Who made that: a question about Public (Textile) Art in Canada? PDF  | Print |  E-mail

Carcross desert: ever heard of it?  It’s in the Yukon; it was the spot where the Klondike prospectors that had come over the Chilkoot Pass could set down in the narrows between Bennett and Tagish Lakes in the upper Yukon River to head north to the gold fields. Now it’s a small community supported by the tourists attracted to the smallest desert in the world, it is less then 260 hectors and is a real desert along with its historic relevance to the Gold Rush.  In Carcross the official government office is in the railway station and on the wall in the lobby is a large button blanket by Shirley Lord. (Image pending)  In the Elijah Smith Federal Building in downtown Whitehorse another in button Blanket in the federal building. In the post office in Lakefield Ontario is an Intuit tapestry. In Red Deer Alberta in the Arthur Erikson designed Red Deer Arts and Theatre building is a 16 X 50 ft piece called Landstat by Dorothy Caldwell commissioned and executed in 1986.  It’s wax resist and discharged on cotton with stitching, appliqué, gold leaf; and hand quilted with stripped branches suspended in front of it.


Landstat © Dorothy Caldwell Red Deer College

I have seen all four of these stunning pieces and many others while traveling in different parts of Canada over many years. Recently the roll played by public art in general and textile and fibre arts in specific have become part of an on going discussion. That includes the humanization of urban development, the relationship between art and context and the clash between municipal planning and cultural funding. Not to mention changing “public” taste.

In 2004 while working for TADA we received an e-mail from the Cultural Planner/Public Art Program in Ottawa asking us if we could help them locate an artist named Dee Reynolds.  The Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carlton Building at 495 Richmond where Reynolds in 1985 had installed in the atrium a seven story multi pieced tapestry of fabric and Plexiglas, had been sold and the artwork needed to be removed.  They needed to deal with this monumental art piece and would have preferred to work in consultation with the artist. We sent out word and there the story ended for TADA but not for me.  I have been researching textile arts in public spaces with the idea of developing an on-line data base. I recently got in touch with the Jonathan Browns from City of Ottawa’s Cultural Services department to find out what had happened with this art work.  He informed me that they were unable to contact Dee Reynolds and proceed to remove the work from the site. It was crated and placed into storage, no suitable site to reinstall this artwork has been found at this time.  In his response he informed me that they were working on full documentation of the entire collection, which included 26 other pieces of textile work and provided a list.

 There are many community and cooperate collections with textile and fibre art on display in “public” space and the where, when, what and who of it is  scattered in offices across the country, the concept of a central data bank is a pipe dream perhaps, but ….

Is just the beginning  ?

Fibre tour of Toronto part one:  “Lyra” Aiko Suzuki, “Quartet Modern”, Tamara Jaworska, Iridescent Marsh/Marais Irisé, by Paulette-Marie Sauve

“Lyra” Aiko Suzuki, Metropolitan Reference Library 789 Young Street, Toronto Ontario, Architect:  Raymond Moriyanna.


  Lyra by Aiko Suzuki

 Originally commissioned in 1981 as a site specific Installation, it became a land mark in the downtown Toronto art scene. Raymond Moriyanna’s innovative “organic” design with its red brick façade and vast interior atrium and hidden exterior terraced garden/ amphitheatre that attempted to blend the rapidly disappearing Victorian feel of the residential neighbourhood of Yorkville and Rosedale to the north with the corporate shopping area to the immediate on Bloor Street was a perfect setting for this contemplative work. Suspended and hanging low over an indoor reflecting pond surround with a range of tropical plants its impact was subliminal while comforting. It was   that of seeing /passing through an opening in the shadowy canopy of a rainforest to a sunlit canyon.   With the trend setting New Wave/ Rock and Roll restaurant Fiesta and the Carman Lamana Gallery, bridging the gap between the new generation of “Queen Street” artist such as General Idea, John Scott and Joanne Todd [the current elite of the Canadian art scene] and the Yorkville Art establishment of the sixties and seventies across the street from it the tourist traffic alone insured Lyra a place in collective memory.  

If not to be imprinted on memory what in fact is the roll of public art: to decorated, draw attention to a specific Building or site, or to appease some well intended yet ill conceive municipal development policy.  Time passes the cityscape changes, meaning assigned to design change along with function. Having once operated on a metaphoric level in terms of neighbourhood design history that wasn’t easily understood, a lot of ivy growing on the Young Street face of the building may have help; the Metropolitan Reference Library has had to revaluate its role as it has become surrounded by high-rise Condo developments, it is a library after all. Having once with its open spaces, comfortable furnishings reminiscent of the Victorian reading room, it is a high traffic waiting room that has patiently accommodate casual readers, researchers as well sheltering the homeless for a few hours a day, its terraced garden has been little more the a lunchroom for low level corporate employees and Hudson Bay sale clerks who brown bag it and suntan (weather permitting). Needs change and renovations have been made to the ground floor which is now filled with rows of computer stations and the lobby area has shrunk.  Lyra was removed for cleaning and it has yet to be reinstalled. It is currently in storage and the funds needed to clean and reinstall it are yet to be secured, fQ will keep you up to date on fund raising plans. 



