Patricia Ningewance’s fabric art has inspired others to begin creating their own forms of art.
“How can you not help become inspired by such beauty by such a wonderful woman,” said Louise Thomas, owner of Ahnisnabae Art Gallery. “It just inspires me to get started on something I’ve been putting off for a long time. This art makes you feel like you want to get inside and experience it.”
Although Ningewance is well-known for her Anishinabemowin books such as Talking Gookom’s Language and Pocket Ojibwe, she began creating fabric art after moving to Winnipeg in 1985. Her work is currently on display in the Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s Patricia Ningewance: Coming Home exhibition, which runs from Nov. 1-Jan. 5.
“I always wanted to do this, but I just didn’t have the time because I was working on language programs,” Ningewance said. “I saw Mola art, which is done by Panama-area women, so I kind of began there. But then I added beads and buttons and ribbons and I went for my imagination.”
While her fabric art features a variety of landscapes, portraits, animals, Anishinabe spiritual themes and abstracts, Ningewance said her goal is to honour the animals that exist along with human beings.
“I worry about if we’re overfishing our lakes,” Ningewance said, pointing out the Headless Pickerel fabric art piece during her Nov. 22 artist talk at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. “And I guess that was on my mind when I was doing that — it has no head.”
Ningewance first became interested in fabric during extended family trips across the lakes and rivers around northwestern Ontario, when she noticed the different fabrics used in her family’s garments and quilts.
“On cold rainy days we had to stay in the tent and being stuck in the tent, those miner’s tents, there’s nothing to do there except to look at people’s clothing, look at the quilts and look at the patterns on the mould on the tent,” Ningewance said. “So that’s where my art career began. That’s where my relationship with cloth began.”
Ningewance usually begins her fabric artwork by sewing together pieces of quilt and fabric, then adding ribbons and buttons and finishing with embroidery and beadwork.
“(In) Lac Seul in the 1950s and 1960s, the women used to wear colourful skirts and colourful blouses, all handmade,” Ningewance said. “The blouses were kind of textured in front, sewn to have some kind of texture in the front. (They were) dark blue, dark red, dark green and those are the colours I use now; I like using rich colours.”
Ningewance even used part of her husband’s suit in one of the fabric art pieces on display at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.
“With permission, of course,” Ningewance said. “He wasn’t wearing it at the time. I use a lot of dark fabric as background.”
Ningewance usually finds her buttons at garage sales.
“I like getting them in a bunch and then sorting them out on a rainy day,” Ningewance said, noting that she prefers to use white buttons made from natural shell materials. “It’s very important for me that they be shell. The black buttons are just plastic. I use the buttons to indicate energy.”
Ningewance also uses cowrie shell beads in her fabric art.
“They are very sacred,” Ningewance said.
Ningewance is currently working on a new version of Lac Seul writer George Kenny’s book Indians Don’t Cry, which will have Anishinabemowin text as well as English text.
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