The Crops and The Chattel are part of a series of ten paintings depicting the arrival of an African family to (what is now) Canada in 1785 and their subsequent contributions to Black history.
The paintings were created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The exhibit has travelled to African heritage venues in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with the support of the Cumberland African Nova Scotian Association, the Town of Amherst, the Nova Scotia government and the Cumberland County Museum. The work has also been disseminated online to help promote a deeper understanding of and respect for African-Canadian history.
These four quilts were crafted by Marlene Dorrington and Myla Borden of the Vale Quilters Association in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. The quilts were designed by Nova Scotia artist, writer and arts organizer David Woods and are based on images collected during his travels through Nova Scotian communities.
The Ecstasy of Amelda Colley by Myla Borden
Learning to Fly by Marlene Dorrington
A Visit from Mamay by Myla Borden
Meeting at the Well by Myla Borden
About Myla Borden
Myla Borden turned to quiltmaking in 1993 when she was unable to find employment after earning her teaching degree from Nova Scotia Teachers College. Tutored by her aunt Frances Dorrington, a long-time quiltmaker, Myla initially made pattern quilts taken from popular books and magazines. In 1994, she joined the Northumberland Quilt Guild and began attending workshops to improve her quiltmaking techniques. In 1998, she made the quilt Passages for the exhibition In This Place. Passages depicts the journey of Africans from the continent through the slavery era in the United States to freedom in the northern free states and Canada. Unlike her previous quilts, Passages was a picture quilt using appliquéd human figures, African “nationalist colours” (red, green and black) and African patterns for the quilt borders. It was one of the most talked-about pieces in the exhibition and a bold representation of quilts as an art form. Inspired by this experience, Myla began making picture and narrative quilts that drew from stories and images of African Nova Scotian history and culture. She also began collaborating with artist/curator David Woods, developing original quilt designs using his artwork. Myla Borden was president of the Northumberland Quilt Guild for two terms (2004-2005). She is also a co-founder and the first president of both the African Nova Scotian Quiltmakers Association and the Vale Quilters Association in New Glasgow. Her quilts have been exhibited at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Museum of Industry in Stellarton and the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto.
About Marlene Dorrington
Marlene Dorrington was born in Halifax and has lived in New Glasgow since 1952. She began quiltmaking after her retirement from the Michelin Tire plant in Stellarton in 1993. Like her daughter, Myla Borden, she was taught the basics of quiltmaking by Frances Dorrington (her sister). Marlene is a member of the Northumberland Quilt Guild, the Black Artists Network of Nova Scotia and the Vale Quilters Association. Marlene is a traditional quiltmaker known for her precise cutting and sewing and her mastery of traditional quilt patterns. Lately, she has been integrating African fabrics and using vibrant colour compositions in her quilts. Her quilts were exhibited in When Black Women Useta Fly (2002) and Our Ancestor’s Garden (2007).
About The Quilt Designs by David Woods
Initially, David’s interest in the quilt was solely as a craft object. In his curatorship research for In This Place, the very first exhibition of African Nova Scotian art in Nova Scotia (Anna Leowens Gallery, 1998), David travelled to Nova Scotian communities looking for paintings, drawings and wood carvings. In North Preston, a friend commented on his search: “Are you including quilts in your art show? Because that is what the women did–quiltmaking.” This comment prompted David to add quilts to his search and he eventually selected eight for inclusion in the exhibition.
In the following years, David became more familiar with the history of quiltmaking and its relationship to women and the Black community. As he developed close friendships with several quilt-makers, the quilt began to transform his own artwork. In 2007, David began creating “quilt drawings,” pencil sketches of on-the-road experiences. The incorporation of quilt patterns into these drawings created an epiphany: they made each drawing an entity, a complete art piece.
When David showed some of these drawings to the Vale Quilters in New Glasgow, the members were intrigued by the sketches and wanted to try their hand at creating quilts from them. Myla Borden was already crafting picture quilts about African Nova Scotian people and history and was the first to attempt a quilt from David’s sketches, resulting in The Ecstasy of Amelda Colley in 2007. In 2010, Myla suggested an exhibition based on David’s quilt drawings. Each member of the collective chose two drawings and their quiltmaking resulted in the very successful The Secret Codes: African Nova Scotian Narrative and Picture Quilts.
The exhibition title references the use of quilts as a subversive medium in times of slavery. Particular quilt patterns indicated safe houses to runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. The idea of secretly-coded quilts has become an important leitmotif in African American and African Nova Scotian literary and artistic creation. The exhibition title also references “secret experiences” Black women shared while making quilts. David is thankful that he has been allowed to enter this “secret circle” and has been immensely enriched by the experience.
This piece was created for an exhibition in February, 2016. It is a visual representation of the idea that we are so much more than what we are given credit for and that words can only define us if we let them.
Art is my way of expressing my creativity. I feel it speaks louder than words. It is my belief that we, as a people, all have value; we can pull from the strength of our ancestors as we continue on life’s journey. When I sit down with charcoal in my hand, I never know what the end result will be.
I proudly embrace my heritage and am a descendant of generations of creative individuals. My grandfather has been making one-of-a-kind, heritage wooden walking canes, expertly hand-carved, for over 60 years. My brother Terrence uses his profession as a videographer to express his energetic, passionate, creative flow. My mother has roots in the late Africville community here in Nova Scotia. She has made numerous pieces of Afrocentric clothing which we wore with pride during cultural celebrations when I was younger.
I am doing what comes so naturally to me. Please enjoy my progression as I continue to grow.
Daughter of the Sun is a very personal piece for me. As a woman living with fibroids, I have researched the overwhelming statistics on the complications fibroids can create for Black women, not only in the childrearing years but also through the pain and heavy bleeding that plagues us into menopause. I created Daughter of the Sun as a pilot project for my research.
One of the theories I have encountered is that, as African-Canadians, our ancestors came from America and survived for centuries eating the cast-off parts of animals, which were salted for curing and preservation. Our “slave diets” have created health issues for both Black men and women.
In creating Daughter of the Sun, I wanted to imagine my bulky womb. I used red clay to form the womb and the conceptual fibroids. The small bust is a portrait of a woman, but it also represents me. The pieces were fired separately and assembled later. The wooden flowers and dried leaves were added at the end of the process to represent how I feel about living with fibroids.
This topic is important to me because the main treatment for fibroids is usually a hysterectomy or treatment that stops the period for intervals of time. I have discussed fibroids and the discomfort they create for me with my gynaecologists. My decision to forgo any treatment is one I can live with. The heavy bleeding is cumbersome and there have been some embarrassing situations. However I would only go under the knife if the fibroids became cancerous. So I will continue living with fibroids and continue to conceptualize how these foreign growths exist within me.
Her Flower by Shantelle Vanterpool. Acrylic on canvas.
The moment the colours touched my palette, I knew this was going to be a very special canvas. Tribute is paid to the late Pablo Picasso with a re-imaging of his piece Jacqueline with Flowers, 1954. I used an overall lighter palette to suggest feelings of happiness, enlightenment and optimism. Picasso’s cubism method was captured to depict multiple points of view unified through geometric shapes. I wanted to create a painting that expressed the confidence and perseverance of beautiful black women everywhere!