Quartet Modern, Tamara Jaworska: First Canadian Place, King Street West, Architect: Bregman + Hamann Architects

TJ Quartet1  TJ quartet2   

TJ Quartet3     tJ 4

Born in and educated in Poland Tamara immigrated to Toronto in 1969, she has since become one of Canada’s most renowned fibre artist working as a weaver of exquisite Gobelin Tapestries. She is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art, along with her husband Tadeusz who is currently in post production on a documentary about Tamara and her work.

John E. Vollmer wrote  "Jaworska is a painter who chooses weaving as her medium. Her work is based on contemporary art vocabulary--broad gesture, juxtaposition, layering, suggestion of some underlying psychological truth. Jaworska's expressive work assaults the senses with urgency; we are challenged to grapple with the meanings of their visual, intellectual and emotional abstractions. . . . Colour resonates with depth and nuance. Surface is an adventure of tactile delight. Composition suggests some unspoken narrative or fragments of an unsung melody. These large-scale tapestries are not merely background decoration to be admired; they are expressions that command our attention, demanding reaction"  .[1]

 To read more about Tamara work you can consult Concordia University, Art History Departments “Artist of Eastern European Decent” data base http://art-history.concordia.ca/eea/artists/jaworska.html

 There are three other tapestries in the central lobby north of the elevator core of this building, Infinity by Sofia Dlugopolska (west side of lobby) Untitled by Jacqueline Lescott off the balcony to the south of Infinity and an untitled tapestry by Maria Ciechomska on the east side. Information about these artists has not been found and the obvious source of it, building management often considerate nothing more then decoration if they notice it at all. This is unfortunately indicative of attitudes about public art in general.  

First Canadian Place: Architect: Bregman + Hamann Architects  

The tallest building in the British Commonwealth and a downtown Toronto landmark, the 72-storey First Bank Tower incorporates the Bank of Montreal's head office. Its innovative perimeter structural steel tube design is unique both in its highly efficient use of steel, and for an ease of assembly that enabled the building to be constructed very quickly, an extremely important economic factor in the pressurized development and real-estate climate of Toronto in the late 1970s. [2]

 Iridescent Marsh/Marais Irisé, 1985 by Paulette-Marie Sauve, Toronto Dominion Center, Canadian Pacific Tower:  York Street entrance  


Left side Panel 9 feet high by 11 feet long (2.74 X 3.35 meters),

Right side (two panels placed together) measure 10 feet high by 26 feet long (3.05 X 7.92 m).


 “Paulette-Marie Sauvé’s Gobelin tapestry “Iridescent Marsh", is installed on adjacent walls of the west lobby of the Canadian Pacific Tower. Borrowing from elements of Bauhaus design, she has created irregular triangles of exuberant color, representing her interpretation of the Canadian landscape (Flora growing in marsh areas).  Seen from outside, these shapes provide an interesting diagonal play with the horizontal and vertical framework of the Mies van der Roe architecture. The artist's interest in color is evident both in the finished tapestry and in the creative process itself-she made her own dyes in order to achieve a maximum range of color relationships. The technique used is high warp tapestry weaving with a wool weft and cotton warp. The combined weight of all 3 pieces is approximately 113 kilograms, and total production time was ten months." [3]

 A side effect of this research has been the badly needed cleaning of this particular piece, while corresponding with Paulette-Marie about images and dimensions of the piece, I comment on the rather larger then life “dust bunnies” hanging from it. She has over the years tried to keep track of its condition worried about fading due to the fact that the late afternoon sun did reach it. However since the construction of the high rise office building across the street from it that problem has gone away. The colour has remained as strong as ever and now there are no more dust bunnies.

 In this four building complex, there are two other pieces: Sun Ascending, 1985 by Kaija Sanelma Harris in the TD Tower and Grande Ville, 1985 Joanna Staniszki in the Royal Trust Tower. Both of who have busy well established careers are easily accessible through their dealers and websites. Joanna Staniszki metal work was profiled in the Summer 2005 Surface Design, Journal of the Surface Design Association. As of this posting date have yet get the information about their pieces or images.

 Toronto Dominion Center, architect: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

 "The complex, designed by Mies van der Rohe in consultation with the local Toronto firms of John B. Parkin and Associates and Bregman + Hamann Architects , originally consisted of two towers and the banking pavilion. Though the official opening was in 1967, the first structure to be completed was the Toronto-Dominion Bank Tower in that year. At 222.8 metres tall, it was at the time the tallest building in Canada, and remains the fifth-largest building in Toronto".[4]



Image list

Landstat , Dorothy Caldwell from  http://ccca.concordia.ca/artists/artist_info.html?languagePref=en&link_id=180 close up   http://ccca.concordia.ca/artists/image.html?languagePref=en&url=/c/images/big/c/caldwell/cal001.jpg&cright=&mkey=467&link_id= used with permission

Quartet Modern, provide by artist used with permission

Iridescent Marsh/Marais Irisé, provided by artist, used with permission

website connected with this article

Aiko Suzuki (1937-2005) :http://www.aikosuzuki.ca/

Architect:  Raymond Moriyanna mtarch.com/projects/toronto-reference-library-revitalization/

First Canadian Place, Architect: Bregman + Hamann Architects


Paulette-Marie Sauve http://www.artweave.net/   

Joanna Staniszki  http://www.joannastaniszkis.com/

 [1]  Vollmer, John E,. “Tamara Jaworska. Tapestries-Tapisseries.” Oakville, Ontario: Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and Mosaic Press, 1992.  




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