Thursday, April 23, 2015

SAQA Journal Featured Artist Spring 2015

Cover Image:  Mended World 2012, made with community assistance as part of the Manitoulin Circle Project 94" x 94" repurposed linen and cotton damask, machine and hand piecework, hand quilted  photo by Klaus Rossler
Judith e Martin was featured in the spring 2015 edition of the Studio Art Quilts Association Journal.
The article is by Martha Sielman.  

Judy Martin’s studio in Sheguiandah, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada, contains just a chair, a design wall, and her collection of over 200 journals that she’s kept over the course of her life making in fiber. This past year she’s been re-reading her journals and then wrapping them shut, bundling them up. “I’m enjoying doing this more than I can say - both the re-reading and the shutting up. Perhaps this is in response to my own mortality and not wanting to leave behind a messy house for my kids. My journals help me to make sense of my life and art.”

Known for her dense hand stitching, Judy’s art explores the process of making. For her, this process is more important than the outcome. In a speech she gave about a community meditation project she organized, she said, “Making something slowly with one’s hands is perhaps one of the most nourishing things one can do. Creating something from nothing – or better, creating something new from something no longer needed or wanted is healing for the planet and for us.”  The Manitoulin Circle Project for which Judy was the lead artist brought together over 140 women over four years from 2009 to 2013 to create four huge 90”-square panels, which are now installed permanently in the Little Current United Church sanctuary.

One of the four panels, Mended World, uses a variety of donated and thrift shop damask table linens string-pieced together, cut, and pieced again. Because of the multiple seams, the narrow strings often had to be mended using backstitching as they were being pieced together. As Judy worked to mend an area of the central circle, the title Mended World came to her as a description of the form they were stitching, as well as a vision of hope for our planet. She said, “I think that these panels give hope. These panels are solid; they are real. They were made by real people as gifts. Gifts for the future. These panels are a tangible way to show our belief in a future.”

Judy Martin with Precious Water, 2013 86" x 86" completely hand stitched,.  This piece is one of the panels from the Manitoulin Circle Project and was made with assistance from the community during weekly meetings photo by Frank Myers
Growing up on a farm in northern Ontario, Judy says that their rural isolation fostered a tendency towards self-reliance. “I remember mud, grass, insects, birds, 40-minute school bus rides, trees planted by my mother, vegetable gardens by my father. I grew up with my two siblings and a lot of solitude. Summers were spent under the willow trees day-dreaming. Today I choose to live in the country and try to spend most days alone. My work reflects this choice and often references what I live with here on Manitoulin Island: large empty fields of grass, long views over ripples of water towards a calm horizon.”

Judy uses her long hours of hand stitching as a time for reflection. “My art is about relationships: with family, with nature, and with my inner self. My art is the only place where I feel I can express these things and communicate about them on a deep level. My stitching is based on repetition and accumulation. I am inspired by the many small marks in the natural world, each unique but all the same.”

Wool is a favorite fiber. Judy especially enjoys repurposing old blankets with their layers of inherent meaning and history. She says that blanket-weight wool is an excellent material for a Canadian artist because of the climate. She dyes much of the fiber she uses with natural dyes extracted from local plants in Ontario. However, Judy also uses silk, linen, cotton and enjoys ordering small samples of unusual threads via the Internet just to experiment with them.

Not To Know But To Go On  2010-2013  14" x 223 feet  one skein of cotton embroidery floss was used up each day for three years, couching found fabric to canvas, photo by Gareth Bate
Thread is intrinsic to Judy’s work because hand-stitched marks are the essence of her art. Not to know but to go on was begun when Judy was about to turn 60. She wanted to record the passage of time, so every day she chose a few pieces of fabric from her scrap baskets, tore them into ¾” strips, folded the strips in on themselves lengthwise, and then stitched over the entire strip, attaching it to a 14”-wide canvas background. Each day she chose a color of embroidery floss randomly from her basket. Each day she stitched until she had used up the entire skein. For three years, each day was marked by a different color of thread but often the same base fabric was continued until that scrap was used up. These 223 feet recorded the daily passage of Judy’s time and intention.

Judy spends most mornings either sitting on her deck or in a sunny window overlooking the lake and stitching for about three hours.  After chores and a walk, she goes to her studio to plan out new work and do any machine sewing.  She also presents lectures on how her work combines concerns for the environment with a love of poetry and the life-changing effects of motherhood.  She is again teaching workshops, as well as leading another slow stitch. 

Her most recent personal project was a response to a call for an exhibition entitled Wild Pure Aesthetic Wonder, curated by Gloria Hickey and Philippa Jones. It will be exhibited at the Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council’s Fibre Conference in Gros Morne, Newfoundland, in October 2015.

In the spring and summer of last year, Judy harvested and processed local plants found near where she lives on Manitoulin in order to dye yards of thrift store finds of blanket-weight wool fabric. “It's always a discovery to work with nature. So many variables can come into play. It was challenging to ensure that the lengths of heavy cloth dyed evenly. Natural dye processes take time, heat, and full immersion.”

