Canadian artist Dominique Ehrmann’s amazing fabric art is on view upstairs in Highfield’s Beebe Room. Visitors to Sunday’s open house, June 25, should be sure not to miss it.
“She really likes to figure things out,” said Annie Dean, Highfield’s director of programs and exhibitions, of Ms. Ehrmann, whose quilted projects include kinetic pieces such as oversized fabric pinwheels, hand-cranked pieces, multi-layered works, and quilts that are lit from behind.
“Once Upon a Quilt: 3-D Quilts” shows off Ms. Ehrmann’s novel techniques which have evolved from traditional techniques to 3-D and kinetic quilted sculptures. The exhibition includes a 56-inch-diameter wind-driven quilted pinwheel sited outside the mansion’s front door, as well as a six-foot freestanding sculptural work “Come and Follow Me.”
“Her pieces have a technical component to them that appeals to people who might not normally be interested in quilts” Ms. Dean said.
Formerly a chocolatier, Ms. Ehrmann got started in quilting during a month-long fishing trip she went on with her husband. When she balked at going fishing for a month because she wasn’t a fisherman, Ms. Ehrmann’s husband presented her with a solar-powered sewing machine she could bring on the trip. Ms. Ehrmann started by making quilts, her first being a traditional pinwheel design.
Sewing outdoors in the back country of Canada has influences on her choice of subject matter, materials, and design. Her work is technically complex and difficult to transport, and the exhibition at Highfield Hall & Gardens is only the second time a body of her work has been exhibited in the United States.
Trees and leaves dominate several of her works such as “Serenity,” which shows a tiny (in comparison to the piece) fly fisherman in a stream with flowing water and rocks all made of fabric. The scene is framed, shadow-box like, by an enormous tree dripping with moss. Variations in fabric and stitching creates moving water and flora.
“Playing with Light” is an abstract piece featuring quilted geometric shapes set in a light box. Press the switch and the white ovals and squares glow.
Ms. Ehrmann has also created functional pieces such as a beautifully embellished gambeson vest made for her son, a medieval period reenactment enthusiast.
In the center of the room is Ms. Ehrmann’s tour-de-force, “Come and Follow Me,” a quilted diorama in four layers, which was inspired by a children’s pop-up book and takes its visual cues from a combination of fairy tale characters.
“Come and Follow Me” was first shown at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. It’s a breathtaking work which feels as if one is about to walk into a Brothers Grimm fairy tale forest. A young woman in red holds a basket as she faces the gates of a small cottage in the forest. Animals gather round her, a rabbit in clothing with a basket full of carrots, bathing-suit clad frogs cavorting near a pond, while a wise owl looks down from a tree. The overall color scheme is one of earth-tones greens and browns which fade behind the bright red of the young girl’s jacket. The layers give the impression of a scaled-down theater stage with multiple side curtains.
“The artist wants people to have an emotional response, a real experience, with the piece,” Ms. Dean said.
Ms. Ehrmann spent several weeks finishing the back of the layers using a headlamp to see the backside. “It’s designed to be looked at from all sides,” Ms. Dean said.
“Like most quilters she’s very exacting,” said Ms. Dean as we circled the quilt to look at the back which has an inscription, in both French and English, sewn into the work. Held as signs by two accommodating quilted mice, it explains “Come and Follow Me” as Ms. Ehrmann’s attempt at uniting “tradition and experimentation to create an emotional experience.” The statement also includes the dizzying maxim, “955 hours of pure joy.”
Also part of the exhibit is “To Approach Highfield,” a piece Ms. Ehrmann created as a thank-you to Highfield for arranging the show. The piece is a view of Highfield as if one were standing in the sunken garden. The mansion is flanked by gardens and greenery. “She got all the details in there and even dyed the fabric to get the colors right,” Ms. Dean said.
In the education room on the second floor of Highfield will be displays of some of Ms. Ehrmann’s designs, prototypes, and plans for her pieces. Ms. Dean said they are planning some storyboards that will explain the artist’s process. “People who quilt will be interested in her technique,” Ms. Dean said.
Ms. Ehrmann will be at the Sunday open house and will demonstrate her working method from 10 to 11 AM. She will explain her process from initial schematic drawing to finished piece. Children’s pop-up books are one of her inspirations, and she will show how she begins with a simple design cut from cardboard and colored with crayons, and then transfers it to a full-scale drawing, followed by armature creation, fabric selection, and construction. One of her solar-powered sewing machines will also be on view. Ms. Ehrmann will be available all afternoon to answer questions and talk with the public about her work. “Once Upon a Quilt” will be on view at Highfield until September 4.