Rita St. Amant’s Art Is To Dye For

Rita St. Amant’s Art Is To Dye For

"Sunflower" - hand dyed, applique, free motion thread painting

As we journeyed across Canada in search of artists to interview we passed through many larger urban centres, but mostly we came across the smaller towns as we traversed the roads less traveled. Willow Bunch in south central Saskatchewan was one such destination; a small town steeped in history, from its celebrated native son, giant and strongman Édouard Beaupré, to its connections to Jean-Louis Légaré and the famous Sioux leader Sitting Bull. It was here, in this pretty little town nestled within a small valley that we met up with fibre and mixed media artist Rita St. Amant.

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With a little trepidation we left Assiniboia and headed for Willow Bunch; Rita warning us of crater-sized potholes in the road that could swallow up our beloved 25 year old van Arty, or at the very least deliver a concussive blow. Also, Rita thought that her interview was for the day before our planned arrival. As it turned out our faithful chariot made it there in one piece and Rita was also still there, waiting for us with some carrot and zucchini cake, to be chased down with coffee and tea. So far so good.

"Big Muddy Valley" - needle felting

“Big Muddy Valley” – needle felting

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Descending to Rita’s basement studio and gallery one might think of a dark workplace devoid of natural light, but the multitudes of brightly coloured fabrics in every corner and space defy any gloom, and instead greeted our eyes with gusto. Some fabrics rest in their completed forms as quilted art pieces, silks or scarves, while others are waiting to be transformed into her next idea. Rita hand dyes most of her own fabrics with very little usage of commercial product, and will employ different techniques to do so. She uses an ancient Japanese fabric dyeing technique called shibori; a method which can involve folding the fabric in certain configurations or also wrapping it around a foam noodle before dyeing to create stunning patterns. She will also bind stones of differing sizes in the fabric with elastics to create other engaging designs. Varying effects are also created with the use of stenciling, a potato masher, and even used dryer sheets. Rita’s imagination reveals that there are endless possibilities for textile art and the mixed media that one can employ.

"Saskatchewan Tiger Lily" - hand painted on silk

“Saskatchewan Tiger Lily” – hand painted on silk

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Rita related to us that she has always wanted to be an artist, loving to draw as a little girl and then also moving into painting. She was influenced by her parents, with her father enjoying drawing and her mother being very artistic and involved with various crafts. Her first interest into the world of fibre arts came when she was at an art exhibit and was fascinated by the textile arts of Martha Cole, who proved to be a huge influence for Rita. That sparked her initial foray into fibre art and she hasn’t looked back, with over ten years now of creating her own works of art. She notes that the feel of the cloth and the many varied forms of art one can do with it explains why she has taken to the textile arts, but also that the mixed media challenges her to grow and think outside the box. Though a self-taught artist, Rita enjoys the camaraderie that going to art retreats brings; sharing ideas and techniques with other artists.

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Rita and her husband love to travel in their motor-home, and it is on these excursions that they both indulge in their pastimes and passions. He scours the landscape with his metal detector searching for buried treasure in the form of coins, while Rita takes her fabric dyeing process on the road with her. Depending on the area that they find themselves in, Rita will also include what she finds in these natural surroundings to incorporate into her fabric patterns, such as using varieties of leaves and plants. So whether at home or on the road, Rita’s love for her natural surroundings and the colours and textures that it brings is always a source of awe and inspiration for her next project.

Learn more about Rita and her art work in our interview with her shown below. Feel free to share on social media and leave a comment below if you like.

Fibre Artist Ann Harmer Puts Another Feather in the Mushroom Cap

Fibre Artist Ann Harmer Puts Another Feather in the Mushroom Cap

Lobster Mushroom

The more I learn about mushrooms the more I love them! Fortunately for Gary and I our trip to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia would lead us to the doorstep of fibre artist and mushroomist Ann Harmer and her world of the magnificent mushroom. Ann lives with her husband Rick and their two friendly pooches on a parcel of land near Katherine Lake where we had camped the night before. They moved from Burnaby about a decade ago after falling in love with the area. Rick says it was Katherine Lake that pulled them there. Outside their door is a rainforest which harbours all the right conditions for mushroom life. Before moving to this area, Ann had decided she wanted to learn all about mushrooms not realizing this endeavour would lead her into a creative realm using the humble fungi.

Ann Harmer Wearing One of Her Crocheted Scarves Coloured with Various Mushroom Dyes

Ann Harmer Wearing One of Her Crocheted Scarves Coloured with Various Mushroom Dyes

I was curious to find out if using the mushroom to make dyes was some sort of ancient art form. As Ann explained it only began when a woman in California was creating a dyepot out of flowers, and merely out of curiosity happened to throw in some little yellow mushrooms. It turns out she got a beautiful yellow dye and the rest is history. Now people all over the world forage for pigment mushrooms. They even get together once every two years for a pigment mushroom symposium to discuss all things fungi.

Range of Colours From Pigment Mushrooms

Range of Colours From Pigment Mushrooms

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Typical mushroom hunting season on the coast begins in July and goes into November. During that time Ann can be found out in the forest with her two dogs on the hunt for pigment mushrooms. Only a fraction of all mushroom species contain a pigment that is suitable for dyeing. I must say I was astounded at the colour palette; everything from earthy browns and greens to pinks, blues, and orange hues. Most of the mushrooms Ann hunts for are not edible but there is the lobster mushroom that she and Rick share. The lobster is a deep orange colour on the outside with a white fleshy inside. Ann peels the outside for her colour palette and Rick uses the tasty inside for his palate.

Beautiful Earthy Tones on Handspun Wool Art Yarn

Beautiful Earthy Tones on Handspun Wool Art Yarn

Mushroom Paper Bowls

Mushroom Paper Bowls

Some of Ann’s mushroom hunting involves locating a species that contains chitin. Chitin is the substance that helps to create the hard shell for arthropods such as insects, lobsters, and spiders. In the case of the mushroom, Ann can make a strong paper-like fibre which she turns into bowls, beads for jewellery and sculpture pieces such as hats and shoes (future project).

Turkey Tail Pendant and Mushroom Paper Beads

Turkey Tail Pendant and Mushroom Paper Beads

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The humble mushroom is an incredibly versatile species. It has been used in bioremediation as well as making a material that could replace plastic one day and not to mention they are wonderful to eat. And now as we have learned, it earns a noble place in the world of the visual arts. Before we left Ann and Rick that day we spent some time chatting over a cup of Earl Grey tea and some Candy Cap shortbread cookies that Ann had made. Candy Caps are a mushroom that taste and smell a bit like maple syrup. Even Gary couldn’t resist them!

To find out more about Ann Harmer please click here to get to her website.

Join us as Ann talks about the process of using mushrooms as dyes. We always love your comments and please help us spread the word about Ann on social media and through email. Thanks!