Monday, 14 January 2013

An Interview With Laurie Swim

Her name is synonymous with landscape quilting in Canada. Some say she put Canada on the map when it comes to quilting. It is a privilege to interview Laurie Swim.

Please tell us a little about yourself outside of your quilting career.

My quilting career is pretty much integrated with my personal life. My husband and partner Larry Goldstein and I have worked together for over thirty years now. We recently moved into an 1897 building that houses our gallery, The Art Quilt gallery of the Atlantic. My studio is directly above and the apartment alongside, all part of the Kaulbach Block in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, an UNESCO Heritage site. 

Laurie Swim Interior of Gallery

We enjoy the convenience of being close to our work and the view from the second floor deck of Lunenburg Harbour is fabulous.

In the Beginning
You are one of Canada's most well known quilters, can you elaborate on that.

Like Pamela Allen, I have a Fine Arts background. My ambition was to become a painter. Since childhood, I have dabbled with needlework and clothing construction. These two came together when I took up weaving at  NSCAD and after graduating, apprenticed in Denmark in the early seventies. I realized my medium of expression had to give me  freedom to create original images with texture and colour. Utilizing the “quilt” as a basis opened that door.

I always intended to make my living from my art and that turned out to be a great incentive for concentrating my focus on making a successful career. From 1995 to 2003, I originated community art projects, mostly memorials with volunteers for historical record and social activism. Best known is Breaking Ground,The Hogg’s Hollow Disaster 1960 (7’x 20’) now housed in a ceiling to floor glass case in the Toronto York Mills Subway Station.

Laurie with her work for interview for Globe and Mail 2010

Making a decent wage has been a struggle, a feast and famine existence. In 2010, my solo show Land, Sea and Memory exhibited at the Mary E Black Gallery in Halifax brought attention to my work. There were significant sales and it was the most attendance that the gallery had received up to that point. The show was reviewed in the Toronto Globe and Mail, locally as well, and was the topic of an editorial in Magazin’art, a Montreal publication. It was the first time my work has been mentioned in an art magazine in my career. 
In the Gut

Tell us a little about your work as a quilt author?

Meeting Larry, whose experience was as a book publisher, changed my life professionally and personally. It was our collaboration of my writing, and Larry producing The Joy of Quilting for Viking Canada in 1984 that brought broader attention to my work. While the book was at press, we found time to tie the knot and make our union official. Joy was an early book in non traditional creative quilting that sold 30,ooo worldwide and was followed by Quilting for an American publisher in 1991. Both were reprinted as second editions.

My recent book Rags to Riches, The Quilt as Art was also a joint effort in 2007. It is both autobiographical and a discussion of my work over a period of 15 years. The launch of this book and exhibit of my recent work took place in Halifax in October.

Is there a common technique you use in your quilts?

I use many techniques in my pieces, many of them innovative to get the job done, needle felting, sky painting, machine embroidery and on it goes. Each piece presents new challenges from concept to completion. It keeps the work fresh as well.

More Precious than Gold

How do you go about coming up with an idea of a quilt and getting that onto fabric?

My approach is to start with an image that I feel a connection to. This is hard to describe but I believe it is an emotional response rather than a rational one. Sometimes, an idea lies dormant until the right moment, other times, it is instantaneous and I feel motivated to act fast and seize the moment. Either way, it has to be important to me because the work is labour intensive.

My process involves either photography or sketches or both. After deciding the subject andthe composition, I blow it up as a drawing for scale and take my patterns and templates from it. I then move into fabric construction. According to how large the work is, I might break it up into sections or components, sewing them separately and then reassembling them as a whole.

What are some of your favourite aspects of quilting?
I like to teach and travel, but I like best teaching close by where I can access my studio and supplies.
I rarely enter shows since it ties up the work for long periods of time and I prefer the pieces to be on display in our gallery. My favourite aspect of quilting is when I am focused and immersed in a work. Having moments of being on ‘top of my game’ is exhilarating and heady stuff. I am happiest then.  

How often do you get into your studio?

Every day I try to spend time in my studio, even briefly. Sometimes, it is just to catch up on emails and organize my work area. I usually have several projects on the go. Leaving some to gestate often proves worthwhile.

Many of your quilts have the theme of the ocean/water in them... can you elaborate on that?

The history of Nova Scotia intertwined with my own ancestral history has had an influence in recent years. It involves the landscape, lots of texture, its people and how they respond to their surroundings. It is a richness I long to absorb and represent. My latest work is a series I call Bodies at Work. It captures people responding to their environment, upholding traditions that require physical activity and the beauty of the common human response to that activity.

The Boat Builders

What is your favourite food while quilting?
I don’t normally bring food into my studio with the apartment so close by but I often bring a drink, most likely coffee which is what I am drinking now.

Thank you Ms. Swim for giving us a glimpse into your life!  For upcoming workshops in 2013 hosted by Laurie Swim, please check out her website.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful work and a charming studio. I visited a few years ago and met Laurie. She is very welcoming!