Judy Martin’s Community Sewing Art Project Returns Home After Touring Four Continents

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BACK HOME FROM TRAVEL – Family friend Reg Drolet, left, and husband Ned wrestle with ‘Mended World’ fabric art in position on the sanctuary wall at Little Current United Church the week last, as her daughter Grace and fabric artist Judy Martin hold the scales steady. The quilt, one of four created by 144 volunteers under Ms Martin’s direction, has returned from a globetrotting exhibit. The four pieces are exhibited in the church. photo of Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT — Like most creatives, fiber artist Judy Martin typically works in solitude, crafting her award-winning designs in her studio above the municipal offices in Northeast Town. But she describes her time with the Manitoulin Circle Project at Little Current United Church as one of the highlights of her career. Last week, Mended World, one of four quilts created during this project that toured the world as part of Masterworks: Abstract and Geometric (a global exhibition by Studio Art Quilt Associates), returned to join her three sister quilts adorning the sanctuary walls of the Little Current United Church.

“I’m very, very proud, this is the highlight of my career,” she said. “I am very proud of the exhibition in which it was organized. (Although) it’s probably not my best work, my individual self, but just generally working with these people and kind of not changing the world, but doing something with a group of people. I didn’t think I would like it so much. It seemed to make a big difference in everyone’s life.

There were 144 contributors who worked on the Manitoulin Circle project, people who came throughout the day to add a few stitches or just to chat with Ms. Martin or connect with each other. Sometimes it would be a group of 10 or 12 people at a time. “They would have a little party,” Ms. Martin said. “It lasted all day. I felt…not important…but needed, needed. Stopping proved to be a challenge as even after the project was completed and the quilts hung, many of the group found themselves searching for another purpose. “The project had a definite end point,” Ms. Martin recalls, “so we had to start something new.”

The genesis of the project began with a university course in which Ms. Martin was engaged at the time. This course called for the creation of a “liturgical work”, which initially made the artist think. Much religiously themed art, focusing on crucifixion or martyrdom, can be somewhat gruesome in its realistic depictions. “Pretty awful, actually, and realistic,” she said, adding, “It’s not my ‘school project’.”

“I was getting into more abstract work at the time,” she said. Her instructor told her, “’I’ve looked at your work, it’s already spiritual, follow what you’re doing,’” Ms. Martin recalls. “I became so inspired.”

She pointed to the thematic circles that feature in the work. “In the square, the square means the world and the circle means the people,” she said. “Meditation panels sort of hold people’s thoughts. They get back to work and their thoughts pick up where they left off.

The Manitoulin Circle Project was promoted and supported by Reverend Faye Stevens of Little Current United Church, who was very supportive of the project. “And Julia and Rick McCutcheon, who were also very supportive and helped get the project off the ground,” Ms Martin said.

After its completion, Mended World was selected to join a traveling exhibition that began in Houston, Texas and then traveled to multiple locations around the world, an invitational exhibition of one work by each of the 29 artists featured in the book. ‘Art Quilts International: Abstract & Geometric’ by Martha Sielman. The engaging artworks in the exhibition represented a range of styles across the spectrum of abstract art and participating artists hailed from Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan and the United States and were exhibited in these countries, as well as in China.

Upon returning to the island, Mended World needed tender loving care before reclaiming its place of honor on the walls of Little Current United Church.

“After his three-year adventure with the Masterpieces: Abstract and Geometric exhibition, I completely cleaned up and locked down Mended World,” Ms. Martin shared.

At 240cm high and 240cm wide and one centimeter deep (94″ x 94″), the work joins its equally monumental sisters in the church. Materials used in its construction include recycled linen and cotton damask, new silk, lightweight cotton, sewing and quilting thread, linen yarn, bamboo wadding, lined with reconstituted linen damask with cotton designed by the internationally renowned fashion house Marimekko.

Techniques used in its construction include hand stitching using foundation fabric, machine stitching, hand quilting and hand embroidery/quilting.

Once in-person attendance at the church resumes (Little Current United Church is currently hosting virtual services), visitors will once again be able to enjoy the full collection hanging on the walls of the sanctuary.

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