Masterful works on exhibit in Gore Bay Museum’s summer shows

‘Silk Fish’ is a striking three-dimensional ‘soft sculpture’ of moulded wire underlay and bright silk pieces quilted by Lynda Noe. “I wanted it to look like a trophy fish,” laughs the artist. photo by Isobel Harry

by Isobel Harry

GORE BAY—Two accomplished artists in very different media are featured this summer in the two galleries at the Gore Bay Museum, both assuring contemplative and exhilarating experiences for art lovers who visit this cultural hub on a hill overlooking the town.

Lynda Noe, fibre artist, exhibits her exquisite and complex fabric pieces created over the last 15 years in a show entitled ‘Natural Progression: Fibre Art Past and Present,’ while David Lewis, photographer, is showing 30 images in his project entitled ‘Purvis Fishery,’ all painstakingly processed melding modern and historical processes unique to his practice.

In the first gallery, Lynda Noe, whose studio, Scissors and Silk, is in the Gore Bay Harbour Centre, displays “15 or so” diverse fabric creations from small to mural-size that use traditional quilting methods in surprising new ways. “I wanted viewers to see the progression I’ve made as an artist, so I am showing everything from pretty landscapes to a wall hanging depicting urban graffiti on brick,” says the artist.

Her earlier work, from 2001, “is hand appliquéd and hand quilted,” Ms. Noe explains, exhibiting her mastery of traditional quilting techniques in tiny, perfect needlework stitches. Later, the artist transitioned to machine sewing, inspired by an article in a 2004 ‘Quilting Arts’ magazine showing radical departures from long-established work then being done in textiles. “That was my transition year,” she says. “I was sick of doing pretty things! I realized then how much I like the challenge of doing something I’ve never done before, or can do better. I have a short attention span!”

Both Ms. Noe’s older and newer, more experimental techniques are displayed using an impressive array of materials to depict a wide variety of the artist’s interests. Looking like a close-up photograph, ‘Bug on Bark’ is raw wool appliquéd and sewn in a life-like resemblance to a tree. ‘Silver Birches’ is more Impressionist in feeling, with swatches of bright colours blending to form another near-photographic representation when viewed from afar. The more recent ‘Lawyer’s Parrot’ is a riot of colour using fabric scraps for the background and a net overlay, inspired by lawyer and birder Terrence Land’s Costa Rica photos. Individually cut and sewn leaves cascade down one side, communicating an indelible impression of a moist tropical forest.

The artist’s social and environmental concerns are expressed in ‘9/11’, her response to the destruction of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York, and in ‘War in Afghanistan’ which was provoked by “the heartbreaking news we heard every night.” A soft-hued more traditional-style quilt from 2010, “Faded Memories” explores the theme of Alzheimer’s disease with lace, beads, hand embroidery and sepia photos printed on fabric. Most arresting is the mural-size ‘What Have We Done?’ which is central to the layout of the exhibition. Reflecting on “the three million tons” of discarded plastic covering our planet today, the eight by ten foot piece shows the Earth’s environmental degradation by using “pretty fabrics like silk” on the polar icecap down to “where it starts to get ugly,” with beaded “gobs of oil” dripping off the installation, along with the “broken CDs, squashed coffee cups, bottle caps, crushed pop cans, plastic bags and foam trays” that Ms. Noe and her husband David pick up on daily walks in the neighbourhood.

“I do almost anything to get the look I want,” says Ms. Noe of the eerily beautiful artwork. “‘What Have We Done?’ was inspired by the news of another large oil spill. I hope to make people more aware.”

With Lynda Noe’s deft use of materials such as commercial and recycled fabrics, fabric paint, permanent markers, cheesecloth, beads, hand embroidery, wool, and masterful sewing techniques, ‘Natural Progression’ is an intriguing art experience.

In the Gore Bay Museum’s second gallery, internationally-recognized photographer David Lewis of North Bay goes above and beyond conventional photographic techniques to depict his decades-long fascination by “the de-industrialization occurring throughout North America…the loss of rural farming communities…the closure of our forestry and mining industry (coal, gold and silver mines).”

Awarded a Senior Arts Grant by the Ontario Arts Council to document the commercial fishery on Manitoulin Island, the much-published and exhibited photographer with a 50-year archive of images of vanishing cultures and lifestyles spent three months inside the Purvis family operation based on Burnt Island and out on their fishing boats on the big waters of Lake Huron. His project resulted in 400 images, 30 of which hang in this exhibition, entitled ‘Purvis Fishery.’

The photographs have been produced by Mr. Lewis using a chemical process from 1907 that bleaches the silver out of the print, called bromoil. It includes inking the results with litho pigment and special stagfoot brushes, all of which Mr. Lewis does himself in his North Bay darkroom, having been taught by great Old Masters of the process in Europe and the U.S. in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In his biographical sketch, Mr. Lewis “is considered to be the last surviving master of the pigment-control processes of the oil, bromoil and transfer…and is an expert on several historical processes.”

For the ‘Purvis Fishery’ exhibition, Mr. Lewis put digital negatives through the bromoil process and the results are thrilling to see. The sepia tones of the photographs and the grainy, etching-like prints “are absolutely permanent,” explains the artist. And exquisite. There is an antique look and historical feeling to the photos of the fishermen as they haul fish and carry out the age-old tasks of commercial fishing on Lake Huron.

“The Purvis family was wonderful to work with and to interview. [I] gain[ed] knowledge of the company and the many challenges it now faces due to climate change and invasive species,” says the photographer of his months-long experience with the Purvis’ in all aspects of the business.

“Going out on the ‘Andave’ gill fishing boat was very inspiring and at first the crew on board were shy, however after a few hours talking with them and asking questions on their duties aboard we seemed to hit it off. There was also an MNRF tech with us and she was great.”

David Lewis calls himself an “intuitive” photographer, and that intuition is beautifully expressed in the fluid forms and the dramatic play of light in his black and white photographs of fisher men and women at work. “My peers have commented that I may be considered a documentary photographer,” says the artist. “I guess part of me is. I don’t know and haven’t given it much thought over the years. What I do know is I have burning desire and passion for what I do.”

The ‘Purvis Fishery’ and ‘Natural Progression’ exhibitions at the Gore Bay Museum run until November. Hours: Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and Sunday from 2 to 4 pm. To contact the museum call 705-282-2040.