he best thing that can happen to life is an artist. No matter how beautiful things are, a good artist can always make them better. Jane Baldwin was a good artist. Though the accident that took her life in May 2000 ended her creative time, her pieces serve as a constant reminder of just how beautiful art can be.
In her youth Jane lived in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Her first love in the world of art was dance, particularly ballet, which she pursued for 10 years. When Jane auditioned for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, she didn’t make the cut because she was considered too short. However, her experience did inspire Burton Cummings, her first boyfriend, to write the well-known song “Stand Tall”!
While studying to be a medical lab technician in England, Jane became interested in weaving. She took courses on colour theory and workshops on dyeing and spinning, her mind set on becoming a weaver.
Now married, Jane moved to a rural property near Elora about 20 years ago. Out of necessity (her two sons had allergies to processed foods), she learned to produce all the food for her family, including milk from goats. She excelled at gardening, even winning an award from Harrowsmith. She also began weaving again in earnest. Using three different looms, Jane created what she called her “bread and butter” work: placemats, shawls, and other useful items. Her preference for earth tones, combined with her use of chenille, gives a surprisingly soft and silky texture to these unpretentious, rustic-looking articles.
Jane also enjoyed designing her own quilt patterns. She created everything from beautiful, yet practical, bed coverings to wall-hangings that expand the definition of fabric as art. “Ribbon of Confusion” is a large quilted hanging of bold geometric designs in vivid purple. The intersecting shapes are reminiscent of paintings by Kandinsky; even the stitching suggests overlapping squares, triangles, and circles.
As her creativity evolved, Jane experimented with aspects of framing. In “The Messenger”, fabric forms a natural frame for a rectangular quilt, but shapes playfully extend into the border. Other quilts are framed in wood. The frame tricks the eye, and helps the viewer think of the pieces in a different way.
Perhaps the pinnacle of Jane’s artistic career was realised in her fabric collages. Often inspired by nature and working from photos, she planned out her designs, and pinned the fabric together. She experimented with shapes, colours, and textures to create a desired effect. Then, with painstaking care, she hand-stitched the pieces. “Homage to O’Keeffe” is a fabric collage inspired by painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Jane’s tribute can be enjoyed on several levels. The image is not only beautiful visually but is also clever in a spontaneous, fun way. The giant G makes the viewer want to beg for a deeper explanation of the piece.
One aspect of Jane’s talent lay in her ingenious choice of fabric. By combining just the right pieces of material, she created art that is rich both close up and from a distance. “The Tooth of Time” is an excellent example. Viewed close up, it makes one want to reach out and touch the material. What is it made of, and how does it feel? Inspection at a distance reveals a solid piece of rock with rushing white water flowing around it; the blue and white swirling fabric creates eye-tricking movement most convincingly.
Jane’s fabric collage “Carpe Diem” depicts sky, a field, and a combine. It is characteristic of this and many other of Jane’s collages that, while the images are clearly based in reality, an abstract freedom invites the viewer to appreciate form and colour for their own sake. Ease of seeing representation doesn’t lock the viewer into seeing only that. In this, one of her last completed works, Jane experimented with exposed, rough edges and partially fastened pieces of fabric.
She loved texture and colour, pushing them to the limit with a clever sense of playful spontaneity.
Active in the arts community, Jane belonged to the Guelph Weavers and Spinners Guild, submitted to INSIGHTS, and participated in the Elora-Fergus Studio Tour and Art in the Park. She drew inspiration and joy from nature. Even when she experimented with abstract images, they were firmly rooted in natural forms. She was serious about her work and created in a careful and deliberate manner. She loved texture and colour, pushing them to the limit with a clever sense of playful spontaneity. Jane’s bold, dramatic work is an open invitation to consider fabric art as art.
In MEMORIAM by Patricia Reimer, Spring 2001
Many thanks to Jane’s husband Derek Gresham for his time and for his insights into her life and work.