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.

Textile Artist Monika Kinner-Whalen’s Prairie Passions

Textile Artist Monika Kinner-Whalen’s Prairie Passions

There is a popular social media hash tag for those of us that travel with our house on wheels; it’s called #HomeIsWhereYouParkIt. Sure, Gary, Marli and I love driving around Canada setting up our temporary home and then moving on to the next interesting spot, but it’s a transient lifestyle and to me a home has a more permanent ring to it. For all except the first 10 years of my life I have lived surrounded by the prairies in Alberta but I was born in British Columbia. You would think that after 40 years it would be in my blood; a place where my heart would call home. When Gary and I decided to move back to B.C. many people tried to provide some helpful advice, in particular about the closeness of the landscape and the grey skies that can hang around on occasion. At first I was worried about how I might feel about this but after being back in B.C. for 5 years now I know where my heart prefers to be.

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Fibre and textile artist Monika Kinner-Whalen will tell you the same thing about the prairies. I love being surrounded by the enormity of the mountains and the comfy feeling of being in a stand of trees, whereas Monika longs to see that vast expanse and uncluttered space for as far as her eyes can see. She describes her life on the prairies with such passion; the unforgiving thunderstorms, the never ending blue skies, the golden crops, the native grasses and plants and the ability to take a breath that feels like it could go on forever. The prairies are in her heart and she honours this place she loves by expressing it in her art.

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As with many artists we have met, art for Monika started out as something she wanted to do for herself and her family. It very quickly, within 7 years, turned into a full time career. She is largely self taught and has worked hard to teach herself to create beautiful art pieces with threads, fabrics, and yarns. Her dedication to hard work and always perfecting her technique through experimentation and curiosity has lead to recognition from her peers through magazine articles, keynote speaking opportunities, teaching workshops and awards.

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As you probably guessed, Monika’s subject matter consists of all things prairie. She is best known for her landscape thread paintings where she details blades of grass, wild flowers, and crops set on a back drop of one of Saskatchewan’s many vibrant living skies. The thread is her paint and her sewing machine is her brush. What I love about Monika’s thread paintings is that they actually look like a little miniature piece of the prairies with the texture adding another dimension of realism to her pieces.

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Recently, Monika has started relaying the macro view of the prairies in her art. These pieces remind me that although the wide open spaces are what I tend to focus on while cruising down the highway, there is another world of beauty under foot which is frequently missed. Often when we find ourselves face to face with something tiny we can make out details and textures that can’t be seen without having our noses just a few inches away. But Monika chooses to leave out the details in this case. She uses the fatter cousin of thread, yarn, as her paint for these pieces. They become less detailed than her landscapes and more of her impression of what she sees under foot.

As I focus on my computer screen and write about Monika and the art she creates, I think about how easy it is to get caught up in my own little corner of the world. It is artists like Monika that help me see the beauty in life, in my surroundings and even in the mundane and remind me to look up every now and again so I don’t miss the things that take my breath away.

Monika Kinner-Whalen creates and lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with her husband, three children and one dog child. Check out what else Monika has to say in her interview and help us spread the word about her work through social media and email. Thanks!

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