Yellow Canoe travels south to Saskatchewan Arts Council Gallery in Saskatoon

Photo courtesy of Hilary Johnstone. One piece, depicting the wildfires in northern Saskatchewan, stands on its own in the exhibit.

One of the 22 pieces in Hilary Johnstone’s fabric-art exhibit in the Saskatchewan Arts Council’s gallery in Saskatoon is named, Yellow Canoe.

“I liked the sound of the name, so, I though, just name the whole show, Yellow Canoe,” Johnstone said, in an interview with the Northern Advocate, when asked about the name of exhibit.

The exhibit, which will be in the Gallery Nov. 14 to Jan. 6, includes a “range from landscape to canoeists on the lake – some a bit more abstract and then some close up like a plant,” she said about the variety of her, what she calls, “fabric collage.”

Johnstone’s art focuses on the natural soundings of the area she lives in.

“(It’s) where I get my inspiration from, for sure,” she said. “The fact that we’re lucky enough to live in an area that isn’t highly developed means that I can find the natural places that I find so beautiful and inspiring. That’s what I base my art on.”

She also acknowledges living on the “ancestral territory of the Woodland Cree and Métis – Treaty 6.”

While the artwork in this exhibit is all fabric, she begins a piece by doing sketches to “get my ideas down and my composition figured out … Three framed sketches were [part of] a long study that I’d done that were worth framing,” are included with the resultant art piece.

Johnstone said she’s found that people like to feel the fabric pieces. That often include softer fabric such as velour and satin, she also included two small artworks, 8”x8”, on stands as part of the exhibit.

“People are invited to touch so they can pick them up, they can feel them, they can rub their hands over them and that way get a little closer to the idea of why I like working with fabric … that makes it a little bit more interactive exhibit,” she explained.

While Johnstone agrees people will take from an art piece what they see, she also likes to give some background for her work. She added a small explanation beside each artwork in the display.

“(It’s) just out of interest,” she said. “(It’s) like, this is what inspired this.”

Photo courtesy of Hilary Johnstone.
Art pieces are rolled out onto a table, where Arts Council staff choose, arrange and hang them in groupings, which complement one another.

The Saskatchewan Arts Council have a fairly large gallery space on a busy block 813 Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon.

They have two staff, whose job it is to choose, organize and hang the pieces that will make up an exhibit, Johnstone said.

As it is fabric, her art is easier to transport, as it does not require framing. She rolls the pieces on pool noodles, which she finds “very practical,” and they fit easily in the back of her car for transport.

The Gallery people have the 26 pieces laying out on a large table. They flip through the work, putting pieces that work together and find a place that suits them in one space on the wall or another. Then they “move to another wall and say this artwork is so powerful, the one about the forest fire, and it might resist, take the energy of the air for other artworks.”

Johnstone said she is happy with the location of the gallery, which is in a busier part of the city. In the holiday season the Arts Council expands their boutique, which, although it leaves less space for an exhibit, it attracts more foot traffic through the gallery, so more people visit the exhibit, Johnstone said.

The area is “really nice. It’s got so many variety of stories in one little area; it’s more like an old town, like the old idea of walking everywhere and everything in close range.”

The Arts Council accepted Johnstone’s proposal two years ago, which is pretty typical for galleries, she said.

It gave her two years to “prepare and gather things.”

She also asked the owners’ permission of one piece she sold, for use of a piece for the exhibit. “I ask the owner’s permission if I want to borrow them back … I only did it with one of them, but, sometimes one artwork just needs to other because it suits going beside another.

She also appreciated the Saskatchewan Arts Board’s grants she received in 2021 and 2021, which assisted her production for the exhibit.