Artist’s Process: Seven Questions with Heather Cameron


Playwright’s Process – or, in this particular case, Artist’s Process – is a new blog series inspired by the Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire, where we introduce you to playwrights and theatre artists that are creating exciting new works. We ask them to choose seven questions from our list that resonate with them.

In preparation for UNSCRIPTED: Mermaid Spring, our Dramaturg, Creative Engagement, Davey Calderon, caught up with fibre artist Heather Cameron.

Heather Cameron is a visual artist of settler heritage, living in Snuneymuxw territory. These days, she works primarily with textiles, using the rich historical and metaphorical associations the medium provides to explore issues of human relationship to nature, colonialism, labour, time, etc.She graduated from the Experimental Arts program at the Ontario College of Art in 1989.She has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council, the Saskatchewan Arts Council, the British Columbia Art Council and the Gabriola Arts Council. Her work is in the collections of the Canada Council Art Bank, the Saskatchewan Arts Council, the Dunlop Art Gallery and the Cambridge Art Galleries, as well as numerous private collections in Canada, the U.S. and Japan. She does all of her own stitching, by hand.

What got you into textile art? 

I grew up in the 1970’s, when home ec was a thing, and had several fabulous sewing teachers. As a young punk rocker in Toronto, I made all my clothes and even was commissioned to make clothes for others.So sewing was a valuable skill. But when I went to art school, I studied sculpture and installation. Afterwards, I moved from city to city and the big crates I needed for my work were just ridiculous. So I returned to the more portable, rewardingly intimate field of textiles.

What are things that you hope your art conveys to audiences and your communities?

I use the inherent qualities of cloth – the tactility, the materiality, the protective and comforting aspects – as a ground for asking more complex, deeper questions. I hope that viewers find pleasure in my work on all levels, and are reminded that our human hands are capable of so much more than sending text messages. The comment I hear most often is “There’s so much work in that!” And I answer “And I loved making each and every stitch!”

What is your favourite art piece or project you’ve created? 

I have two that are close to my heart. One is a little pink dress, handknit for me by my grandmother when I was a baby. It was saved out of sentiment, but a few years ago I came across a list of “100 Ways to Praise and Encourage a Child,” which almost brought tears to my eyes, as I felt I had not received such support in my own childhood – it just wasn’t done then. So I took the little pink dress and embroidered lines such as “Good for you!” and “Way to go” and “You are precious to me” into its fabric, embodying the love and care that I felt my young self needed.

Two images next to one another: a small child's pink dress with affirmative statements all over it, such as "bravo!" and "good for you!" and the second image is a close-up of one sleeve on the dress, which says "a-okay"

A more recent project  was “Victor’s Coat,” where I took the actual coat that was worn by a much-loved member of the community who died way too young, and embroidered some of his distinctive sayings into the cloth. Other people who knew him contributed words and images that I was able to stitch into the coat, at the same time mending the many moth holes that had appeared over time. It felt like a real community effort, and is now in the collection of our local museum.

Two images juxtaposed of Heather's Cameron's "Victor's Jacket" project. The dark grey jacket on the left has embroidered text which reads, "who could ask for anything more?" in blue thread, and the image on the right reads "I feel a whole lot more like I do now than I did a little while ago."

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

Over seven years, I stitched, on a large scale, images from the Codex Canadensis, the first natural history of Canada, drawn in a rather fantastical way by Louis Nicolas, a French Jesuit missionary. Rather than glorifying the imperialist endeavour, I try to convey the wild other-ness of the creatures depicted, translating the pen and ink drawings into tangible wool and silk renditions full of life and energy. I sign the finished pieces with both Nicolas’ initials and my own, and our respective dates as I consider it a collaboration across the centuries.

Three images from Heather Cameron's intricate fibre arts project, featuring animals from the Codex Canadensis, the first natural history of Canada

What is your most treasured or necessary item for art making?

My German-made Dovo embroidery scissors. I love their sharpness, and the soft whish whish they make as they snip.

Where would be your dream place to create art? 

I have a photo of the attic room in an old Japanese farmhouse. It is beautifully lit, and while large, contains just a futon, a lamp, and a small bookshelf. In reality, my workspace is chaotic and filled with fabric, yarn, stacks of books, and various projects that are in progress. But I love the peace, openness and possibility of the minimalist Japanese room.

What animal or plant do you most identify with?

It is only in later life that I have adopted the persona of a bear. A shy black bear as opposed to a grizzly. I feel most comfortable in the forest, away from people, where I can curl up in a secret place and eat wild berries.

Two images juxtaposed of a close-up of Heather Cameron's fibre arts work, and a photo of Heather sitting in a chair with a big smile next to her completed work.

See more of Heather’s work on her website, True Stitches.