Thursday, October 22, 2009


Pamela Allen's art could be called 'double takes' since no one can look just once. This Canadian sees her world with a unique lens and brings this view and her insights together to form some of the most striking, thought provoking and yes beautiful art. Art should make you think and Pamela Allen invites thought and consideration from her students as well as viewers. And sometimes, her own art process makes her pause for thought and re-evaluation.

For anyone who thinks multi-media or fabric collage or art quilts are simply thrown together without consideration for fine stitching -- then take a look at Pamela's beautifully and carefully constructed fabric art. -- Dawn

Here's Pamela Allen in her own words:

When I am teaching, I often exhort the students to “be fearless”. If they have an idea, however off the wall, just try it out without inhibition and worry. After all, what is the worse that can happen? You will end up with an interesting quirky potholder!

Good advice really for any aspiring fabric artist. However, I have discovered for my own work, that fear is a major player! Here are some issues that haunt me as I am embarking on a new piece.


This is related to my belief that we all must educate ourselves through exposure to other media and artists we admire. My studio walls are covered with reproductions of various artists, both contemporary and historical, whose work is inspiring in some way.

My own work reflects that inspiration through greater or lesser appropriation of some elements from the said admired work. The fear comes from that dreaded word “DERIVATIVE.”  I am striving all the time to isolate what it is about my collection that is personal to me. For instance, I have discovered that I am attracted to art that is “quirky.”

I like representational but not realistic rendering. Folk art, outsider art, medieval art, native art all fit this category. I discovered I like unusual colour combinations. I discovered I like subject matter that describes every day events, or humorous narratives. So when I was designing the quilt Grandmother's Lullaby (see photo above), I picked elements from a medieval Madonna, (see photo right of Sienese Mother and Child). For instance the outline effect of her veil and robe, to start the composition. I’m sure people will relate this image to the many Madonnas and Child we have seen, but I am hoping they won’t say, “She stole that image”!

I have been a full time artist for more than 28 years, mostly a painter but also dabbling in printmaking, collage and assemblage art. It is the latter that is responsible for my large collection of doodads, miniature thingies and wooden objects all of which I began using as embellishment when I switched to the fabric medium.

Here I am having designed the quilt, appliquéd all the shapes and quilted the surface. Oh goodie, what can I attach now? Even as I did all those other tasks, I was thinking about what I could add to finish it off. In the beginning, I was somewhat disciplined about this, but later became consumed by the artspeak term called horror vacuui or fear of empty space! Here is an example of totally OTT embellishment. (See photo to the right of Icon Domestic Goddess.)

Fortunately, I realized in the nick of time, that embellishment is not the be all and end all of my work but rather, in theory anyway, just an addition to help the viewer get the message. I now evaluate whether my piece actually needs ANY embellishment. It often doesn’t and I have taken to top stitching as a substitute…. at least until that too approaches being OTT! (See photo Woman Waiting 2 below)


Over the years, I have realized that I keep returning to certain themes such as the Eve story. It’s not quite the same as working in series, as some of these were made several years apart. Nevertheless, there is the fear that I will just do more of the same so I kind of obsessively try to make each different in style, or narrative, or expression. This has the added advantage of maintaining my OWN interest as I re-examine a theme. There is nothing worse than becoming bored with your own work as it is in progress! Not to mention the possibility that if I am bored then the viewer will be too! (Below are samples of her Eve themes in various examinations.)

Eve Under Scrutiny (2005) photo left

Eve in Transition (photo right)


Wanna Bite? (2008) (photo above)

I guess I shall have to revise my diatribe to students, as fear can also be an asset in that it keeps you always looking for better and different ways to express your idea.


Pamela Allen (B.F.A. Queens University) exhibits regularly in both Canada and the U.S. Her work has traveled to Europe, Japan and Taiwan. Pamela has enjoyed several working vacations in El Paso Texas, Tucson Arizona, Ventura California, Tuscany Italy and an artist’s residency in Pouch Cove Newfoundland. She works at her art full time and enjoys a spacious studio in her Kingston, home.

Pamela has been a full time artist for several decades and has been working in fabric since 2002. She has exhibited in many national and international quilt art exhibitions and has won numerous awards for her quilts among them awards from IQA Chicago and Houston, major award from Quilt Canada and other venues. She has had her work published in the Quilting Arts Magazine, Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine, and the Canadian Quilters Magazine. Her work has been included in the recently published Masters: Art Quilt (Lark books) and Creating with Fabric (Tweetiejill Publisher). Pamela has made an instructional DVD as well, called THINK LIKE AN ARTIST, and is currently working on a book.

For more of her work and to learn more about her classes and Pamela, herself, visit her website.


Anonymous said...

Pamela, why did you leave out Baby Jesus' little kicking feet? I love finding those realistic baby details in medieval and Renaissance portraits.

Thanks again Dawn, for these great profiles.

Linda Laird
quIlTladY aT sAn dOt rR DoT cOm

pamelala said...

Ha ha maybe 'cause I'm no good at feet. Reminds me of David Hockney's reason for a big plant in the foreground of his naked man in a shower. Said he couldn't get the feet right!!!

Julie Zaccone Stiller said...

Great stuff Pamela, you've always got something new to add to what you've already taught me, thanks! Love the picture of you by the way.

June said...

This is so insightful and thoughtful that I'm delighted to have read it. Often we don't really know ourselves very well and so what we think we fear turns out not to be what really stops us.

I'm one of those "jump off the cliff and then think" types, so people imagine I'm fearless. And I'm not about to divulge what sends me quivering into the closet. But Pamela's analysis brings me out and makes me think about it.

pamelala said...

Hey back at you Julie! So have you managed to finish any of the things you started then? Several looked klike show pieces to me!

pamelala said...

Well I confess I am always "delighted" to read what you have to say on list. I DO tell students ( maybe to convince myself too) that art is a hard, slow process, even if we are fast learners in other aspects. And you have put your finger on it....we have to know our selves better and better in order to progress in art. And we are reluctant to admit to some of those self-revelations! I am actually often insecure and doubtful about my work. But I have learned to just soldier on, as failure is just as good grist for the mill as success.


Susan Shie said...

Pamela, your blog entry here is truly wonderful! You are a very remarkable artist and teacher, and I'm so proud to know you. Your work continues to thrill me, as does your thinking! Love, Lucky