My solo exhibition, pathways at The Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte, Ontario presents a site specific installation, which includes multiple vertical panels evocative of a body of water, river patterns, mapping and topographical references.
While thinking about how to approach this space and develop a body of work, my focus centred on the museum’s setting and historical use as a textile mill along the river as well as the reshaping of the land through development.
The pathways exhibition draws attention to the precious natural resource of flowing water that was instrumental in powering industrial growth, mills and textile dyeing and opens a platform to reflect on our contemporary relationship with water. It seems particularly on point for the spring season given the precarious rise of water levels in the Ottawa River and Mississippi Valley watershed.
Walking though the town of Almonte, one can’t help but feel the presence of water. The Mississippi River rushes down the falls and winds its way around the town.
Immediately upon entering the gallery one is confronted with the blue saturated undulations of waves created through a cyanotype process on kozo paper.
This piece was inspired by the mesmerizing quality of water and its power to both calm and energize one’s being.
The cyanotype process was first developed in 1842 using a combination of iron based chemistry that fixes an image when exposed to UV light. Similar to the way the eye perceives the wave and shimmer of water, this piece was created by working with the absorption and refraction of solar rays. Each piece emerges uniquely from the exposure to the intensity of the light and position of the sun.
The pathways series uses the cyanotype iron based chemistry, rather as an ink where I painted the circuitous, sinewy lines and then exposed to UV light to fix the colour. The lacy gaps were hand cut.
The pieces were inspired by walks around urban neighbourhoods where my attention was drawn to the random, organic cracks, reminiscent of rivers, veins and arteries, in the pavement. I was struck by the way the human made, very controlled structures of roadways reorganize over time and wear into natural forms. I am always fascinated by patterns repeated in the micro and macro. The painted forms become rivers, tributaries, topographical maps, internal muscle structures and circulatory systems. Everything is interdependent.
The exhibition also includes quiet paintings with milk paint on mixed fibre that were inspired by walks observing reflections in the same body of water over different seasons and the ever-changing cloud formations in the sky.
Milk paint is a mixture of casein, lime and pigment. I am partial to working with milk paint for its chalky, muted finish and because it emits no volatile air compounds.
Many of these pieces, painted with delicate flowing lines describing branches reflecting in water, echo river like and arterial forms. The vertical format 6 to 8 FT tall has a direct relationship to the viewer’s body and the panels flutter gently with the air current from the circulation of viewers in the space.
The walls of this space hold the memory of time. MVTM formerly, The Rosamond Woollen Mill was built in 1867 was in operation until the 1980’s. The main floor was used as the storage room for the final woven products while the upper floor was used to store raw fleece before it moved to the second mill for processing.
Currently the upper floor houses a collection of industrial era looms, carting machines, examples of loomed fine tweed and paraphernalia that describe the history of the Rosamond Woolen Mill.
There is also a display of chemical dyes that would have been used to dye the fibres. Until the 19th century, all textile dyes were natural and the shift during this era’s industrial growth is also a part of the story of colour. MVTM curator Michael Rikley-Lancaster, describes how there were reports in the archives of the local newspaper that speak about the colour of the river changing depending on what dye was being used that day. Most visible was the red dye which included cadmium and sadly led to unfortunate health consequences for locals who swam and bathed in the river.
A subtext to the pathways, exhibition is an exploration of colour history. On the main floor, I used a traditional casein/lime based milk paint recipe to which pigment is added. The pigment is sometimes natural earth oxides and sometimes a synthetic powder pigment. The cyanotype based works, as aforementioned are an iron based chemistry developed in 1842 which signals a shift in colour composition wherein much research was dedicated towards developing synthetically manufactured colour. On the second floor, I have included a vignette of local plant based colour. Samplers from locally gathered raspberry leaf, pine needles and sumac leaves show a range of colour that can be achieved with alum and iron mordants.
The Mississippi Valley Textile Museum and surrounding Lanark County, Ontario is a fascinating place to visit for its history, culture and nature.
Many thanks to Ontario Arts Council for supporting the exhibition.
art documentation: Lauren Kolyn