Aqua Sea Wrap, a pleated wrap in silk by Wilma
Butts, descends into a base of Denise Jeffrey's
porcelain sea creatures in their shared show
Denise Jeffrey's porcelain seaweed platters match
the shibori silk sculpted sea onions made by
fibre artist Wilma Butts in their shared exhibit
Freewave at the Craig Gallery, Alderney Landing.
Above right is a detail from Jeffrey's triptych
of porcelain tiles, Adoration of the Octopi.
Two local artists explore ocean environment.
Artists navigate ocean environment with cloth, clay
By ELISSA BARNARD / At the Galleries
Wilma Butts and Denise Jeffrey both switched careers to become artists.
Neither has ever looked back. "Not for a minute," says Jeffrey, a studio potter
in Minesville. "I'm absolutely passionate about it."
She recalls her first day as a mature student in ceramics at NSCAD University.
"I'd never touched clay before," she says. "Sitting at the wheel, I was the
oldest student there, I couldn't get my cylinder going up and I was having the
most fun I'd ever had in my life."
She exhibits with Halifax fibre artist Wilma Butts in the show Freewave at the
Craig Gallery, Alderney Landing. The two explore the ocean environment in
Jeffrey's porcelain sculptures and Butts's scarves and wall hangings in cotton,
silk and velvet.
Both women grew up by the sea. Both volunteer on committees with the Nova Scotia
Designer Crafts Council, which is how they met, and both make their living
selling functional crafts. Jeffrey sells carved porcelain vessels through d.
Wilma Butts, a native of Glace Bay who worked in marketing before switching to
textiles in 1998, sells "art to wear" under the name Arashi.
"It was two years ago we started to talk about this," says Butts, sitting in the
gallery. "The combination of clay and cloth is a traditional pairing because
both are relatively ancient crafts. People have been doing clay and fibre work
for thousands of years."
Butts uses an ancient dye technique called shibori, which comes from the
Japanese verb "shiboru," meaning to wring or squeeze. Shibori involves
pleating, stitching, wrapping and binding fabric during the dyeing process.
"Shibori techniques have been practised for thousands of years by many different
cultures," says Butts.
"The patterns it creates are highly organic. When people look at my art-to-wear
pieces, they say they see water or sky."
Butts decided to push her work even more in the direction of oceanic patterns.
She has created a rippling blue scarf that ends in delicate three-dimensional
bubbles that look like sea foam.
"This show gives me a chance to expand and explore a lot of different themes."
She experimented in a technique called scouring, which removes proteins from
silk to get different textures, colours and patterns within the one piece of
fabric. Colour adheres more strongly to protein; the portions of silk stripped
of protein look washed out and eroded in Butts's piece Iridescence, of two
back-to-back pieces of shimmering patterned silk so delicate a whisper could
make it move. The pattern recalls fish scales, rippled sand, water, even
striations in rock.
Jeffrey also used the exhibit as a chance to experiment by developing a
completely new and glossy glaze palette away from her deep matte greens.
"I did 66 glaze tests before starting," says Jeffrey. "I've never had this kind
of detail or palette."
Her Adoration of the Octopi triptych is a painterly depiction of sea life in
amazing detail. Attached to the surface of the clay "painting" are tiny
thimble-sized sea creatures that have even tinier threads of clay sprouting
from their tops.
Jeffrey pressed coral into the clay to create rock texture. She used a wire
brush to draw in scrawling water lines, and she carved into the clay, which she
does a lot in her production work.
"The triptych is originally a Christian device for carrying portable altar
pieces," says Jeffrey. Her title refers to the Adoration of the Magi.
"Minoan pots were decorated with octopus. There is that ceramic reference too,"
She often refers to ceramics history in her work. "I studied under Walter
(Ostrom), so I took four to six art history courses. My regular body of work
references Asian stuff."
Jeffrey grew up in Meadowbank, outside Charlottetown. "I'm an ex-scuba diver, I
spent time sailing. As a kid I dreamed of being a marine biologist."
Jeffrey wanted to explore the sea "from the surface, from underneath, from the
seashore and from the imagination," she says. Her spiny critters on the back
wall are "like nothing I've ever seen before."
One creature of spikes has a centre of a red velvet shibori scarf, inspired by
the mouths of sea anemones.
This exhibit can be as literal as Slick, an environmental piece about the
illegal dumping of oily bilge water from passing ships, which Environment
Canada says kills 300,000 seabirds each year off the coast of Atlantic Canada.
Jeffrey made a three-dimensional sea duck and placed it on sand-coloured tiles
within a shallow wooden box by Stephen Gould of Sambro. Hanging above it is
Butts's Black Nature banner of scrunched, rippled cotton in blacks and silvery
sand colours, a piece Butts did unconnected to Jeffrey's Slick. However, "if
you see an oil slick on the sand in the light there are a lot of these colours
there," says Jeffrey.
"Until recently it was easier to ignore the darker side," she says. Now, "you
cannot go to a beach anywhere in the world and not come upon man-made garbage.
This is the one in-your-face piece."
Butts says: "We wanted to draw people's attention to the beauty of it and be
more thoughtful of the ocean, and this is a reference to what can happen if
people aren't thoughtful of the ocean environment. The beauty is there, but
it's easily destroyed."
Other works are lyrical and fanciful, with a pairing of Butts's playful sea
onion sculptures in seaweed colours with Jeffrey's seaweed platters. "I just
wanted to do a sculpture in cloth," says Butts. "They just evolved and then
they looked like onions when they were done."
The two were inspired by the tropics for a mobile of hanging porcelain coral
with twists of pink, yellow and turquoise silk.
Freewave is the name for a giant length of sea blue fabric, scoured silk organza
that cascades down from the ceiling and ends in a pool with Jeffrey's
sculptures of sea creatures and oyster shells. "As people walk around it,
they'll get the effect of the tide sort of rolling in," says Butts.
The two artists didn't plan exactly how their work would connect until they got
to the gallery.
"We were amazed when we got here and set up the show, because I hadn't seen
these pieces," says Butts. "We were amazed how the colouring and texture refer
to one another."
Jeffrey says: "We hope people will take the time. It's similar to the ocean -
you have to look. You have to look deep."
Freewaves is at the Craig Gallery, Alderney Landing, Dartmouth, to July 24.
Gallery hours are Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday to Thursday, noon to 5:30
p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.