In 2012 my path crossed with Hélène Blachet’s for the first time. Hélène was my cheerful and efficient assistant in a very full Kantha Workshop during Quilt Canada in Halifax. We have stayed in touch and exchanged emails off and on. I have been observing her success at the Grand National Quilt Show and was immensely surprised and pleased that she attended Art Quilt Campus 2014 in Muenster, SK. During one of the countless one-on-one consultations that week in July I came to fully realize Hélène’s high skill level and her strong focus on striving for excellence. When I approached her about a guest blogger spot she graciously accepted. I am pleased to introduce to you Hélène Blanchet, currently of Calgary, AB.
I am a self-taught textile folk artist working with cloth to make fine art quilts and traditional hand-sewn textiles. I have been dabbling in fibre ever since I can remember only I didn’t know it was art. I made little pictures for myself in high school and for my kids later on. My first love has always been handwork – and colour, lots and lots of colour. I was fortunate enough to have been able to travel widely through my husband’s work while homeschooling our three children. This gave us access to wonderful libraries, museums and art galleries and, of course, regional textiles. So I studied and practiced and learned my craft.
In 2007, we became empty-nesters and I turned my hand full time to the fibre arts. I had decided that I wanted to make a go of being a practicing artist full time. So I busied myself experimenting with a variety of materials, styles and techniques and began entering juried shows; locally, nationally and internationally, for which I won several ribbons.
In 2009 we moved off-grid to a cabin in the woods in the Cape Breton Highlands to get our bearings and figure out what the next chapter in our post-children lives would be. During this time I continued to develop my quiet handwork surrounded by big nature, and joined local quilt guilds for the first time. The camaraderie of the women and the tranquility of the deep woods contributed greatly to my well-being and sense of self. With renewed confidence, I began to make a series of small landscapes depicting our immediate surroundings and my individual voice as an artist began to emerge. I had always thought of myself as a folk artist first and so I approached local folk art galleries to see if they would show my work. They did and continue to support my efforts.
This is the type of work I did when we moved to our cabin in the woods.
In 2011 we made a temporary move to Calgary to make our second fortune (having spent our first) which will allow us to return to Cape Breton and build our dream home and studio, and manage our acreage in the middle of the wilderness. The first thing I did when I arrived in Calgary was join the Fibre Arts Network (FAN), a group I had admired from afar for years. I entered my first show with them “From Away”. This inspired me to document our stay in Calgary through a series of quilts depicting our day-to-day.
I draw my inspiration from everyday life and whatever strikes me as funny. Often it is the title of the piece that comes to me first, then the beginnings of the image materialize in my head. I write lists. Lots and lots of lists on scads of tiny bits of paper which I often lose. It doesn’t matter. The action of writing helps me retain the information.
I’m not much of a sketcher or doodler. This photo is of a typical sketch. Just enough to give me an idea about composition.
Once I’ve auditioned my fabrics and have the basic background made up I begin to fill in the detailed applique, quilting, embroidery and whatever else feels right at the time. I work by hand so the process is slow and the image evolves as I work.
It might take me two months to finish an 18” x 36” piece. During that time of slow hand-work the story emerges in the details. I think it is these details, this story-telling, that turns my work into folk art. Not just the bright colours and simple materials and techniques, but those too.
“The Apartment Building”
This is where we live in Calgary. It’s a picture of us and our neighbours. We’re the couple in the top right hand.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my first attempt at blogging. Thanks so much Anna, for this opportunity to share with your many followers.
All the Best,
Thank you, Hélène! Your contribution is wonderful and I feel as if I am sitting next to you, listening to your story. I can’t wait to see more of your work in exhibitions and galleries!
I hope everyone else has enjoyed Hélène’s story as much as I have. Please feel free to comment and weigh in with questions. Hélène will be checking the blog off and on to provide answers and responses.