TEXT: ALICE DANA SPENCER
Internationally renowned fiber artist Dominique Ehrmann, a native of Quebec, Canada, is known for her imaginative and whimsical quilts. Although she uses traditional techniques and fabrics, she has explored the boundaries of contemporary fiber arts, with novel manufacturing structures, multi-dimensional layers, and kinetic elements. Inspired by children’s pop-up books, cartoons, her family, and her love of and interactions with nature, her quilts employ aspects of modern technology and embody sculptural qualities. At times her work has puzzled quilt festival organizers as they do not always know how to categorize or display it. Her work is very popular and has earned her wide acclaim and various awards. A survey of her ingenious and innovative quilts is now on view at an exhibition entitled “Dominique Ehrmann: Once Upon a Quilt” at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont.
Watching the emotional and intense reactions of viewers at a quilt show in Montreal in 2008, and wanting to captivate viewers in the same way, Ms. Ehrmann created “Come and Follow Me,” (2010, 72x 96×18″, cotton, beads, metal, buttons, tulle and rayon), taking two years, or over 1,000 hours, to complete. She began with a small-scale model and then built a full-size one. The final result used 100 different types of materials. Free-standing, it is a very large box on metal feet, and resembles a multi-layer theater set of quilt scrims, telling a story, with a girl on the outer section walking into and leading the viewer in.
“Serenity” (2014, 39x50x9″, cotton, felt, foam, wire, nylon, rayon, buttons, beads and LEED light) conveys the sense of calm and living life fully that the artist and her husband Stephan experience during their camping vacations in the woods and the mountains. “For a long time, trees have been my companions, accompanying me in my reflections. Having a beneficial influence over my personal life and art, I wanted to show these sturdy and majestic perennials in all their glory in this quilt.” Mushrooms, flowers (some imaginary), 8-10 different kinds of greens and very life-like rocks all add to the detailed composition. Making the gnarled branches of the tree branches involved painstaking hours of folding material. She even inserted a figure representing her husband, a fly fisherman, and herself working on a quilt outside. Since the quilt is displayed in a box form, which blocked some of the light, Ms Ehrmann added her own LEED lights so the piece could be viewed clearly from all angles.
“Lady Gabie” (2007, cotton, leather, rayon, metal and acrylic) was made for her daughter Gabie’s graduation from design school. She wanted it to be a comprehensive piece in recognition of her daughter’s achievement. The face alone took three weeks to make, as she wanted to it to appear neither sad nor mad, but just so, according to her own description of that effort. The quilt began as a regular flat design and then evolved into a 3D one, achieving positive effects of shadow and light as a result. She even incorporated her future grandchildren in the picture, imagining them as toddlers viewing their mother’s dress, petticoat and boots from below, not visible by adults viewing the quilts straight on. It won first prize in Montreal for artistic quilts.
“Super Quilter” (2008, 34 1/2, x 24 1/2 inches, cotton, leather and rayon) came about in response to a challenge from a Quebec quilt show to create a humorous piece. The result shows a super hero in flowing cape triumphantly holding a sewing machine aloft, with one foot placed on a pile of material. The satin stitch was used to create the effect of a comic book. The character has since become Ms. Ehrmann’s business logo.
“Outdoor Perspective” (2007, cotton, wood, acrylic and metal) was made after the artist learned the paper-foundation-piecing technique. The quilt is a grid with various sections depicting members of her family in silhouette engaging in outdoor pursuits such as hiking, biking and fishing, the latter scene even incorporating a small 3D fly on the end of a fishing line.
“Sweet Memories” (2012, cotton, foam, rayon, organza, wire and lace) pays whimsical homage to the 25 years Ms. Ehrmann spent as a chocolate and special event pastry chef prior to entering the world of quilting. A woman in a chef’s toque holds up a frame showing a small, 3D chocolate factory, including the real logo she used on her own chocolate factory. The border of the frame is made up of pastel/confectionary colored and chocolate toned cakes, containing more than 1,000 pieces, with another 1,800 pieces on the outer border of the quilt. Some of the material was colored by food coloring to mimic the look of cake icing and candies. As she describes it, “I imagined an idyllic, colorful environment such as one might find in a children’s book.”
“Pinwheel” (2015-2016, cotton, wood, rayon, buttons and metal) celebrates the pinwheel block which was the first quilt design Ms. Ehrmann attempted, as well as the paper pinwheels she enjoyed in childhood, but a handle at the bottom has turned it into a kinetic mechanism. “Playing with Light” (2015-2016, cotton, rayon, polyester, wood, plastic and LEED light) allows the viewer, upon pressing a button, to view the quilt’s inner workings via backlighting provided by LEED lights.
“Quilting in the Country” (2006, cotton, wire and shoe lace) was made to honor the store by the same name, in Bozeman, Montana where Ms. Ehrmann was first inspired to quilt. The store would attract up to 6,000 quilters for one-day exhibits. She hoped to capture the beauty of those events set amidst the lovely scenery of Montana.
Inspired by kinetic metal sculptures she’d seen in gardens throughout the course of her travels, Ms. Ehrmann spent two years researching and testing the possibility of adapting such a design to make an outdoor quilt that would be propelled by wind. The successful result is “Kinetic Quilt” (2015-2016), a wind-powered pinwheel design sculpture using canvas, foam and metal and special outdoor, uv-protected material, all pieced by traditional methods. It stands outside the Hat and Fragrance building in its first public appearance, beckoning visitors into the exhibition.
Ms. Ehrmann only began quilting 10 years ago and her quilting skills were largely self-taught. She followed the advice of Quilting in the Country’s owner, Jane Quinn, to venture forth initially on her own without taking classes in order to develop her own style. She now gives that same advice to her own students in Canada and in the U.S. She lives in the Laurentians in the province of Quebec, Canada in a house she and her husband built in a pine forest. Much of her work was done outdoors, often next to rivers, while her husband was fishing. When outdoors, she uses a sewing machine he rigged up next to their RV, with electricity provided by a solar panel.
“Dominique Ehrmann: Once Upon a Quilt, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont, on view through October 31, 2016.