Thirty-five years of quilting have enriched the personal, spiritual and communal life of Jan Holleman, from Cambridge Station, Nova Scotia. Now retired after being self-employed in family businesses for most of her life, Jan, 66, finds joy in having more time to quilt. Recently Christian Courier interviewed Jan to learn about her passion for art quilting and its impact on her church community, Kentville Christian Reformed Church.
CC: On your website (artquiltsbyjan.com), you mention that art quilting is your passion. What is art quilting?
Jan: Art quilting is a combination of many techniques. I started with the basics of quilting – cutting, pressing and setting block correctly – long before the term “art quilt” was coined. Art quilting is a broad term referring to contemporary textile art which has some or all of the basic structural characteristics of a traditional quilt, but incorporates a myriad of contemporary techniques and materials. Surface design, embellishment, hand stitching and machine stitching are often used to create art quilts. Materials range from fabric and fibers, such as paper, to other mixed media, such as beads, buttons and yarn.
Today, my art quilts are a combination of fabric, fusibles, confetti work, paint, oil sticks and embellishments. Then I very heavily machine quilt the whole piece to give it depth and motion. This is my favourite part of the process, as the quilting is like the icing on the cake. I can basically turn any photograph into an art quilt. It’s very creative and fulfilling. It’s also fun to do abstract designs.
When did you become aware of your passion for art quilting, and how have you developed it?
After many years of doing regular quilting, I started to feel closed in. I had ideas in my head, but didn’t know how to transfer them onto fabric. There was a lot of trial and error – and wasted fabric! But I learned new skills as I went along and each piece got better. There are great quilting publications on the market today and I’ve had subscriptions to most of them at one time or another. Also, attending national quilt shows and cruising the web opened my eyes to more and more possibilities. Working for many years with Matth Cupido, another artist who attends my church, has certainly increased my horizons and techniques. I learned a lot from him about colour and colour values as we worked on church banners together.
You’ve worked with Matth for more than 25 years. Tell us about your partnership and about the banners you’ve created.
Matth and his wife Willie moved to the Annapolis Valley about the same time my husband and I did. We became friends almost right away and our relationship naturally progressed from there. Our church had an in-house artist in Matth, and I had the quilting skills. It just seemed to go together.
Matth had the ideas and could put them on paper, and I knew how to transfer his ideas onto fabric. We started with traditional felt banners, but I wasn’t impressed with how they hung. Why not use traditional quilting to make banners? Mind you, now I’m not impressed with some of the first quilted banners we made either, but, as the years went by, they got better and better.
Matth is a wealth of images, ideas and design. We began by trying to have a banner for each season of the church year, and now we have more than we can possibly hang in a liturgical year. Matth draws the design and gives it to me. I make the pattern and the banner with input from Matth about colour choices – he is the best at that! I quilt it and then Matth finishes it by painting with oil sticks on the fabric. This gives a very in-depth look to the banners and highlights them wonderfully. It makes for a very warm worship environment.
Have your liturgical banners had an impact on your congregation?
Our congregation has been blessed by the banners. Some banners draw more reaction than others, of course, depending on people’s own spiritual walk. The banners help congregants to meditate. Different people see different things in them, whatever speaks to their souls. Matth always uses a lot of symbolism in his drawings. How people interpret this symbolism is truly an individual experience. Three people looking at the same drawing will see three different things.
Visitors to the church always comment on the banners and are blessed by them. Of course, in the beginning, there was opposition because it was a very new thing to have colourful wall hangings in the worship space. But as the years progressed, they were appreciated more and more as people realized how they add to worship.
Do you have a favourite liturgical banner?
I really like the ones that are now permanently hanging in the church sanctuary. They cover the spectrum of the liturgical year: Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost and Ascension. The designs are wonderful and it is also some of the best work I have done, so it gives me pleasure and a feeling of contentment to look at them. They also have wonderful colour depth, and I love colour! These can be viewed on our church website (kentvillechristianreformedchurch.org/liturgical-art.html) or on my personal website.
How has creating banners with biblical themes had an impact on your walk with God?
When I’m in the process of constructing a banner, I meditate on the theme. For instance, when I work on a cross, I automatically meditate on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for my sin. And when I do one for Christ’s ascension, I think – what does his ascension actually do for us? How did it all go down? What were the disciples feeling as Jesus left? How did they feel after he was gone? And so on.
It is that way with any wall hanging I do. I think and pray for the person who will receive it. I just finished seven baby quilts which I gave to the Valley Pregnancy Centre. I prayed over each quilt, as well as the baby that it would enclose. Mythical? No. God hears prayer.
Where do you find the inspiration for your other art quilts, those not used in liturgical settings?
I live in the beautiful province of Nova Scotia in the lovely Annapolis Valley! I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. A walk through the woods. The seashore. Especially the seashore. Some of the views are the best in the land. Inspiration is everywhere. You just have to keep your eyes open.
Growing as an artist is a lifelong journey. What have you learned along the way?
I’m not by nature a patient person. I like to grab the bull by the horns and get things done – and the faster, the better. I usually have 10 possibilities dancing around in my head at one time. But quilting has taught me to slow down, to be more precise in my work, and to take time to enjoy the process, rather than just pushing to the completion. It’s like living the journey without always thinking only of the destination.
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