Fibre artist Yvonne Stowell takes walks daily near her Madeira Park business, FibreWorks Studio and Gallery. She walks along deer and elk trails, sees the rain forest in all lights, in all seasons, examines the bark of Douglas firs and arbutus, and the tiny, delicate flowers of the blue harebell.
In Vancouver’s East End, fibre artist Julie Pongrac views a quite different scene on her daily walks: cultivated gardens blooming profusely behind dilapidated fences, roses planted in front of barbed wire or cherry blossoms from ornamental sidewalk trees raining like pink snow in spring.
The two have come together to open their own show, Bloom Where You Are Planted, at the FibreWorks Gallery opening Sept. 15.
“It’s all about colour and texture,” said Pongrac, and Stowell agrees.
“We have a mutual respect for each other’s approach to working with fibre.”
In making these works of wearable art they have also mastered some technically difficult designs, drawn from the natural world. Both artists spin, dye and knit, and in recovering these fabric arts, some of which have almost died out, they have both learned to draft pattern designs as well.
“We’re really designers,” Pongrac said, and they each have a lifetime of skills to share.
Many of Stowell’s wraps and shawls are modelled after the bark of trees. Her knobbly brown knit shawl represents Douglas fir, and just like the bark protects the tree, the shawl wraps around snugly to protect its wearer. The fir cones show little mouse tails, distinctive markers, and this design is incorporated into the shawl’s trim. After peeling bark from an arbutus, Stowell explains, it transforms from red to gold to green, as it dries. She has put this rainbow of subtle hues into a delicately fashioned garment.
“It was my grandmother who inspired me to look more closely when we were in the garden at a little worm or inside a flower,” she said.
Some would call this “forest bathing”— going into the forest to renew oneself, she notes. The FibreWorks property stretches to Oyster Bay, and Stowell has also incorporated a shell’s soft pearly sheen into another garment. A soft grey evokes the rolling fog from the ocean.
Pongrac’s approach is interestingly different. As a scientist she knows her chemistry, handy when using the dye pot, because adding different minerals to natural dyes can change colours. The artist, originally from Ontario, was fascinated by the BC growth of hydrangeas. Because the soil here is more acidic, the blooms turn into a brilliant blue. In her wearable art, she has borrowed this colour from the hydrangea and made it sparkle with rain drops. In another work she has knitted the shape of rose petals into an intoxicating rich red. She found the roses that inspired her growing outside a barbed wire fence in the city, and she contemplated that fence for a long time.
“The intention makes me curious,” she said. “Wherever you go, nature creeps in.”
Pongrac and Stowell will welcome visitors at their reception on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the yurts, the circular structures by the highway near Madeira Park (12887 Sunshine Coast Highway). See: www.fibreworksgallery.com for more details. The exhibition continues until Nov. 11.