‘What You Wear Matters!’
Vancouver designer and artist Amy Walker exhibits sustainable textile works at Museum of Surrey.
Surrey, BC – Amy Walker has been buying her clothing at thrift shops most of her adult life – partly for the thrill of the hunt, but mostly because she is keen on re-using things and reducing waste. In fact, many of the pieces that cover her from head-to-toe have been handmade utilizing all-natural sustainable materials like wool, silk, cotton, and hemp.
“They will organically break down and be less harmful to the Earth at the end of their life-cycle,” explains the Vancouver artist who hosts community art-making in Vancouver’s public spaces with a cargo bike-turned art studio she calls Makemobile.
While the pandemic has put the brakes on Walker’s makers’ gatherings, she has recently connected with fellow artists from around Metro Vancouver who share her passion for sustainable textiles. Their tapestry of inspiring works is currently showcased at Museum of Surrey for its latest feature exhibition – Nature’s Clothesline.
On display until February 21, 2021, the exhibit spins the tale of clothing consumption and the dramatic increase in textile waste worldwide while offering sustainable ideas in support of a healthier planet.
Walker, whose passion for making clothing with natural materials led to a year as Artist in Residence with EartHand Gleaners, is one of six diverse female artists being profiled.
The Strathcona resident has loaned the museum a variety of her exquisite creations including felted shrugs, a vest, hats, sewn dresses, botanically dyed pieces of clothing and knitted socks.
Felting, she explains, is a way of making fabric or textiles using animal fibre (in her case sheep’s wool), water, and agitation. It is one of the oldest ways of making textiles, originating in central Asia about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago.
“I love the final product of felt as it is very warm, sturdy, sculptural and water-resistant natural material – not plastic!”
In addition to having the opportunity to work alongside her mentor and friend Sharon Kallis, Walker says the theme of the exhibition carries a powerful message.
“From materials to labour conditions, clothing impacts people and the planet,” said Walker. “Too many of the fabrics we use are synthetics. Synthetic fibres are inorganically human-made fibres, derived from chemical-based oil products (polyester, acrylic, nylon, vinyl, etc.). Since these fibers do not decompose naturally, they can have a devastating impact on the environment, she adds.
“They don’t bio-degrade, so synthetics clog nature’s beautiful systems and cause massive pollution problems. From the micro-plastics found in our water, soil, and food, to the great pacific gyre – an island of plastic in the ocean the size of a continent, to the choking and killing of birds, fish and wildlife that eat the plastics, thinking they are food.”
The image Walker conjures is dark, and it is one that comes to light in fellow artist Barbara Heller’s striking tapestries that showcase her concern with the current threat of environmental degradation.
“Her work delights me,” said Walker who used to work on Granville Island and would often look in at her looms with her works in progress. “From her exquisite skill in rendering images in tapestry, to her colour sense and variety of her palette, to her choices of subject matter which are often thought-provoking and unconventional. She’s truly a master craftsperson and an artist.”
And while the overall theme of Nature’s Clothesline may be heavy, it is one that offers optimism and some creative solutions imploring visitors of all ages to think about how what they wear matters.
“Everyone wears clothes and uses textiles in their daily life,” said Walker. “I hope people will come and reflect on the textile stories of their own clothing – and perhaps they will be inspired to try making something to wear – or read all the labels in their clothes to find out what they are made of.”
For more information about Walker or her mobile makers’ studio, visit Makemobile.ca.
Free pre-registered, one-hour self-guided tours of Nature’s Clothesline and the rest of the museum are available from Wednesday to Saturday. The museum follows all citywide COVID-19 safety protocols as per Health BC, City of Surrey and WorkSafe BC. Registration is required. Call 604-592-6956.
About Museum of Surrey
Museum of Surrey is a dynamic and accessible community hub and cultural space that reflects the City of Surrey’s innovation and creativity. It is a people museum, with a mission to connect people and stories through engaging events, interactive award-winning exhibits, programs, textiles and local, national and international exhibitions, as well as public space for rentals. The site, located at 17710 56A Avenue in Surrey, is on the Heritage Campus, home to Veterans Square, Anderson Cabin, 1881 Town Hall and Anniedale School.