Judy Martin’s community sewing fabric art project back home after four-continent tour

BACK HOME FROM TRAVELS—Family friend Reg Drolet, left, and husband Ned wrestle the fabric art ‘Mended World’ into position on the wall of the sanctuary of Little Current United Church last week, as daughter Grace and fabric artist Judy Martin hold the ladders steady. The quilt, one of four created by 144 volunteers under the direction of Ms. Martin, has returned home from a globe trotting exhibition. All four pieces are displayed at the church. photo by Michael Erskine

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

“I’m very, very proud, this is the high point of my career,” she said. “I am very proud of the exhibition it was put in. (Although) this is probably not my best work, my individual self, but just generally, to work with those people and sort of, not change the world, but to do something with a group of people. I didn’t think I would like it as much. It just seemed to make a big difference in everybody’s lives.”

There were 144 contributors who worked on the Manitoulin Circle Project, people who would drop in through 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 once. “They would have a bit of a party,” said Ms. Martin. “It went on all day. I felt…not important…but needed, necessary.” Stopping proved to be a challenge as even after the project had been completed and the quilts hung, many in the group found themselves casting about for another purpose. “The project had a definite end point,” recalled Ms. Martin, “so we had to start something new.”

The genesis of the project started with a university course that Ms. Martin was engaged in at the time. That course called for the creation of a ‘liturgical work’ something that had, at first, given the artist some pause. So much of religious-themed art, with its focus on crucifixion or martyrdom can be somewhat gruesome in its realistic depictions. “Quite horrific, actually, and realistic,” she said, going on to clarify that “This is not my ‘school project’.”

“I was getting into more abstract work at the time,” she said. Her instructor told her “‘I looked at your work, it is already spiritual, follow what you do’,” recalled Ms. Martin. “I became so inspired.”

She pointed to the thematic circles that feature in the work. “Within the square, the square means the world and the circle means the people,” she said. “The meditation panels kind of hold people’s thoughts. They come back to the work and their thoughts start back where they left off.”

Manitoulin Circle Project was promoted and nurtured by then-Little Current United Church Rev. Faye Stevens, 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,” said Ms. Martin.

Following its completion, Mended World was selected to join a travelling exhibition that started out in Houston, Texas and then exhibited in several locations around the world, an invitational exhibition of one work each by of 29 artists featured in the book ‘Art Quilts International: Abstract & Geometric’ by Martha Sielman. The engaging works of art in the show represented a range of styles across the abstract art spectrum and the participating artists came from Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan and across the US and was displayed in those countries, as well as China.

Upon its return to the Island, Mended World needed a bit of tender, loving care before once again taking up its place of honour on the walls of Little Current United Church.

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

At 240 cm in height and 240 cm in width and one centimetre in depth (94” x 94”), the work joins its similarly monumental sisters in the church. The materials used in its construction include re-cycled linen and cotton damask, new silk, light weight cotton, sewing and quilting thread, linen yarn, bamboo batting, backed with linen damask pieced with cotton designed by internationally renowned fashion house Marimekko. 

The techniques used in its construction include hand piecing using foundation cloth, machine piecing, hand quilting and hand embroidery/quilting.

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