowstorm passed through, hindering recovery efforts. A tremendous relief response happened within hours across the province, Canada and the New England states, in particular, Boston, Massachusetts. Nova Scotia honours their help by sending a Christmas Tree to Boston annually.
In 2014, after researching and thinking about this for fourteen years, I decided to begin Hope and Survival, the Halifax Explosion Memorial. It includes two elements, a Scroll of Remembrance and a series of works based on historical accounts and survivor stories.
The Scroll is the community component. 170 individual cloth pages with names of 1,946 recorded victims were printed on fabric in Braille and script and distributed to individuals throughout the Maritimes and beyond. The Braille dots, a reference to those blinded by flying shattered glass, are hand sewn in glass beads. These pages are near completion. Each will have a border and be arranged in columns of four. Hung consecutively, they will be over forty feet long.
Hearing about my project, many Nova Scotians participate by taking part in the beading and sharing oral stories, passed down through generations. As the project progresses, this information serves as an impetus for metaphor and imagery and informs the work I create in my studio. I have begun the series with the first three smaller works and included them here. The completed work will have a central focus image surrounded by these and other smaller works with the scroll emanating from both sides.
Textile art and its associated processes offer me opportunities that cannot be achieved in any other medium. In this specific project, I have taken an entirely different approach to intuitively develop the work. It challenges me technically and as an artist, to convey the work emotionally.
Focusing on a historical subject enriches my sense of the place and time to channel expression. For instance, a dark liquid rained down on victims shortly after the blast. Indigo blue is the colour of the scars survivours bore from this precipitation. I have combined indigo dye pigment with snow to create happenstance markings for background cloth on which to build the pieces. The snow references the storm.
The completed work will be displayed at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic leading up to the 100th anniversary in 2017. There are prospects of touring it in both Canada and Massachusetts.