Nancy was interviewed as she was preparing for the 1998 Guelph Studio Tour.
This will be Nancys first year as part of the Guelph Studio Tour. Two of the pieces she will have on display and for sale, Four Generations and Mothers and Daughters, are reproduced on her webpage. These are wood engravings - maple blocks carved with engraving tools - handprinted onto silk with a Vandercook printing press. There are natural dye gradations in each of the pieces. Mothers and Daughters is tied with silk and also has some quilting in it. Viewing them on a computer screen does not do justice, at all, to the intricacy and subtly in these works.
Mothers and Daughters is a visual comparison of the different roles we play as mothers and daughters. Mothers and Daughters was chosen as one of five works to be displayed in the Toronto Textile Museum from October 97 to February 98, to celebrate the opening of the Toronto Textile Museums Learning Centre. Nancy had previously donated weaving and natural dye samples to the Museum. They were thought so highly of, she was asked to submit a piece to be considered for the opening. Four Generations was made to commemorate the Montreal Massacre in December 1989. Each of the four portraits in the piece is edged in handspun silk cord. In Victorian times, when photographs were far less prevalent than they are today, women would often cut the hair of a deceased child or husband, to have something to remember them by. They would have this hair made into a piece of jewelry as a memento mori. Nancys silk cord mimics this hair jewelry.
Four Generations also represents a coming to peace, for Nancy, with her chosen art form. Throughout my years at OCA, I found that I had to work harder to have my work respected as art than someone who painted, for example. This constant struggle led me to question why I was in this field, Nancy explains. I started thinking I consider myself to be liberated, and here I am doing the same type of work my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother did. Out of this struggle Nancys thesis was born. I created a body of work that compared my place in society as a mother, daughter and woman to that of women in the past, using the techniques of my female ancestors. And I found out what I really already knew: that this is the natural way in which I express my art.
There seems to be two problems (at least) when it comes to people understanding that traditional textiles are art, issues Nancy has obviously faced up to and dealt with in her own art. Historically, textiles have been produced to be used, Nancy says. and the nature of textiles is that they end up disintegrating from being used. We dont have many really old quilts, for example, because they were used, worn out and recycled. Traditional textiles were pieces of art, even though they were not made to be art. Here in lies the essence of both problems. First, they were not made to be art, and so they are given second class status. Secondly, because they wore out, textiles do not have a large history from which we can draw on and revere.
I want to make art pieces that are useable, things that you live with everyday, Nancy explains. l also want my pieces to be about something, but something for everyone, humble, I guess, or unpretentious. Nancys work has a number of layers to it. I want people to look at it, and enjoy it, and respond to it. If they do, Im happy, Nancy tells me. If they know that the handspun cord is supposed to mimic Victorian hair jewelry, that is another level on which it can be interpreted. Im glad of that too; but I dont want people to have to have a lot of background to enjoy my work. I want it to be accessible.
Nancys newest project is a series of small charm pillows. These will use sensuous fabrics combining print and traditional textile techniques. I like everything I make to have a tactile quality to it, she says. Nancy makes her own very tactile, and very unusual, paper. In one piece she shows me, I can actually see bits of woven wool, pieces of an old blanket she has taken apart. Another piece of paper, pink and very decorative, has distinct pieces of madderroot in it, which was added as a dye. Nancy often takes custom orders for her handmade paper as well as for her other work. She also does custom dyeing for weavers.
Nancys work is all that she wants it be. It is certainly artistic; it is also beautiful, intimate and unique. If you would like to get a better look at Mothers and Daughters or Four Generations, or are interested in seeing more of Nancys pieces, she will be showcasing her work on the Guelph Studio Tour, October 16-18, at l8 Paisley Street.