By Kathryn Walter
Beaver Hats to Hockey Pads: A Canadian Social History
The felt industry in Canada began with the fur trade, when the imperial powers of England and France controlled North America. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, beaver fur was the New World's most coveted resource, as it was known to produce the finest felts for the manufacture of hats. Through changes in fashion and technology, and worn by everyone from pirates to prime ministers, felt (now most commonly made from wool) is the stuff of northern legends. Felt boots and liners are warm insulators against winter cold; felt filters and wicks provide means for survival in the wilderness; First Nations use felt to transform traditions, and; souvenir pennants mark the land from the Grand Banks to the West Coast. As weathered as a maple syrup filter, as worn as a goaltender's chest protector, felt carries the myth of the landscape in Canadian cultural experience.
Material Explorations: New Works by Millie Chen and Evelyn Von Michalofski, Michelle Gay, Arthur Renwick, Kevin Weiss
These artists were invited to create new work for this exhibition (using felt supplied by E. F. Walter Ltd.), with the intention of revealing a range of material characteristics and social meanings. They bring diverse experience from their cultural backgrounds and practices in sculpture, photography, sound, digital media, drawing, architecture and textiles.
Millie Chen and Evelyn Von Michalofski are building a sound chamber that viewers will enter. The outside of this chamber will be painted white and appear as part of the architecture of the gallery, but will be marked by two blue felt bathing suits hanging near the entrance. The inside of this chamber will be lined with the same blue felt, and speakers will emanate sounds of bodies and motion in water. These elements create a fictional environment that plays with felt in terms of its capacity to absorb both sound and water.
Michelle Gay is working with 25 foot strips of webbing produced from dye-cutting small circles into half-inch thick felt at regular intervals. By plugging some of these holes, she is creating a dot matrix of text and code to run across the gallery wall. Gay is also cutting and sewing felt into a series of body forms that will hang opposite the text - charting a space between virtual and corporeal worlds.
Arthur Renwick is creating a triptych wall-hanging, using appliqué and photographic methods to create images on felt. Through the combination of photography, and black and red symbols characteristic of native northwest coast design, his work will compare and contrast traditional and modern methods of representation.
Kevin Weiss is building three display cases that apply felt as a lining and a support structure. Using the blocking capabilities of felt, he will mould and shape the material into forms that hold a series of “absent” objects.
© 2007 Textile Museum of Canada