I started creating landscape fibre art pieces in the early 1990s and have become known for teaching this technique on Vancouver Island and extensively across Canada.
In the fall of 2004, my name was given by a fellow Quilters’ Guild member to Kevin Arndt, the rector of St Philip by-the-Sea, Lantzville. The church had been recently constructed and the leadership team were thinking of ways to decorate the blank walls and warm up the worship space. They decided to explore commissioning a series of fabric/fibre art wall hangings, as a contemporary twist on the ancient practice of hanging sacred tapestries.
I met the rector and the churchwardens to show my portfolio and to discuss the parameters of this project. Kevin had the idea of uniting contextual theology and ecclesiastical art in a series of quilts. They would be based on the colours of the liturgical season and reflect the local landscape, seascape and wildlife.
We decided five quilts would be made for the church, each with a local landscape theme. These quilts were the first commissioned work that I had done, and they would be the largest I had ever attempted in landscape form. Each quilt was also to include a white dove — a symbol of the Holy Spirit — playfully winging its way around above the scenes depicted.
Four of the quilts would reflect the colours and seasonal themes of the church year: gold and white for Christmas and Easter, green for Pentecost, purple for Lent, and blue for Advent. The fifth quilt would be a large permanent triptych depicting the beauty of Vancouver Island all year round. The four seasonal quilts were 7 feet (about 2.1 metres) wide by approximately 4 to 5 feet (about 1.2 metres to 1.5 metres) high, and the triptych approximately 10 feet (about 3 metres) wide.
I agreed to work with a small church team to design the first quilt. We decided upon the Christmas and Easter theme because these liturgical seasons can be quite short. I met with Kevin and eight others, and we discussed endless possibilities on how to incorporate the two scenes in one, along with some specific symbols and details they wished to be included. I did not anticipate the difficulty in accomplishing this task — creating art by committee was a definite challenge!
The left-hand side of the quilt would depict Christmas in winter, with a bright guiding star shining down over three local deer, symbolizing the Holy Family or the Magi (whichever you prefer!). The right-hand side would consist of a brilliant sunrise, representing the resurrection of Christ and the empty tomb. Blending and fading the vibrant Easter sunrise into the dark Christmas sky — in only a few inches — was quite a creative task and it turned out wonderfully! This quilt was named “The Light and Life of the World.”
With the completion and hanging of this first quilt, the parishioners were thrilled with the results. Having learned how a fibre artist works, they agreed to dissolve the small group (thank God!), and to leave the designing to me, and the symbols and subtle theological messages to the rector.
My long experience with strip landscape and thread painting techniques lent to my skills in making these quilts. It was also exciting to develop new methods to get the look I was after, although I had never attempted a landscape of this size before! Perspective and construction proved to be the largest challenges. I achieved perspective by taking a photo on my digital camera of what was on my design wall and downloading it onto my computer to get a bird’s eye view.
Kevin and I quickly developed a close friendship and a wonderful creative partnership. I would frequently email him, and he would give me a yay or nay on any elements I wanted to include in the designs. The follow-up emails would result in many amusing conversations! There were some exciting ideas I was developing, but when I presented them to Kevin, he would gently explain why in fact they would not be appropriate! We agreed that he would stick to symbolism and theology, and that I would bring it to life in colour, texture, fibre and talent!
Since it is the longest liturgical season, we decided several passages from the Bible would be depicted in the quilt for the green season of Pentecost. This involved creating many different scenes: seeds of grain, a rainbow after the flood, grapes and vines, and a fisherman’s boat and net. The centre scene was a narrow path through the rainforest, illuminated by Christ’s light. This quilt was named “Wisdom along the Way.”
The purple Lenten quilt was to depict a searching — an almost turbulent time of tension and foreboding — so I did this one with dark colours, crashing water, and jagged rocks and trees. In keeping with the theme, I chose to do an image of three crosses in silhouette seen from a distance. This quilt, named “Lenten Seascape,” seems to connect with people whenever it is shown. It later won the Viewers’ Choice 2007 award at the Canadian Quilters Association’s national juried show.
The theme of Advent, a time of quiet anticipation and waiting to see what is developing beneath the surface, prompted me to create an undersea scene (also because blue is the colour). Vancouver Island is known for some of the best diving in the world, and I was fortunate to know an underwater photographer who shared some great inspirational photos with me. I used these images for the piece, which was completed by 2008. The three orcas at play are a reference to the Holy Trinity. That which is visible above the waterline is calm and quiet. But unseen below is new life, abundant growth and great diversity. The name of this quilt is “Mary’s Womb.”
While working on these four seasonal quilts, I also completed a 10-foot (about 3 metres) triptych named “The Seventh Day of Creation.” It was inspired by natural life on Vancouver Island — our own Garden of Eden as I like to call it — and has many different plant and animal species depicted. The dogwood was in honour of the dogwood tree that lived in front of St Philip’s previous church building in downtown Lantzville. As well, it refers to a legend that the material used to construct Jesus’ cross was from a dogwood tree.
When all the commissioned works were finished, Kevin and the parishioners of St Philip’s organized a spectacular gala art show where all the quilts were beautifully displayed. Wine and treats were served, and everyone came dressed in their finest. After some very funny speeches, the quilts were formally consecrated and dedicated by James Cowan, Bishop of British Columbia.
Since that time, I have successfully completed many landscape fibre art commissions. Kevin and I paired up again in 2012 for another underwater scene. This was commissioned to hang in the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre (Wilkinson Jail), where Kevin served as chaplain. When that piece was completed and hung, we had an art show and a sale of my other works in the chapel of the jail! My latest commissioned work is an even larger piece spanning 14 feet (about 4.3 metres) by 7 feet (about 2.1 metres) for the City of Lacombe, Alberta.
I invite you to view my work on my website: www.coreenzerr.com