Beginning With Time:  Day   2015   Judith e Martin  reclaimed blankets, plant dyes, hand stitch  78" x 90" photo by Nick Dubecki
Then she began stitching. She wanted to transform the wool from something meaningful in its own right to something that used all those qualities but added the emotion and self-revelation that art brings. She found that for this piece, sticking with her preferred minimalist aesthetic was more challenging than usual. The materials were so luxurious that it was constantly tempting to become more elaborate, but she wanted the aesthetic to be simple and pared down. She was so inspired by the wool, the earthy warm brown of the reclaimed over-dyed wool blanket (previously pink), that she is now planning to expand the process in order to make a room-sized installation that will include several blankets. 

beginning with time: day  DETAIL  2015  Judith e Martin  hand stitch , plant dyed wool, photo Nick Dubecki 
In September, with three blankets started, Judy went with her husband to Newfoundland in order to visit both Gros Morne and the Viking settlement on the upper Western Peninsula. In Newfoundland she found “everything and more as far as wildness, pureness, and aesthetic wonder are concerned.” And she returned inspired to choose one of the three blankets and complete it.

Beginning With Time: Night  Judith e Martin 2015  reclaimed wool blankets, plant dyes, hand stitch 78" x 90" photo Nick Dubecki
Beginning with Time is a large piece (78” x 90”), and it covered her entire design wall. Both sides are filled with dense, ordered columns of seed stitch in wool yarns. Judy has titled one side Beginning with Time: Day and the other Beginning with Time: Night. “I hope that what my work communicates is the quiet joy of making and at the same time the feeling that we are each just a tiny speck. This piece has taken on a stubborn silent quality - it will not be defeated. The dots below the horizon are perhaps the safety net I think about or represent a depth we cannot fathom. There is no eye level focal point. Instead, it evokes a feeling of being lost in the woods. The comfort usually associated with wool blankets is altered and gravity is created: the heavy materials and dark colors have an emotional gravity as well as a physical one.” It has been shipped to St. John's for an exhibition at a craft gallery for the month of April and then will show in Gros Morne from May through October 2015. 
Fragile As A Leaf In Autumn  2004  cotton, linen, procion dye, shibori process, piecework, applique, hand embroidery, 73" x 98"  photo Sarah Warburton
The importance of touch is a theme that Judy returns to again and again. “The marks made by the wool threads make us want to pet it with the nap, along the grain, up and down and in circles. I do anyway.” She maintains that while we credit sight with being our most important sense, it is touch that unlocks our unconscious memories and dreams. During emotional experiences such as dreaming, listening to music, or caressing our beloved, we close our eyes. Touch is how we know with our heart and body. Our skin is our biggest organ, so touch is an emotional thing.

Fragile As a Leaf in Autumn detail   Judith e Martin 2004,  hand embroidery, cotton fabrics, photo Sarah Warburton
The meditative nature of repetitive handwork is what gives Judy’s art its resonance. Judy writes, “I believe that my work in textiles reaches others on a more emotional level than drawing or painting ever can. The reason for this is the very materiality of cloth and stitch. Cloth has a most intimate connection to the human body. Babes are wrapped in cloth within minutes of emerging from the womb. Cloth is fragile and wears out with age, like the human body. The hand stitch is a slow method of making a mark and seems to hold time and make it visible. This time spent repeatedly touching a piece expresses a thoughtful caring and tenderness. There is power in cloth that has been stitched by hand.”

Martha Sielman is the Executive Director of SAQA. Judy Martin will be one of the featured artists in her forthcoming book, “Art Quilt Inspirations: Abstracts and Geometrics.”  


  1. Linda VanderVeen5:01 AM

    Way to go Judy!! Beautiful work -as usual.

    1. thank you Linda. I am pleased with the article.

  2. Inspiring and stunningly beautiful! I wish I lived close enough to join in one Thursday afternoon.

  3. Margaret Ellen Jackson8:15 AM

    Your creations are lovely...

    1. How nice to hear from you, Mugs.

  4. Stunningly realistic - words, thoughts- insight into life and work that goes beyond what we see. Beauty to share and contemplate.

    1. Thank you Beth for your personal support over the years. xo

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you for your compliment, Sharron.

  6. Replies
    1. Jennifer, I am so pleased with being featured this way. xo

  7. you are truly an nispiration

    1. What a beautiful thing to say to me. Thank you xoxo

  8. Dear Judy,
    You are such an inspiration! Something special happens when one stops thinking of hand stitching as tedious work and starts breathing in harmony with each stitch he/she takes. The creator and creation becomes one. I see that in everything you do. Thank you for being so passionate about your life and sharing your work with the world.

    1. You are very generous. Thank you for saying all these things, and also for the book and heart felt quilts you create. Your spirit has reached so many through your teaching and your book, and I appreciate hearing from you dear Sujata. xo