Radical quilting

- March 31, 2008

Barbara Hill-Taylor
Barbara Hill-Taylor in her home studio.(Nick Pearce Photo)

Barbara Hill-Taylor isn’t exactly off the wall, but her art sure is.

She creates three-dimensional quilts that are displayed on specially-made wrought-iron obelisks, like free-standing quilted sculptures. The quilts evoke layer upon layer of a landscape that goes on forever, brown upon brown, green on upon green, and topped with a big sky. In between layers, there are surprises: a shot of yellow like a canola field; or a floral fabric suggesting wildflowers by the side of the road.

“When I’m working on it my mind travels … I’m thinking about the layers of dirt and what you might find if you dig down deep,” says Ms. Hill-Taylor, 48, who grew up in Saskatchewan.

Her piece, Fieldlines, was displayed as part of the Dalhousie Art Gallery’s 54th annual Student, Staff, Faculty and Alumni exhibition last month. Ms. Hill-Taylor has recently returned to university as a student in the Masters of Library and Information Science program. She hopes to eventually land a job as a librarian or information broker working in an archive, university or museum setting.

Barbara Hill-Taylor's Fieldlines. (Nick Pearce Photo)

“I couldn’t do this full-time,” she says, indicating her trusty sewing machine with a nod. “It just doesn’t work for me like that. It’s too solitary and I’m too compulsive. It’s better if I do it for awhile, leave it and come back to it.”

As an artist, Ms. Hill-Taylor specialized in printmaking and photography until the birth of her son, Nik, spurred a change of direction.

With a baby to take care of, “printmaking and photography wouldn’t jibe with the schedule,” and so, with a rudimentary sewing ability, she started quilting. Since moving to Halifax 10 years ago, she joined the Mayflowers Quilters Guild and hooked up with other creative women for weekly get-togethers on Tuesday nights. Friends socialize and learn from each other while working on individual projects.

“They’ve taught me an awful lot about how to sew and other things I didn’t know,” says Ms. Hill-Taylor.

Her quilts have never been intended for beds. Rather, she used them to explore issues of identity, memory and landscape. Recent pieces, including a quilt and handmade children’s clothing embossed with photo transfers of childhood scenes, were submitted for an exhibition of self-portraits at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts in the Annapolis Valley. She’s currently working towards an exhibition coming up at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte, Ont., in the Ottawa Valley.

“I’m still trying to find the balance (between art and school),” she says. “Last term, I didn’t sew at all. But with the exhibition coming, I need to get a good chunk of work done.” 


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