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Posts Tagged ‘Needle Woman’

If my late spouse Patricia Louise Williams had been an opera buff, I might have arranged a special performance in her name for charity. Had she loved walking in a particular park, I might have arranged for a bench with her name to be placed there. But, because three of her favorite things were needle art (embroidery, cross-stitch and other related techniques), our parrots,  and Northwest Coast art, I took an inspiration from Rande Cook’s “The Poet” and commissioned a limited edition of 20 prints and 5 artist proofs from Haisla artist John Wilson, one of our favorite artists.

The design process was interesting, because I had never been so heavily involved in it before. John and I chatted about what would go into the print a couple of times on Facebook before coming up with the final idea. I also talked with Mitch Adams, the artist-turned-printmaker as he was producing the prints and last minute changes were needed.

Essentially, the print is meant as a one to one transposition of her life into the cultures of the northern coast. The print shows a stylized woman (complete with labret) at a loom, which is a bit of wish fulfillment, because traditional weaving was something that Trish had dabbled in and always wanted to go more deeply into. Similarly, our four parrots become four ravens, their counterparts in the northern hemisphere, who also happen to be psychopomps – that is, conductors of the dead into the afterlife.

The print includes a number of reference and in-jokes, some public, and some private. The pattern on the loom is unfinished, reflecting the fact that Trish died relatively young, and with many things unfinished. Moreover, the pattern itself is Raven’s Tail, one of the oldest weaving patterns known on the coast, which ties in with Trish’s lifelong archaeological interests.

In the same way, the tongues of the ravens are touching, which traditionally indicates communication or the imparting of wisdom. If you have ever heard either parrots or ravens, you will know just how unlikely that sounds when applied to them.

To catch the other references, you would need to have known Trish. She was always holding needles in her mouth as she worked, which could make a kiss in passing a dangerous proposition. Also, like all needle art practitioners, she was always dropping needles – which one of us would eventually find by being stabbed in the foot. It’s all part of the gentle humor in the print which reflects Trish’s own.

I suppose some people might leap to accuse me of cultural expropriation. But if nineteenth century argillite carvers could depict Europeans in top hats, or Norman Tait could carve a mask that included a camera,  I think that “Needlewoman” is on safe grounds. People often forget the sense of humor in Northwest Coast art, and I make no apology for restoring some of it, especially when it’s appropriate to Trish.

Like all art, “Needle Woman is comforting to have – and so is sharing copies of it with those closest to Trish.

Thanks, John, for an original and moving piece of art.

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