Inspiration: Lorraine Roy

We all need people who inspire us, whether heroes, models, mentors or friends. During the WordCount Blogathon Speed River Journal will present a special Saturday feature profiling people I admire. These are all living people whose work relates directly or indirectly to the environment. Whether by courageous action or quiet passion, they encourage me to believe in making the world a better place.

Lorraine in her Studio

Lorraine Roy

I discovered the textile art of Lorraine Roy at an exhibition she gave jointly with her husband, photographer Junusz Wrobel, at Toronto’s Rebecca Gallery. Satin and Steel (2004) justaposed urban and natural textures: corroding steel and crumbling stone. I bought her self-published book about a subject precious to me: Ontario’s rare and endangered tree species. Saving Paradise: The Arboretum Project was illustrated with the 17 wall hangings she created to support the gene bank program at University of Guelph’s Arboretum.

At first glance Lorraine’s works resemble art quilts, but the similarity is superficial (gallery of her works). The colours and textures rely mostly on small fragments of fabric spread paint-like on the surface and embellished with embroidery. The subtlety and complexity mirrors nature.

These works drive at the spirit and identity of the land. A tree is not just any tree, it is a pawpaw or sycamore. That rock is the Niagara Escarpment, on which Lorraine and Janusz have their home and studio. In creating Saving Paradise, she spent a year observing each of the 17 species in all its seasons from bud to bloom to seed to naked branch. Her perceptions are rooted in an Ontario farm childhood and a University of Guelph degree in horticulture.

Her art reveres the Earth on which we are all deeply (sometimes ignorantly) dependent. If there is a place for religion in our fragmented, embattled human race, it is in universal awe. It lies in our mystical connection to beauty and the great cycles of life.

Listen to an audio recording of Lorraine’s recent seminar, The Embroidered Tree: My Journey with Science and Art. I wrote a brief reflection on that talk. She points out that practically all ancient cultures honoured trees, perhaps because people see reflections of themselves in the upright forms and rootedness. In order to survive on this planet, we need more reverence for it. Let us return to rootedness.

I relate to many aspects of Lorraine’s work, not only her love of trees and the land, but the strength of colour and texture. Lorraine is also an eloquent storyteller. No cloistered monk, she enjoys social networking and has launched a blog. I admire her commitment to an artistic career that is perennially uncertain.

Lorraine might be surprised to find herself in this series along with a Pulitzer prize-winning author and an Academy award-winning songwriter. It does no good to put all our heroes on remote pedestals. We need to surround ourselves with friends and colleagues who inspire us. This nearness fosters a sense of potency about healing the world through passion and dedication. Besides, making a difference depends on small moves. Lorraine is a friend. We scarcely need more celebrities.

My WordCount Blogathon series about inspiring people also includes:

In order to fit one more profile into the month, it will appear on May 30: author Barry Lopez.

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