Art from the heart in downtown Chilliwack

CVAA President Judy Hurley worked with a variety of sewn textiles to create this gently three-dimensional mountain view.  - Dessa Bayrock
CVAA President Judy Hurley worked with a variety of sewn textiles to create this gently three-dimensional mountain view.
— image credit: Dessa Bayrock

Downtown Chilliwack is just a little bit more artistic for the next five weeks.

Celebration of the Arts, a cross-medium exhibit, opened recently at the Royal Hotel and Cafe on Wellington Avenue. It includes the work of myriad local artists—including woodturners, sculptors, metalworkers, painters and photographers.

While their mediums may have little in common, they come together under the banner of Chilliwack Visual Artists Association. The members range from hobbyist to professional, but matter where they fall on that scale, members benefit from the community aspect of the organization.

“it’s a nice way to meet other artists who do things differently, and we all kind of blend together,” says member Anne Pradine. “It always keeps growing, as art should.”

Pradine works with wire art, shaping wire, foil and cotton fabric into shapes before dipping it into a material that seals and waterproofs it. The resulting sculptures have the flow of fabric but the stiffness of metal. Two of her pieces are on display in the exhibit, including “Sisters Shopping on Wellington.”

“The idea is it’s two sisters who try to out-dress each other when they go for lunch,” Pradine says with a broad smile, pointing to two figures swathed in shimmering material and modelling matching miniature hats.

On the other end of the spectrum of fabric and wire, Sylvie Roussel-Janssens’ additions to the show are all light and air. Hanging in the windows of the cafe and the hotel lobby, they look like stained glass—but the panels are actually synthetic fabric stretched across a recycled wire framework. In a process Roussel-Janssens calls “fabric-burning,” she melts a precise pattern of close-set holes into the material with a soldering iron, fusing in images photocopied onto acetate. Just one 10” by 10” panel, she says, takes her up to an hour-and-a-half to complete.

She’s trained as a sculptor, and started playing around with the process after a particularly frustrating sewing project.

“I was using a chiffon fabric, it was fraying, and it was a disaster,” she says with a wry grin. “Out of frustration, I ran into my welding shop and used a soldering iron to seal all the edges.”

That was a decade ago; in the years since, the resulting art has been shown in a variety of galleries, including a current exhibit in Coquitlam’s Evergreen Cultural Centre.

The natural valley landscape features heavily in her work. She lives on the bottom edge of Chilliwack mountain, and uses the flora and fauna around her for inspiration.

“I love the coastal environment. Most of my trees are B.C. trees,” she says, pointing to a piece featuring a beech tree she modelled after one in her backyard.

Paul McCarl also turns to local nature for inspiration, although as a stone carver he turns to the mountains and the earth more than the trees.

“Bear Cub in Devil’s Club” is one of two works of his featured in the exhibit, and it came from a  boulder he quarried himself by the Skagit River.

“The finished piece is just over 80 pounds,” he explains. “It was probably 250-300 pounds before I started to carve the outside to get at it. I’ve always had a lot of patience.”

He’s been putting tools to stone for 25 years, and carving since he was seven. After he retired from the RCMP, he’s found a lot more time to put towards his craft.

Both of his pieces in the show depict bears, and most of his work focuses on wildlife—from cougars to fish to birds.

“The smallest pieces I’ve made weigh less than a pound, and the largest piece I’ve worked on—it’s almost finished—is a nine-ton Grizzly bear. It’s taken about 1,200 hours to get where it is now,” he says. With any luck, he hopes to wrap up the years-long project soon—although he has yet to begin the herculean task of carving its hair.

A variety of sculptures dot the exhibit, hanging on walls or set up on plinths, and the show includes a plethora of painting and photography as well.

Michaela Stefan began painting seven years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her painting, “Rendezvous,” is painted with sharp lines and bold colours, depicting a chic red-headed woman sitting on a patio with a glass of wine.

It’s part of a 13 painting collection, which shows the red-headed woman in a variety of scenarios—doing the tango, holding an umbrella in the rain, and out for a quick drink.

“In this collection I have never put a facial expression—eyes, mouth or nose —because I want every woman to put her face in this kind of rendezvous,” she says.

She points to the woman’s legs, crossed gracefully to one side.

“I was a classical ballerina before, and that’s why I like the body, or the legs,” she explains. “Ballet has a very big influence in my paintings.”

This yearly exhibit is a chance to catch a taste of a huge variety of work without straying too far from home. The name says it all: it really is a celebration of the arts.

w The exhibit runs until June 8, and the gallery is open at 8 a.m every day, closing at 3 p.m. on Sunday through Tuesday at 8 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday in the Royal Hotel and Cafe at 5886 Wellington Ave. in downtown Chilliwack.

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